| The uncertain quest: science, technology, and development |
|Introduction: From tradition to modernity|
Science and technology do indeed matter, and nowadays more and more. This should be self-evident, and yet in many developing countries, there is so little appreciation of this fact, among decision makers as well as the general public, that people either do not know or do not realize the benefits that a consistent and deliberate development strategy can derive from scientific and technical resources. Furthermore, people often overlook the fact that science and technology function successfully only within a larger social/political economic environment that provides an effective combination of non-technical incentives and complementary inputs in the innovation process. Science and technology are not exogenous factors that determine a society's evolution independently from its historical, social, political, cultural, or religious background.
As a recent report of the International Council for Science Policy Studies has emphasized:
technological change and innovation cannot have their socially beneficial effects if the cultural and political contexts are not prepared to absorb and incorporate them, and to achieve the structural transformations which will be required - a process which is much more difficult and complex than a mere transfer of resources (in this case, science and technology rather than capital) from the rich to the poor as a way of correcting imbalances. Science and technology have had an enormous impact on reducing the burden of physical work and improving social welfare. These contributions have only been made possible by the enormous methodological power of scientific reasoning which extends human ability to imagine and to develop alternatives. This being said, however, the development of science and technology is much more than the application of objective logic. It is built on a social consensus about goals and values. Science and technology exists only through human beings in action in certain contexts, and as such cannot be entirely value-free and neutral. [7, pp. 16-17],
Unquestionably, scientific and technological progress has provided many benefits over the long term for the industrialized countries and in more recent times for developing countries. The most striking evidence of this in the industrialized countries is per capita income, which has increased almost tenfold in the space of two centuries. What is more, this purely quantitative indicator gives no idea of the individual and collective benefits that have accompanied this enormous rise in income: longer life, lower infant mortality, eradication of certain diseases, higher level of education, more rapid means of communication, better living and working conditions, greater social protection, more leisure opportunities, etc. Whatever inequalities persist, and however large (and sometimes growing) the pockets of poverty still to be found in the "rich" countries, the general level of material improvement is manifestly positive. This is all the more a reason to try to improve the current situation of most developing countries, whose conditions are such that the benefits of scientific and technological progress do not contribute to their development in the same way, at the same level or speed.
This reading of technical progress- the only one that is objective - is derived from the figures selected by economists for the purpose of calculating rises in gross national product and productivity. They can lead to irrefutable conclusions regarding the quality and standard of living from an economic standpoint, and this is already a decisive achievement. But such an assessment does not go beyond the quantitative facts concerning production, consumption, the working week, health and hygiene, life expectancy. As soon as one takes a broader view, the balance sheet of progress is more ambiguous and becomes a matter of subjective reactions and convictions. Our economic indicators are quite incapable of gauging the social costs and drawbacks (e.g. for the environment) associated with economic growth and technical progress. But they are also incapable of allowing for all the new knowledge and technical know-how - largely the products of progress- that have enabled human beings to extend their knowledge of nature and themselves, to reduce the level of superstition, and to act more rationally to achieve a better life. There are, of course, darker sides in this balance sheet of science and technology, from the arms race and the creation of a nuclear arsenal capable of "overkilling" mankind to the global environmental issues resulting from a process of industrialization that threatens the future of the whole earth. Nobody today can share the positivist optimism of the Enlightenment's concept of progress; the straight road to greater knowledge and material progress does not lead by the same token to the less direct road to "happiness" and "moral progress."
"Whether like the sociologist, Herbert Marcuse, or the novelist Simone de Beauvoir, we see technology primarily as a means of human enslavement and destruction, or whether, like Adam Smith, we see it primarily as a liberating Promethean force, we are all involved in its advance. However much we might wish to, we cannot escape its impact on our daily lives, nor the moral, social and economic dilemmas with which it confronts us. We may curse it or bless it, but we cannot ignore it." This was how Christopher Freeman began his book on The Economics of Industrial Innovation [5, p. 15]. Indeed, whether one likes it or not, the final trade-off is between poverty and growth. Where Freeman was concerned only with technology, we are concerned here with both science and technology.
In rejecting modern science and technology, Simone de Beauvoir is consistent in her deliberate preference for poverty. But most economists have tended to accept with Marshall that poverty is one of the principal causes of the degradation of a large part of mankind. Their preoccupation with problems of economic growth arose from the belief that the mass poverty of Asia, Africa and Latin America and the less severe poverty remaining in Europe and North America, was a preventable evil which could and should be diminished, and perhaps eventually eliminated. [5, p. 15]
Innovation is of importance for increasing the wealth of nations not only in the narrow sense of increased prosperity, but also in the more fundamental sense of enabling them to do things which have never been done before at all. It is critical not only for those who wish to accelerate or sustain the rate of economic growth in this and other countries, but also for those who are appalled by narrow preoccupation with the quantity of goods and wish to change the direction of economic advance, or concentrate on improving the quality of life. It is critical for the long-term conservation of resources and improvement of the environment. The prevention of most forms of pollution and the economic re-cycling of waste products are alike dependent on scientific and technological advance. [5, p. 16]
We quote at such length from Freeman, who was offered the first chair of science policy in the world and led with great success the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex, not only to pay tribute to his pioneering work but also because we share his conviction - which is the guiding principle of this volume as a whole that there is no substitute for rational thought. We can learn to make better use of science and technology, but we cannot escape from them - unless of course we are prepared to give up all attempt to cope with the difficulties, tensions, and challenges of the world in which we have to live. Freeman added:
The famous first chapter of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations plunges immediately into discussion of "improvements in machinery" and the way in which division of labour promotes specialized inventions. Marx's model of the capitalist economy ascribes a central role to technical innovation in capital goods - "the bourgeois cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the means of production". Marshall had no hesitation in describing "knowledge" as the chief engine of progress in the economy.
From Schumpeter to Samuelson, most economists today come to the same conclusion. The central importance of science and technology for economic progress is equally the main concern of this book.