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Innovation can also be harmful

This year's Tans lecture (10 November) will be held by professor Luc Soete, economist and innovation specialist. Soete set up research institute Merit from the economics faculty in 1986, focussing on innovation and technology. His lecture is therefore about innovation, but not about the rewards, quite the contrary.

Soete: “In government policies, innovation is always as something positive, for which you receive subsidies and tax benefits. The Netherlands should aim to be one of five most innovative countries because innovation leads to efficiency improvements and so also to growth and more prosperity, stories like that. But is that really the case? We know from the literature that only one or two out of every ten innovations are successful. Failure is the standard rather than success. And not just that, there are also harmful effects, innovation is not always ‘good for you’. Joseph Schumpeter [Austrian economist, 1883-1950, later taught at Harvard; ed.] presented his thesis of innovation as creative destruction: to achieve progress part of the old must disappear to make way for the new, to the advantage of many. His famous example was: you can expand a horse and carriage with another carriage and yet another carriage, but it will never become a train. To do that, you will have to introduce something new, at the cost of the horses and carriages. I ask the question whether, these days, we find ourselves more in a phase of destructive creation, the reverse of the Schumpeterian thesis: that today, as a result of innovation, we damage more than we gain, that society as a whole loses out and that the advantage is only for a few. The great example is the speed with which generations of consumer goods, like mobile phones, succeed each other. The new forces out the old and the costs to the environment are gigantic.”



Wammes Bos

Tanslezing (in English), Thursday 10 november, Tongersestraat 53, 20.00



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