Why we need a Marshall Plan for Innovation. (Part I)

Or how the advanced economies of the world can best demonstrate their generosity to the world by funding research, and then just giving it away to the Developing World at the cheapest price possible.

An interesting article appeared today on Quillette, entitled Winners and Losers: The Global Economy After COVID. Generally, it possesses high quality data of the type we have come to expect from this publication, but there were a couple of points raised with which I will take issue.

First, they correctly point to deficiencies in the vaccine rollout to countries in the second tier and below in the global fight against COVID. They are quite right to raise this as a concern- the fight over patent protection with Big Pharma has been nothing short of atrocious. I understand the IP concerns, I really do. For those who have developed the vaccine, the request being made of them is not just that they turn over the vaccine itself, but also that they turn over much of the machinery of future innovation.

To be fair, they didn’t build it. Like much of the machinery of scientific progress, most of the initial research and innovation in this field was made using taxpayer funding. But in a sense, the private sector paid for it too. Corporations are substantial funders into universities for the simple reason that they get more out of the relationship than they put in, but this doesn’t detract from their contribution. Especially when a entry-level job working for Pharma, might be the only realistic prospect for some science graduates.

The incentives for the young and brilliant to go into pharmaceutical research are thin enough as it is- as Eric Weinstein has quite correctly pointed out, the ability to write university research grant applications for government money has become a big business unto itself, with low costs for research assistants with their abysmally low wages, largely dependent on the additional incentive of an American passport to highly intelligent foreign workers. And often, if you are an American scientist who has completed your degree, the pay is so terrible, you are forced to find alternative employment- with the finance sector and teaching two particularly common alternatives.

Scientific American

For Billion-Dollar COVID Vaccines, Basic Government-Funded Science Laid the...

For the otherwise brilliant budding American scientist, however, the choices are rather stark. The tenure track had become a hiding to nothing, even before the recent incursions of Intersectionality and Diversity Inclusion and Equity into Science. And unfortunately, scientific research is one of those areas where meritocracy at its most brutal, regardless or race, gender or sexuality, because the moral benefits outweigh the moral costs. Why? Because pure innovation has always been a race in which success or failure is determined by a couple of IQ points, and when the stakes are so high, even a slight concession to fairness might cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

In efforts to actually fight the whole race and IQ controversy, rather than simply close my ears and call it pseudoscience, one of the pieces of research I came across was a British Longitudinal Study into father engagement and IQ, which looked at 0.2% of the UK population at the time. Using the old British social grading system of NRS, the study found that towards the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum high father engagement conferred a two point IQ advantage, whilst towards the top the improvement was closer to 3.5 points. And this is compared to low father engagement- not no father at all.

This, amongst other research into the baleful effects of the socio-economic spectrum, has led many of the more liberal and progressive minded researchers and social commentators to speculate on the existence of ‘Missing Einstein’s’- those who less advantageous social circumstances and parental incomes, have missed out on either a boon in childhood development, which once lost is forever unrecoverable, or more likely, have been exposed to whole plethora of negative developmental influences, some relatively minor and others heartbreakingly damaging.

And the Feminists haven’t helped. They refuse to acknowledge the by now incontrovertible findings that there are cognitive differences between men and women, even though we have more in common, more overlap, than difference. The biggest difference is to be found in interest. Put simply, men are more interested in things, and women are more interested in people. For women, this generally means more doctors but fewer scientists.

Had feminists actually acknowledged this difference, then they could have devised a programme which sold science to women. If you are a woman who wants a career and a family, then science is far more ideal than almost any endeavour in the business world. The lab doesn’t keep office hours, and highly accomplished women in the sciences are in such demand, they hold all the power when it comes to negotiating work schedules. The only real problem comes in the developmental pipeline, universities and private companies need to do more to prevent the type of toxic culture which sees women often having to make a choice between starting a family or pursuing their qualifications.

But I digress. My main point was, who really gives a shit about the fact that the scientists leading the research into COVID may have been disproportionately White and Asian males, when lives are at stake? The real question is how are we going to rapidly roll out vaccines to Developing World? Because none of the options seem to be particularly likely to produce the types of rapid results the world’s less fortunate need.

Bill Gates has called for Western Governments to fund a taxpayer purchased massive rollout to the Developing World, but so far subscriptions to this model have been sparse to say the least. The COVAX program fell largely on its face, largely due to crisis levels of public spending during the pandemic, under the auspices of the already being disproven flaky concept of Modern Monetary Theory. Official figures claim that American inflation
is only around 4%, but keener observers of currency markets and price indexes claim that the real figure might be much higher, especially when one looks specifically at physical goods.

The global logistical supply chain is far more fragile than anyone thinks. Although somewhat dispersed, it is in many ways for more susceptible to shock, and lacking in the antifragile resilience which Nassim Nicholas Taleb highlighted in his analysis of the 2008 crash, than even the Global Financial System. Key to the lack of anitfragility, is the interdependency of trade. Goods need to flow both ways for the global supply chains to work. It’s all about the logistics.

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Global shipping container shortage: the story so far

Simply put, in order for the global supply infrastructure to transfer goods efficiently and cheaply, containers need to move reciprocally around the world. Shipping containers has not only faced capacity barriers as the deep recession in the service sector has shifted demand to physical goods, but the actual physical 40ft containers themselves have been stacking up in container ports and inland depots.

And this is not the only concern which has been raised by COVID. 2020 recessions in demands for physical goods caused far more harm to developing countries than COVID itself. Much of the initial reduction in consumer demand hit more developed countries focused on manufacturing, more than the resource producers or the emerging economies of Africa. But still only a modest 11% reduction in consumer demand specific to the advanced consumer economies, and largely focused upon finished manufactured goods, meant that between 119 and 124 million were exposed to, or remained in, extreme poverty.

World Bank Blogs

Updated estimates of the impact of COVID-19 on global poverty: Looking back...

This was the first time that global extreme poverty has increased in twenty years. And this wasn’t because of COVID restrictions- at least not in the producer nations of the world. This was because the poorer nations of the world lost an incremental amount of their export markets. Did people stop buying coffee, chocolate, Kenyan fine beans, or flowers on Valentine’s day? No, but the budgetary constraints and psychological needs to budget for the worst, probably led a lot of ordinary households in North America and Europe to economise.

This extreme poverty was probably offset by the supposedly virtuous upper middle classes of cosmopolitan liberals retreating from cities and fully stocking their walk-in freezers. This was the vile maxim and invisible hand distilled into the quintessence of virtue signalling white Democrat-voting neoliberals, their very real selfishness exposed. After all, it was almost exclusively the highly educated class who were most blatantly hypocritical.

Gavin Newsome with his “Rules for thee, but not for me”. Wealthy urbanites fleeing New York in droves to their exclusive holiday homes, spreading the virus, whilst simultaneously emptying the shelves of all the stores in the towns to which they fled. Dominic Cummings vilified for his 300 mile journey, whilst Stephen Kinnock’s mission to deliver a birthday cake to an aging 80 year old socialist, went largely unremarked and unnoticed to a chattering cosmopolitan class whose political sympathies have long been obvious to even the most casual observers of culture.

And meanwhile, it is Africa, India and South America who have born the brunt of the global recession which caused the pandemic. Not because of capitalism, but because of its temporary lack. This should serve as a warning to those who would impose an end to capitalism, the energy poverty of a Green New Deal or dark green environmentalist wet dream which envisages a return to many for a supposedly more idyllic pastoral existence.

It’s called subsistence farming and young people in Africa have been fleeing its back-breaking, dignity robbing, lifespan shortening, dream-stealing reality for over a quarter of a century. The more strident amongst the anti-capitalist environmentalist movement may believe they are ushering in a world like this:

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But it more likely to look like this:

Instead of protests on the streets which emphasis the transparent differences of skin tone, gender and sexuality, perhaps we should fight causes which transcend petty differences and enshrine the value of all human life. And we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to make it a cog which serves an altogether nobler purpose, and breaks fewer humans on its back in the process. The often avoidable deaths of 250 Black men every year is a tragedy, yes, but the needless deaths of millions should concern us more, as should the shortened lifespans, malnourished children and disease-threatened populations who have yet to drink from the material cup of cornucopia we in the West enjoy.

We need a Marshall Plan for the Modern World, and the forced generosity of Big Pharma should be only the start. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have finally reversed themselves over IP protection, belatedly realising that the generosity of Western governments will not be forthcoming. Meanwhile representatives of Big Pharma have been quietly courting the corridors of power, within EU officialdom.

Devex – 7 May 21

Gates Foundation reverses course on COVID-19 vaccine patents

Mark Suzman, CEO at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announces the foundation supports temporarily lifting coronavirus vaccine patent protections, following criticism that Bill Gates was on the wrong side of history in the debate. (From Article)


Big Pharma’s EU Lobbying Could Spell Disaster for Global South Vaccine Waivers

Pharma giants have spent big on lobbying European Union officials over vaccine waivers. It’s paid off: now key European power brokers oppose suspending global vaccine patents to fight the pandemic in the Global South. (From Article)

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