David Audretsch is a Distinguished Professor and the Ameritech Chair of Economic Development at Indiana University, an Honorary Professor of Industrial Economics and Entrepreneurship at the WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management and a Research Fellow of the Centre for Economic Policy Research. He is the author of The Entrepreneurial Society.
Firstly, let me say that science and technology are both crucial to the economy, but they’re not the same thing. Science is typically undertaken for knowledge, for its own sake. Technology is science that has been transformed into something useful for society, into something valued by society. So, new innovative ideas and technology start from science, from basic research. Technology is that which is introduced to the market, while science is far away from the market. So, why are they important for the economy? Because science and technology enable people to be more productive. If you give a person more and more tools, that person’s ability to produce goods and services will go up and up and up. So, what each of us is able to do just explodes. And if you multiply that productivity increase by the number of people on the globe, the potential productivity is astronomical. That is how science and technology have enabled economic growth in the U.S. and elsewhere, by providing people with more tools that allow them to be more productive. There is an important caveat, though. Science and technology require a certain human capital that not all countries have. That is why, in this globalized world, countries that have that human capital, such as the U.S., stay ahead, while countries that cannot keep up are left behind. And something similar occurs within countries. The most educated are the ones who reap the benefits, and this explodes the income gap we experience in the U.S. and every other developed country in the world.
How do I know that science and technology are important? There is compelling econometric research linking science and technology to the growth and standard of living of countries. Does U.S. society recognize the value of indigenous science and technology and understand their importance? Not everyone in the United States recognizes the importance of science and technology. There are certain segments of the population, like the Amish, that eschew science and technological development. Now, that’s not a large segment of the population. But then, if the U.S. population really embraced science and technology, I’m pretty sure the incidence of the COVID-19 vaccination would be much higher than it is today, for example. I mean, many people may have medical or religious reasons for not getting vaccinated, but I think what happens is that a lot of people doubt science and technology. In all of the previous four years, but even before that, we saw a very divided response to scientific and technological information. So does society recognize the value of science and technology? A different answer is that it varies over time. World War II and the Cold War were two particular events in which U.S. society recognized the value of science and technology. Of course, soldiers were brave, but science and technology played a key part, and people saw that. But then, I see that when problems arise, science and technology don’t seem to be able to solve them very well. Consequently, that recognition fades, and it fades fast. Social discrimination, gender inequality, poverty, and many other social problems in the country have not been addressed. In fact, there hasn’t been any investments in science and technology to address those problems. The unanimous, almost universal support that science and technology had began to wane in the 1960s. So, recognition of the value of science and technology comes and goes. Today, a large segment of the population feels that they are struggling, that they have been left behind, and think that science and technology have not really helped them. I don’t know for sure, but my feeling is that the insurgents who stormed the Capitol in the U.S. capital on January 6 did so because they didn’t feel like anything was helping them, including science and technology. So the recognition of the value of science and technology has been fading as the penetration of its benefits is restricted, let’s put it this way, not diffused throughout society. Now, has the recognition and understanding influenced the advancement of science and technology and economic growth? Actually, economic growth in recent times has not been bad for a developed country. The problem is that there is too large a segment of the population that is left out.
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