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Not Just Neoliberalism: Economization in US Science and Technology Policy

DOI: 10.1177/0162243913509123

Berman, E P. “Not Just Neoliberalism: Economization in US Science and Technology Policy.” Science, Technology & Human Values 39.3 (2014): 397–431. Web.

p.399: Recent scholarship in science, technology, and society has emphasized the neoliberal character of science today. This article draws on the history of US science and technology (S&T) policy to argue against thinking of recent changes in science as fundamentally neoliberal, and for thinking of them instead as reflecting a process of "economization." The policies that changed the organization of science in the United States included some that intervened in markets and others that expanded their reach, and were promoted by some groups who were skeptical of free markets and others who embraced them. In both cases, however, new policies reflected (1) growing political concern with "the economy" and related abstractions (e.g., growth, productivity, balance of trade) and (2) a new understanding of S&T as inputs into a larger economic system that government could manipulate through policy. Understanding trends in US S&T policy as resulting from economization, not just neoliberalism, has implications for thinking about the present and likely future of science and S&T policy. -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.400: Science, technology, and society (STS) scholars widely agree that the organization of scientific research has shifted over the past forty years. This change has been characterized as a move from mode 1 to mode 2 science (Gibbons et al. 1994), toward a triple helix of university–industry–government relations (Leydesdorff and Etzkowitz 1996), in the direction of asymmetric convergence (Kleinman and Vallas 2001), toward a regime of globalized privatization (Mirowski and Sent 2008), and toward market logic (Berman 2012a, 2012b). -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.401: A neoliberal approach to S&T policy, as scholars have pointed out, will emphasize strong intellectual property rights, a large role for the private sector, and the encouragement of market mechanisms within science. -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.402: But economization does not require the belief that a strong but limited free market–oriented state is the best way to achieve desirable economic outcomes. Most members of the political left in the United States and elsewhere also believe that the public interest is best served by a growing economy, and that the state should try to create such an economy. -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.402: For example, many believe that the state should support scientific research directly because markets will, on their own, underinvest in R&D, and R&D investment increases productivity and economic growth. -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.402: It also offers a better diagnosis of the current state of S&T policy and its likely future. Neoliberal efforts to reduce the role of government in science, or to increase the use of market mechanisms within it, are politically polarizing. But economization, which simply suggests that we should use the economic input of S&T to improve the economy, is popular across the political spectrum, and is typically perceived as technocratic and politically neutral. -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.402: Since our knowledge about what kinds of S&T policies will actually have desirable economic effects is limited, efforts to redirect S&T toward economic purposes tend to lead to policy decisions that sound like they have some connection to the economy, and that advance some group’s interests. -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.403: Outside of STS, scholars have used the concept of neoliberalism in a variety of ways. Following Wacquant (2012), we might characterize these as a neoliberal governmentality approach, a neo-Marxist approach, and a "roll-out neoliberalism" (Peck and Tickell 2002) approach. The first, associated with Foucault ([1979] 2008) and Rose and Miller (1992), sees neoliberalism as a set of discourses and technologies which circulates outside, as well as through, the state, and produces subjects who are individualized, disciplined, and entrepreneurial. Neoliberalism is refracted through these subjects in local contexts, and thus is fragmented, playing out differently around the world (Ong 2006). Within STS, the governmentality school is central to discussions of biopolitics, but has been less visible in discussions of the organization of science (though see Drake 2011). -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.404: The neo-Marxist approach, represented by Harvey (2005), sees neoliberalism as a relatively coherent political–intellectual project characterized most prominently by the retreat of the state and its replacement with market institutions (Babb 2001; Campbell and Pedersen 2001). Among STS scholars, Moore et al. (2011, 508), who begin their definition of neoliberalism with a preference for "markets over governments as instruments of policy," align most closely with this approach. -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.404: Finally, "roll-out neoliberalism" combines elements of the other two, describing neoliberalism as a political–intellectual project focused on the state, but emphasizing the state’s active role in producing market mechanisms rather than its withdrawal (Brenner and Theodore 2002). Thus, Peck and Tickell (2002) emphasize not only the retraction of worker protections but new punitive policies to govern the dispossessed, Krippner (2007) shows how the US Federal Reserve transfers functions to the market while nevertheless keeping them under state control, and Wacquant (2012, 71) argues that neoliberalism "entails not the dismantling but the reengineering of the state." Within STS, Lave, Mirowski, and Randalls’ (2010, 661) emphasis on the state’s "activist approach to the spread and promotion of ‘free markets’" comes closest to roll-out neoliberalism (see also Mirowski 2011 in this paper). -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.404: From this ideology follows policies that will "encourage private investment in science and university–industry partnerships, through avenues such as strengthening intellectual property and decreasing public funding" (p. 662). -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.404: Finally, the effects of neoliberalism are felt in

the rollback of public funding for universities; the separation of research and teaching missions, leading to rising numbers of temporary faculty; the dissolution of the scientific author; the narrowing of research agendas to focus on the needs of commercial actors; an increasing reliance of market take-up to adjudicate intellectual disputes; and the intense fortification of intellectual property in an attempt to commercialize knowledge. (p. 659)

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p.406: In the United States, S&T policy shifted significantly in the late 1970s and early 1980s as policy makers became vocally concerned with the state of technological innovation and made a variety of policy decisions that significantly altered the science–market relationship (Branscomb and Florida 1997; Turner 2006). A number of authors have discussed these decisions, including Slaughter and Rhoades, who examine the emergence of a "competitiveness research and development policy coalition"; Block (2008), who looks at policies tied to the "hidden developmental state"; and Berman (2012a), who analyzes government decisions affecting the relationship between academic science and the market -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.408: While these diverse policies and their promoters are not consistently neoliberal, they do consistently reflect a dynamic of economization. With one exception, both the neoliberal and the interventionist policies were tied to an increased concern with the economy, and a new view of technological innovation as a major driver of growth and productivity. Both neoliberals and interventionists saw S&T not just as ways to solve specific problems of defense or health, or even as useful to particular industries, but as inputs into an abstraction called the economy.Where the two sides differed was on what kind of S&T policy they thought would have the desired effects: a business-friendly strategy involving strong property rights, low taxes, limited antitrust enforcement, and deregulation; or an industrial policy approach that would actively facilitate cross-sector R&D collaboration and support research in economically significant areas. -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.410: Thus, while in the 1930s one might have used technology policy to help industry, it would be anachronistic to talk about it being used to help "the economy."

By 1950, though, "the economy" had become a widely accepted part of political and expert discourse (Suttles 2010, 34-35), and over the next few decades, several developments taught policy makers to see S&T as inputs into it. These included (1) the creation of economic statistics that made it possible to think more precisely about the economic effects of S&T, (2) the influence of economists, who theorized the connection between S&T and the economy, (3) the unfavorable economic environment of the 1970s, which encouraged more general attention to economic issues, and (4) the efforts of large R&D-intensive companies to promote concern with technological innovation. By about 1977, these developments were, collectively, cementing a new understanding of the purpose of S&T among US policy makers.

The change began in the 1950s and 1960s, as economists were able to draw on newly available data quantifying scientific as well as economic activity to theorize the connection between scientific inputs and economic outputs (Godin 2007, 2009).

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p.411: One final effort helped this reconceptualization of S&T policy as affecting the economy via technological innovation to gain broad political acceptance: the vocal and increasingly well-organized community of R&Dintensive businesses. Mobilizing through associations like the National Academy of Engineering NAE, National Research Council NRC, and the Industrial Research Institute (Arthur D. Little and Industrial Research Institute 1973; Nason, Steger, andManners 1978), these firms saw inadequate innovation as explaining many of the United States’ economic problems, and connected numerical indicators suggesting a reduction in innovation (Gellman Research Associates 1975) with the declining performance of US industry vis-á-vis foreign competitors. -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.412: The issue reached a new level of political prominence in 1978, when President Carter created a Domestic Policy Review (DPR) of Industrial Innovation, which brought together 250 representatives of 28 different federal agencies with 500 private sector participants to study it ("Vanishing Innovation" 1978; Turner 2006, 124). From that point on, S&T policies were frequently discussed in economic terms, with Congress considering, in 1979, an astonishing "75 or 80 bills" that would affect innovation ("Innovation" 1979). -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.412: while these policy decisions reflected a mix of ideas about the appropriate relationship between government and the economy, with one exception their stated intent was to use S&T to affect the economy, and being able to claim that they could do so was politically beneficial. -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.413: Or consider the emergence of an interventionist policy: the creation of collaborative university–industry research programs at NSF. Senator Ted Kennedy, one of NSF’s strongest supporters, was also concerned with industrial innovation and introduced into NSF’s appropriations bill a measure that would have allowed businesses to compete on equal grounds with universities for NSF grants. NSF found this possibility distasteful, but its board recognized the political expedience of providing some kind of support to industry, and responded with a counterproposal for the Industry/ University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) program. This would nod to industry needs while not requiring direct university–industry competition for grant dollars ("House, Senate Split" 1977; US House 1983, 130-35). NSF director Richard Atkinson sold the small new program to an enthusiastic Congress by arguing that it reflected a "strong base of economic data indicating relationships between research and development activities and the gross national product" (US House 1978, 4). A few years later, continued Congressional interest in "restor[ing] American competitiveness in world markets" by solving "problems of national productivity" led NSF to launch the related, but larger, Engineering Research Centers program as well (Belanger 1998, 219). -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.417: The Stevenson–Wydler Act, by contrast, was strongly motivated by concern with the economy, and by a belief that S&T could be used to improve it. The main impact of the 1980 Act was to give the US national laboratories a mandate to improve technology transfer, and to require them to set aside 0.5 percent of their R&D budgets for that purpose. Yet, the original aim of the bill was quite different: to dramatically expand NSF’s aforementioned I/UCRC program throughout the federal government. Eighty percent of the funding authorized was for the creation of "generic technology centers" to advance precompetitive industrial technologies, and contemporary coverage of the bill focused almost entirely on these centers ("Carter Signs" 1980; "The Chemical Industry" 1980; "Congress Expected" 1980).

Both ideas came directly from President Carter’s aforementioned Domestic Policy Review (DPR) of Industrial Innovation (Advisory Committee on Industrial Innovation 1979, 205-08), where they were sold as part of a larger effort to use S&T policy to improve the economy:

[T]he importance of innovation is its role in increasing productivity and rates of economic growth . . . . [A]ll available evidence points to a significant, positive relationship between the amount of innovative activity in an economy (such as company sponsored R&D) and economic growth and productivity. Some of the research has indicated that the magnitude of the impact of this kind of innovative activity can be enormous. (Advisory Committee on Industrial Innovation 1979, 6)

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p.418: the bill passed both houses of Congress unanimously (Slaughter 1998). But its main purpose was never realized. The Reagan administration, though it shared the Carter administration’s faith in the economic potential of technological innovation, was "scornful of the idea that direct federal action [could] improve the innovation process in industry," and simply chose not to fund the centers (Walsh 1981).With sponsors Adlai Stevenson and JohnWydler out of office by this point, there was little pushback against this defunding, and the law’s secondary provision regarding the national labs became its only lasting impact. The sorts of centers Stevenson–Wydler envisioned would nevertheless be created through other means in the 1980s, from NSF’s Engineering Research Centers to the public–private SEMATECH consortium to the Department of Commerce’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership and Advanced Technology Program. -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.420: Scholars noted at the time that "the ability to maintain international technological competitiveness is obviously of paramount importance to the well-being of the economy" (Crane 1984, 408), and later reports also emphasized that the legislation’s success was tied to the widespread perception that it would "accelerate the pace of technological innovation" (Hart 2001, 930).

The legislative changes were themselves minor, serving more to reassure industry that such collaborations would not be challenged by the authorities than to break truly new ground in antitrust policy. Nevertheless, the NCRA launched an active period of industry R&D collaboration, and 575 joint ventures were registered with the Department of Justice over the next ten years (Hart 1998a). The newly prevalent understanding of technological innovation as a key economic input led proponents of both free markets and of industrial policy to support a provision that would encourage such activity. -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.421: Some policies affecting science assumed that limited government, property rights, and free markets were the best ways to organize it, but others were based on the idea that markets would, on their own, fail to provide the economically optimal amount of R&D, and that government should intervene to fix that problem. Some policies were supported by proponents of market mechanisms and the private sector, but others were favored by those who thought new government programs could help. And while representatives of the R&D-intensive business community helped raise political concern with the issue of technological innovation, they could not have done so without the intellectual work done by center-left, technocratic economists. -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.422: But as policy areas are economized—that is, reoriented toward economic ends—those ends tend to crowd out other kinds of goals, whether the broad pursuit of knowledge or the solving of specific noneconomic problems (Stiglitz, Sen, and Fitoussi 2010). Economic ends have the capacity to displace other kinds of ends not only because of their near-universal appeal—after all, improvement in medicine is also a goal almost everyone would embrace—but because of our collective faith that we have, or can reasonably expect to develop, the knowledge required to make policy decisions that will achieve those goals.

Economization thus ultimately rests on the epistemic authority of economics. Despite policy makers’ ambivalence about the practical value of economic advice, they still demonstrate a broad confidence in our ability to rationally identify policies that will improve our economic well-being. For example, in 2005, US presidential science adviser John Marburger argued that "a new interdisciplinary field of quantitative science policy studies," a field which would be "to a great extent a branch of economics," could identify policies that would "keep our technology-based economy strong" (Marburger 2005). This led to a major new initiative on the "Science of Science Policy," which held up "the Federal Reserve Board’s econometric model" as the appropriate exemplar for making decisions about national investments in science (National Science and Technology Council 2008, 9).

The problem, though, is that we do not have the capacity to rationally identify which policies will help S&T achieve economic ends, nor are we anywhere near being able to do so. -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.423: Indeed, the links between the conduct of scientific research and actual impact on people’s material well-being are almost impossibly complex, as Sarewitz (2011, 342) illustrates with a Midwestern research university regent’s regretful observation that "most of our agricultural research has ultimately led to rural decline." More broadly, the question of whether technological advances necessarily lead to a higher standard of living for the average person, or whether they might sometimes result in gains for those at the top and structural unemployment for less fortunate others, seems newly salient post-2008.

Thus, while the goal of using S&T to improve our economic well-being is admirable, and expanding our knowledge of how the two are related is worthwhile, explicitly orienting science policy toward economic outcomes is unlikely to have the desired results. -- Highlighted apr 6, 2014

p.424: Science, and humanity, may be better served if we are more honest about how little we still know about how science has its effects in the world. -- Highlighted apr 7, 2014