Sunday, February 15, 2009

Development Needs Research

In Sunday's Journal-Sentinel, John Torinus has a bullet-pointed, long-winded sermon on the beauty and stimulative-nature of entrepreneurship (whatever that means). Even his title has it backwards.

There is a tone when he states, "...a heavy dependence on its historic manufacturing sector." As if we should divest ourselves of our large market share, our competitive advantage, and a continued focus of the success of one of our most lucrative sectors. Manufacturing is generally a higher paying, high value-added industry. This should be a prime focus of our research and development efforts. The hits to employment in this industry over the last few decades have more to do with trade politics (and slave labor) than with efficiency or productivity.

He also feels we should capitalize on our research and development capabilities and stengthen them. OK. Sounds good. Although, typically this type of activity is either heavily subsized by the government, or directly funded by the government through the university system and organizations such as the National Institutes of Health. Has Torinus suddenly become a tax-and-spender? Or is he just citing another example of where government and bureaucrats can be highly effective and actually improve society?

Much of his opinions regarding UWM -- it's construction projects, and it's innovative leadership, and the giant strides it has made in recent years -- are spot on. And, hopefully UWM will choose a downtown rather than a suburban location. As a former student and employee at UWM, I'm proud of their progress and their scholarship.

[Mr. Torinus mentions, "The R&D has to be turned into patents, licenses, and start-up companies." Here are numerous articles by Dean Baker that disprove the economic efficiency of patents: A, B, C, D, E, and F. The money is made being the first to create the idea, not holding that creative capacity from others to build upon it. That causes long-term inefficiency.]

But after the public sector nurtures these industries and ideas, Torinus feels we should, "...transferring the basic technology to commercial applications in the real world of business." If public entities are producing technologies and products the market wants, aren't they applying their know-how in the real world of business? And, competing quite effectively it seems. We should turn over the innovative capacity to the private sector so they can make highly leveraged bets, create gains for a select few, watch them mismanage and corrupt the endeavor, and see the whole thing then have to be cleaned up by taxpayers (the public sector)?

It seems taxpayers' money is actually better managed and spent by the government than the private sector. The Republican propaganda campaign over the last 35 years to dispute this fact and muddle the discussion about such seems impervious to reason and clear-thinking. We'd all be better if we just ignored them.

Other than that, I'm all for Torinus' bullet-pointed research spending ideas. But, lets keep them state- or local(ly)-run centers, having well-paid jobs with health care and funded retirement plans.

"Sharing is caring," as Mr. Rogers said. If a select few would share just a minuscule amount (pay their fair share of taxes), they could initiate massive change and end the impoverished conditions of the majority on this planet. The only thing standing in the way of this is political cover, masking greed and entrenched interests.

Obviously all the ideas Mr. Torinus feels should be funded would have to be public programs. If this was "easy money" wouldn't private corporations already be making the investment? Of course, they only care about short-term gains. How we fund our societal institutions and the priorities of such, how we reach for sustainability and prosperity, these are long-term policy issues. Concerns rightfully addressed and managed by the public sector.

But WMCers and the right-wing bow to a different savior. They must keep their shareholders happy. You don't want to piss off Wall Street. Wall Street it now seems has become our defacto government. How about the change we believe in is taking our government back.

With some populist spin struggling to conceal the underlying conservative positions and giveaways to the private sector, this piece seems nothing more than typical WMC rhetoric from Torinus.

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