HM Treasury series 5: Innovation and productivity performance, 2016

A little history can be a dangerous thing: R&D, economic growth and the British economy since 1900.

20 January 2016

Professor David Edgerton

Hans Rausing Professor of the History of Science and Technology and Professor of Modern British History at King's College London

David Edgerton criticised the ‘techno-declinist’ approach with its claims that under-spending, or misdirected spending, on science and technology were significant factors in Britain’s relative economic decline from the mid-nineteenth century.   The techno-declinist critique has taken several forms: a view that ‘generalist’ British elites were hostile to science and technology, a neo-Schumpeterian belief that there was widespread entrepreneurial failure to adopt more efficient techniques, and a left critique that too much British R&D was directed towards military purposes.  Edgerton pointed out that invention and innovation are costs, not benefits, to an economy and that ‘the association of science and technology with innovation has…helped diffuse the erroneous notion that the rates of growth of economies are determined by investments in innovation’.  Instead, he argued that ‘British higher education, the British state, and British industry were, if anything, peculiarly scientific and technological’.  As was known by some economists in the 1960s, but since studiously ignored, there was and still is, for good and important reasons, a negative correlation, across countries, between national rates of growth and national investments in R&D.  The erroneous but widespread belief that there was or should be a positive correlation is an important reason why analysts have come to believe in deficiencies in past British science and technology.


The economic impact of Information and Communications Technology: an historical perspective.

15 February 2016

Professor Nicholas Crafts

Professor of Economic History at the University of Warwick

Nicholas Crafts is Professor of Economic History and Director of the ESRC Research Centre on Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE) at Warwick University. This seminar reviewed estimates of the impact of ICT on productivity and economic welfare in the light of historical experience of the impact of general purpose technologies.  The presentation focused both on what we have learned from growth accounting estimates and on the need to supplement these estimates with other evidence.


Using state-funded scientific research as the basis of economic development:  a case study from the mid-twentieth century

4 April 2016

Dr Sabine Clarke

Lecturer in Modern History, University of York

This seminar explored the relationship between scientific research and economic development with specific reference to ambitions for the industrialisation of Britain's colonies after 1940.  In 1940 a new Colonial Research Fund was created that was so large it elevated the Colonial Office to the position of the second largest funder of civil research in Britain.  Part of this substantial sum was spent on projects at British universities and new laboratories in Trinidad to find new uses for tropical products in the chemical industry.  This seminar explored the reasons why fundamental research into commodities as cane sugar became part of a wider vision of development in the post war period, the nature of that vision, and its outcomes.  This case study afforded an opportunity to reflect upon the place of state-funded science in economic growth and the conditions and issues that determine the success or failure of such investments.


The historical imagination: prospects for sustainability transitions, the case of the automobile

12 May 2016

Professor Johan Schot

Director of Science, Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex

Johan Schot is Professor in the History of Technology and Sustainability Transitions Studies at the University of Sussex.  His research focuses on integrating social science and historical perspectives for a better understanding of the nature and governance of radical socio-technical change.  This seminar focused on the transition to a low carbon economy, taking a historical perspective using a case study focused on inland mobility. 


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