The LSE Growth Commission: a slap in the chops for Innovation Studies?
After months of evidence gathering and weeks of cogitation, the London School of Economics released the report of its Growth Commission yesterday. This is as close as you can get to the great and the good of British economics speaking ex cathedra - the author list is a role call of distinguished experts on economic growth, both academic and non-academic.
Maybe because of this, many of its conclusions aren't all that surprising and are maybe even - whisper it - a little bit dull. It contains worthy and sensible pronouncements on how politicians should stop squabbling and commit to some long-term thinking about growth, tackle the UK's widely acknowledge skills gaps and improve schools. And despite a few mild heresies (inequality matters as well as output; a state bank might encourage long-term lending), it contains a lot of the kind of thing you would expect from mainstream economists. Competition and education are good. Red tape and policy uncertainty are bad.
All this poses a bit of a challenge for the academic field of Innovation Studies. Much of the Innovation Studies field has a normative side to it - it doesn't just describe innovation, it's meant to help policy makers and others make innovation work better. Friedrich List; Joseph Schumpeter; Chris Freeman - they all sought not just to describe the world but to improve it. This thread persists today in undertakings like FINNOV, the UK-IRC, or UCL's new STEM policy centre.
But despite having a chapter with "innovation" in its title (pp 28-32), the LSE report doesn't seem to have much to say about the perennial concerns of the Innovation Studies world.
It talks briefly about the UK's research base (is this that noted bugbear of innovation researchers, the linear model of innovation, making an appearance?). It mentions the idea of industrial strategy, but doesn't press the point. As an example of what this means, the report gives the rather uninspiring example of liberalising planning rules in Oxford and Cambridge (not a bad idea, but hardly the sort of thing to excite hardcore industrial activists).
The big recommendation in this section is the establishment of a British investment bank, which might invest in technology of one sort or another, or might not. State finance for innovation finds some support in some innovation studies literature (it's a theme of FINNOV, for example, and fits neatly into Carlota Perez's Schumpeterian deployment phase). But it's hard to shake the feeling that the Innovation Studies agenda hasn't influenced the thinking of this distinguished group of authors much.
All this raises a question: if the Innovation Studies community set up their own Growth Comission, what would be in its report?