The Miracle of Silicon Valley Explained; a Secret Unveiled!

This month, I had a fairly long on-line discussion with an intelligent, literate, reasonably open-minded Danish blogger. He knows English well. (See Comments to https://factsmatter.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/challenges-from-social-democrat-denmark/)

I was trying all along to elicit information concerning innovativeness in high-taxes, nursemaid societies such as Denmark. My concern was simple: The US is going to move that way under Pres. Obama’s leadership, with a Democrat Senate majority. So, I am wondering who in the world is going to be in charge of beneficial change (in the world).

As is often the case with on-line conversations across time zones, this one meandered. We learned repeatedly from “Frans,” the Dane, that Denmark was by far the best society to live in. This kind of naked arrogance, I find refreshing in contrast with the mealy-mouthed false humility of American liberals.

I saw my old biased view confirmed that European social science means mostly producing lists, lists of this and lists of that, like a vulgar American television show I know. It turns out endlessly lists of “The ten best this or that,” directed in America at junior high school dropouts, I would say.

My readers and I learned also in the exchange that inequality (variously defined) is an obstacle to being inventive. I have not got to the bottom of this claim; I don’t know if there is a bottom to it.

In didactic despair, I asked Frans the “S” question:

“How about Silicon Valley, buster?” Why isn’t it in Denmark, for example, or in Sweden, or one fourth of it in Germany? (There are issues of scale here I don’t wish to ignore.)

Frans gave an answer that is so far off the mark that it does not even deserve to be called “wrong.” (Follow the thread of Comments to this: You will find it or them.) At first, I was going to write a whole post on the topic. Then, I remembered something that made me stop before I began. Here it is below.

For twenty-five years, I taught about organizations in the middle of Silicon Valley. I taught about fifty quarters in the MBA program that produces something like the bulk of Silicon Valley mid-level executives. (Not the Steve Jobs or the Bill Gates. Those are mostly college dropouts.) I also worked in some capacity or other for several years with the university’s International Business Program.

Because of my latter role I was often commanded to be in touch with visiting foreign delegations. As the best speaker of French in the business school (N. S. !), there was no way to escape hosting French visitors, at least for a short time. I went through the same scenario several times with French politicians and Chamber of Commerce types. (I don’t know exactly how many times. It was more than four times and fewer than ten times spread across all the years between 1981 and 2006.)

The French visitors would meet me casually for coffee. Quickly, they discovered that I was not a Canadian or a child of French immigrants but the real article, a fairly articulate speaker of French as a native language, born in Paris, and living in the middle of Silicon Valley. And, to boot, one not directly involved in business and therefore, with no industrial secrets to be concealed from prying foreign ears. (Can ears pry?)

Quickly, the delegation leaders would invite me for dinner at an expensive local restaurant they had discovered I know not how (The French are good that way, that’s no legend.) They would verify that I was still a French citizen. (I was, I am .) Come dessert and liqueurs, they were pressuring me to deliver to them the secret of Silicon Valley. They had a special interest in the role of government, as you would expect. The magic French word “subventions” kept cropping up. Soon, they were appealing to my vestigial patriotism. I consented to be so appealed to.

I would tell them there was not much of a secret. I swore to them the current role of government was next to nil. None of them ever had the patience to hear about the historical role the federal government played in spawning Silicon Valley, an interesting story in itself. They would leave angry, barely
shaking my hand. The fat French government consulting contracts about which I sometimes dreamed never materialized. When I went to France on vacation to eat tête de veau, I had to pay my own way, damn it!

In spite of this unhappy story, I am willing to go a little way toward those who would want to learn how to do a Silicon Valley back home. So, I will give you the first step:

First, grow a really first-rate university.

Oops, I am already overwhelmed by the futility of my story! No government anywhere has ever managed to do that, ever!

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About Jacques Delacroix

I write short stories, current events comments, and sociopolitical essays, mostly in English, some in French. There are other people with the same first name and same last name on the Internet. I am the one who put up on Amazon in 2014: "I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography" and also: "Les pumas de grande-banlieue." To my knowledge, I am the only Jacques Delacroix with American and English scholarly publications. In a previous life, I was a teacher and a scholar in Organizational Theory and in the Sociology of Economic Development. (Go ahead, Google me!) I live in the People’s Green Socialist Republic of Santa Cruz, California.
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56 Responses to The Miracle of Silicon Valley Explained; a Secret Unveiled!

  1. Terry Amburgey says:

    “First, grow a really first-rate university.
    Oops, I am already overwhelmed by the futility of my story! No government anywhere has ever managed to do that, ever!”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land-grant_university

    • Prof. Terry: I am well aware of the brave story of American land grant universities and of their role in America’s overall success. I am glad you drew the attention of our foreign readership to this story.

      (Sometimes, Professor Terry, wonder if you are not indulging in a bit prejudice against me, suspecting that I am ill-informed just because of my foreign origins. I am often tempted to thumbtack a note on the faculty club bulletin board of your university denouncing you as an ETHNOCENTRIST. I hold back my hand until such time as I learn you wish to retire because such a charge would surely end your career.)

      How does anything about land grant colleges affects anything I said, explicitly or implicitly?

      PS I am also glad you know how to use Wikipedia. Please respect a simple rule I have established to protect some of our more trusting readers, especially those who live
      overseas : No reading assignment without an explanation in your own words. Thank you.

      • Terry Amburgey says:

        “How does anything about land grant colleges affects anything I said, explicitly or implicitly?”
        You made a silly statement. It’s refuted by land grant colleges in the U.S.

        “Sometimes, Professor Terry, wonder if you are not indulging in a bit prejudice against me, suspecting that I am ill-informed just because of my foreign origins.”
        Of course not. You are ill-informed because, like all teapublicans, you’ve created an artificial reality where information that doesn’t conform with your ideology doesn’t exist. Confirmation bias taken to a pathological level.

        Your tragically French sensibilities are a different matter entirely.

  2. Siamak says:

    Completely agree with you Mr Delacroix… nothing more to say!

    • Siamak: Thanks. I am in frequent touch with Danish savagery. I could use having someone on my side. Tell me more about yourself. And first of all, are you an extremely beautiful woman with poor eyesight?

      • Siamak Ahadi says:

        🙂 Mr Delacroix… You know me… I completely assure you that I’m a completely ugly man with mid-eastern look! The part that I completely agree with you is the same part that “Frans” completely rejects! I think that approaches to development are clear! Some countries just refuse to accept that. At first I should say that i believe there’s a big difference between a country like Denmark & USA. Bad results of egalitarianism in countries like Denmark is way less that USA. That’s because of the different population and culture they have.
        l If you try to have an egalitarian society you’re absolutely sacrificing the speed of economical development and also liberty… In a social democratic country, hunger and enthusiasm of companies to develop their industry is less… because it’s harder with those taxes and high risks of developing… Look at them. Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook… Their growing at speed of light. Now take a look at Siemens, Nokia, etc. I can imagine that my son will never hear about them!
        As my last words I want to say that egalitarianism kills liberty, Laisse-Fair economy, Innovation, and as a result it lowers the speed of development.
        In a Libertarian society companies have much more enthusiasm to grow and their more responsible for their decisions.

      • Siamak. I am overcome with grief that you are not a beautiful woman. I can’t even think of what you said!

  3. “Frans”, – the proud Dane here..

    I am VERY pleased that Jacques is taking the trouble to unveil the secrets of Silicon Valley. However, dear readers of this blog, – if you read what I’ve actually said, – and I hope you will, you will discover that Jacques has a tendency to misconstrue my words, – if not downright turn things around. – How on earth can a man of his calibre and intelligence say: “My readers and I learned also in the exchange that inequality (variously defined) is an obstacle to being inventive” , – when in fact I’ve stated the following: “I would suggest that techno-progressiveness is a function of having a sufficiently large elitist group of people with a higher education, having attended the best universities.” – In other words: I AGREE with Jacques’ first proposal: Grow a really first-rate University. – A first-rate University, however, should be open to ANYONE with sufficient brains to learn it’s secrets, not just.. the more priviledged.., and you DO know what I mean.. – Even here in Denmark, odds are that a much smaller percentage of sons and daughters of the “lower” classes will attain a higher ecucation. The reason is Social Inheritance / Inequality. It leaves Jacques cold he says.. – but I don’t believe him ! – He is a far better man than he would have us believe !!

    Re: Why isn’t it (Silicon Valley) in Denmark, for example, or in Sweden, or one fourth of it in Germany?

    But it IS Jacques, – you just refuse to listen. No less than 70% of Denmark’s gross national product comes from exports, most of which is high-tech. – The value of German exports is at least as high as those of the U.S., but I guess Jacques will dismiss such figures as just another meaningless list..

    All things equal, a highly innovative and fairly Egalitarian country like Denmark ought to be way ahead of the U.S., for the “simple” reason that Egalitarianism, Social-Democratic Scandinavian-style, allows a society to benefit from the use of ALL Human Resources, not only Elitist resources. As I see it , there is one serious obstacle: Average I.Q’s are no better here than in most Western societies.

    • Frans: I assure you that I don’t turn your words around deliberately. And, I began that blog by inviting readers to look at our exchanges. And, by the way, feel free to give your blog address here, even repeatedly. Fairness matters.

      Readers will judge how I am misconstruing your words. Two questions:

      1 When you say “elitist,” do you mean “elitist” or do you mean “elite.” There is a difference that may be essential to your argument.

      2 Is it the case that you never said at all that equality (or egalitarianism) promote inventiveness, innovativeness, imgination?
      (Note that I don’t ask if you also said the reverse.)

      • Quick answers, as I am going to town: I see what you mean about elitist versus elite. What I mean is elite, by virtue of high I.’Q’s, best education, etc., which of course does not automatically imply elitism. Elitism does exist, that’s for sure, very much so in a country like France I think, but that is another discussion.

        Re:
        Is it the case that you never said at all that equality (or egalitarianism) promote inventiveness, innovativeness, imgination?

        I’ve said egalitarianism is not a prerequisite, and that “techno-progressiveness / innovativeness is a function of…” etc, but yes, I have also suggested a couple of times, that egalitarianism would – theoretically, strenghten it. As I wrote:
        “All things equal, a highly innovative and fairly Egalitarian country like Denmark ought to be way ahead of the U.S., for the “simple” reason that Egalitarianism, Social-Democratic Scandinavian-style, allows a society to benefit from the use of ALL Human Resources, not only Elitist resources”.

      • Frans: Two problems with old men (problems for you, not for the old men): 1 They don’t sleep at night. That enlarges their brain power; 2 They are often not as forgetful as they will allow you to believe.

        I knew you had made the comment about egalitarianism being a contributor to innovativeness. I know you argue it should be like this. Well, it’s not.

        You are renovating my bias against what I call loosely “social-democrats.” It’s a general, habitual failure to see that the same social arrangement that have good benefits can also have drawbacks. The drawbacks may well outweigh the benefits.
        My general notion is that high taxes, suckling-nurse states destroy initiative and deaden imagination.

        That’s the reason why , a short while ago, I made a snide comment about the Eurovision song contest. I am under the impression that 350 million Europeans, 2/3 of them well off, cannot come up with one single good song a year Compare with, say, the state of Tennessee (4.5 million people). See what I mean?

      • Yes, I see what you mean, and I agree with you. American musicians really kick ass. Fortunately, there is also Electronic music, a genre in which Germans excel, and Frenchmen Jean Michell Jarre is really really good also, Then there’s Classical music.. and again: Noone beats Ashkenazi Jews, who are not only this World’s greatest innovators, but also the best musicians.

        Do you like jazz ? – This afternoon I happened to listen to a 1971 recording from legendary Copenhagen Jazzhouse “Montmartre”. Four Danish musicians together with Ben Webster and Charlie Shavers perform “Dirty Old Blues”. If you do like Jazz, you’ve probably heard of bass player Niels-Henning Oersted Pedersen. At the end of this track he shows off his virtuose technique.

      • Frans: I like jazz. And yes, it s’ not that difficult to find good music played everywhere in Europe. None is invented there .
        We are back to our old topic of innovativeness you have so much trouble grasping. Tennessee musicians make good new music faster than Europeans can learn it.

        And yes, Chopin rocked! I never said Europeans were genetic inferiors. I proposed rather that certain social systems seem to destroy invention. Chopin was not living in a social-democrat society, right?

      • Actually, I don’t feel qualified to say how creativity works. I know it is often said it’s roots are pain, depression, insanity.., and of course there are many examples of that, but psychologically speaking, I find the opposite more logical. – I don’t have the impression that Americans are superior artists, generally speaking, but I’ll think about it..

      • FRans, FRans! Creativity as a result of pain is the Lutheran version. Creativity is born inn joy.

        I keep ring to drag you screaming and protesting into the structural, societal conditions that promote innovativeness, creativity, etc. The same conditions favor both the design of the Internet and the composition of country music.

        Of course, Americans are superior artists but the reasons are not in their brains, they are in the society in which they live. Superior artists: Practically all of the popular music created since 1950 is American music. Want to argue? OK, it’s only 95%.

        By the way, Frans, your English is so fluent you make the same mistakes as my US-born undergraduates students! It’s not
        ” it’s ” steering wheel. It’s
        ” its ” steering wheel.

      • Well, I recognize the Lutheran version up to a point, but yes, joy is immensely more important for creativity, – I am very pleased to learn we agree on that.
        Now, I know you will say the following is flawed logic, and perhaps it is, but I couldn’t resist my own line of reasoning, as follows: 1.happier people are more creative 2. Noone scores higher in “Life-satisfaction” / happiness than Danes 3. Not surprising Danes also score high on innovativeness *

        * Innovativeness broadly defined, say: Technological + Social innovativeness

        Point is: Innovativenss is more than the Internet and the composition of country music, and I’m afraid that before you can drag me along, screaming and protesting, you will have to convince me that well-being, high levels of trust, equal opportunities, low crime-rates, etc. etc. etc. have nothing to do with innovativeness. – You will not be amused to hear this, but if someone suggested that Social Democracy = Social Innovativeness, I would not object. Furthermore, I would not object, if I heard it suggested, that mentioned virtues are favourable conditions also for technological innovativeness.

        Perhaps you’re right about popular- and country-music, but what about Electronic- and Classical music.. – By the way, Chopin lived before Social Democracy became talk-of-the-town.

        Disclaimer: I am NOT a Social Democrat, but a Social Liberal, and for us to reach a better understanding, that is perhaps important to keep in mind, as I do in fact share some of your criticism of Social-Democratic policies. Social-Liberals insist on a fair degree of egalitarianism, but have very strong liberal, as in LIBERTARIAN, hearts also, whereas Social-Democrats tend to focus more on Social aspects. I have a feeling that Americans are somewhat blind to this distinction.

      • Frans: Your English is quite good. (You have little merit in this. Danish is merely English that did not complete its course because it did not receive a big injection of French in the fifteenth century.) I am going to help you nevertheless with a small point of spelling:

        ” ‘s ” should be reserved for possessive cases as in:

        John’s giant tool…”

        ” ‘s ” to form a plural is a practice of women’s magazines and gay interior decorators.

        You can rite: “I.Q.s” or, better: “IQs.”

      • Thanks for pointing that out. I do know the grammar, but as I write quite a lot, I allow myself some sloppyness. – If others would do the same, they’s become the target of my relentless criticism..

  4. @Siamak Ahadi

    I’ve only just now read your comment.- You wrote: ” the same part that “Frans” completely rejects” – Would you mind telling me which part you have in mind ? –

    Then you talk about ” Bad results of egalitarianism” – 1.: It kills Liberties: Which liberties do you have that I don’t ? – 2. Innovation: Then why is Denmark repeatedly ranked among the very best ? – Taxes: Corporate taxes are LOWER in Denmark than in the U.S, but not only that: Only one in three companies in Denmark pays any corporate tax at all ! – Furthermore, it might surprise you just a bit, that Denmark is the only economy in the world where it costs NOTHING to start a business !

    Re: Siemens – Facebook, Google, etc. may sound “sexier” than Siemens, but whereas Facebook isn’t much more than a company selling information to advertisers, Siemens is involved in Automation Technologies, Smart Grid Solutions, Drive Technology, Energy, (Wind-mills for instance), Health Care, Building Technology, and much more. I would advice anyone not to underestimate the Germans, and the U.S. should be thankful that a number of German Jews escaped to the U.S. before and during WWII. I belive that alone boosted U.S. innovation considerably..

    Still, I agree with you and Jacques, that Silicon Valley is numero uno..

  5. Frans: You are not reading me with all the attention I am sure I deserve. Example: What did I say about Chopin?

    The underlying question: When did Europe stop producing Chopins, or great novels, or good paintings, or anything? Quick test: Ask any middle-class German the following question: Name two great living novelists among the 80 million Germans.

    The response will make you cry if you have any heart at all.

  6. Yes, – I know what you said about Chopin, and trust me: I read each and every word you say carefully, – “God” knows why.. 🙂

    There’s this German woman who lives close by.. – She plays with a Danish Symphony Orchestra, – violin I think. I’ll ask her if I see her in the near future, but it is not always easy for us Danes to converse with Germans.. – They have this “we-know-better” attitude, that Danes find quite annoying.

    I am a subscriber to “Spotify”, and I hear A LOT of music. Some of it are NEW compositions, and there is so much great new music that people simply have not heard of, which is a real pity, but maybe in another 100 years, names of composers will have emerged. Same goes for novelists I should think, so can we talk about this again in x years.. – Before I subscribed to Spotify, I frequently tuned in to German “KlassicRadio”, the best damn’ radio-station in Europe if you ask me. They play lots of “New Classics”, but I haven’t paid much attention to the nationality of composers. It’s an interesting question, and I will try to take note from now on..

    Hmm.. – think I sidestepped your questions quite succesfully here, but you probably don’t agree.. 🙂
    Oh, – if anyone wants to give KlassikRadio a try, here’s the link: http://www.klassikradio.de/ – (Right now they are playing “Jingo-Bell”, or is it Jingle Bell.. – not exactly a German Classic, – but of course.. it’s Xmas, so not the right time to hear NEW Classics..

    • Frans: You sidestepped my questions successfully. In fact, thanks to you, the question has become moot in my mind: My vague impression now looks less vague: It’s unlikely a pay-and-suckle society can innovate much.

      Just to be explicit about a recent exchnage: The underlying argument is that high-tax, wetnurse societies such as Denmark, and to a lesser extent, Germany, are incapable of producing a Chopin, or a Schubert, or a Balzac, or a Gunther Grass, or a Thelonious Monk, or a Django Reinhard. or a Picasso, or a ———–(fill in the blank). A part of me wants to be contradicted masterfully. It’s not happening.

      Here is what I will concede: Could there be composers playing on some esoteric German music service that will be considered geniuses fifty years from now? I don’t know; could be.

      Chopin was well considered in his life-time , and Picasso, etc….,

      I was careful to stay with popular culture because I don’t want (again) to engage in useless discussions about what constitutes “real” art with people of uncertain qualifications.

      I only want to discuss aspects of culture whose success is reasonably obvious through their popular appeal. I will grant you and anyone else who wants it any argument concerning anything else you and they wish to call culture.

      • I’ll have to let the Germans speak for themselves, so excuse me for bragging about Danish Cultural accomplishments, but you kinda asked for it.. – I am really not very knowledgable about Culture, but… I really do think Danes are HIGHLY innovative on the Cultural scene, e.g. Film-industry, Computer-games, Children’s – (or is it Childrens..) toys, Litterature, Architecture, Design, Food, and much more I can’t think of off-hand.

        Computer-games:
        125 game-producers / companies and a booming computer-game industry. Google Limbo, Hitman. ( I never play silly games, so don’t know all the names, but I do know there are other succesfull games invented in Denmark). – I also know it is a multi-million dollar industry.

        Childrens toys:
        Lego, – speaks for itself, but highly creative, innovative.

        Film:
        Three Danish movies have won the Oscar, – eight films have been nominated. Another 4 films have won the Golden Palm.
        We also produce a large amount of successful children’s movies. – Add to this: Plenty of International TV-Awards and a share of total awards far greater than 5.5.mio. people would suggest.

        Litterature:
        Our tradition for story-telling is well known. – We have two Nobelprizes in Litterature. – Of now living Authors I could mention Peter Hoeg, who has sold millions of books all over the world.

        Pop-music:
        Huh.. think I’ll let the Swedes have that one: One of the most commercially successful groups ever: Swedish ABBA.

        Architecture:
        Google Bjarke Ingels. – And of course the World’s best housing is in Copenhagen (World Architecture Festival (WAF) Awards 2011) – My daughter has an apartment there, – or, rather, her Danish / Vietnamese boyfriend has, but they’ve been together for years

        Design:
        Do I have to say it: Among the leaders in the world, due to “Timeless simplicity, quality and functionality”.

        Food:
        Ok, – I agree with you that the French are far superior, and forget about “Noma”, but.. we also happen to have the World’s best Chef: ( Winner of “Bocuse d’Or” ). – You can cry now.. 🙂

        I’m pretty sure I could come up with much more, but these examples should suffice to prove that we are not completely hopeless, despite being Liberal scum-bags..

  7. There was a comment by Prof. Terry I can’t locate about American land-grant colleges. It was a response to my recommendation that in order to have another Silicon Valley, you should first start a really first-rate university.

    Land grant colleges were financed by federal resources. They were a wonderful institution that gave American thousands of teachers, many well-trained engineers, and (to my mind) , the advantage of literate secretaries in abundance that Europe did not have even as late as the sixties.

    Back to the genesis of Silicon Valley and to the problem of the imitations thereof.

    The Mass. Institute of Technology is not a land grant college.
    Harvard University is not a land grant college.
    Stanford University is not a land grant college.
    (Incidentally, the latter university was founded by a self-made millionaire who was called in his day a “robber baron.”)

    PS When Prof. Terry decided to shake off the dissipation of his youth, he did not seek admission from any of the dozen land grant colleges that would easily have granted it. Instead, he went to Stanford University. N. S. !

    • Terry Amburgey says:

      “The Mass. Institute of Technology is not a land grant college.”

      Sigh. If you would actually follow links…From the link I posted in the first comment…

      “Ultimately, most land-grant colleges became large public universities that today offer a full spectrum of educational opportunities. However, some land-grant colleges are private schools, including Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

      “PS When Prof. Terry decided to shake off the dissipation of his youth, he did not seek admission from any of the dozen land grant colleges that would easily have granted it.”

      I’ve never shaken off the dissipation of my youth. I am, however, looking forward to even greater dissipation in my dotage.

      • Prof. Terry: You are amazing. First, dissipation in dotage is not all it could be but hope helps.

        Second, you lose the argument by being factually right. You have done this before. Jog my memory, please.

        So, MIT is land-grant sort of, contrary to my assertion. MIT plays a big role in American innovativeness. It’s a private school created by private initiative and shaped by private interests on a continuing basis. It’s exactly what I argued Europe lacks.

        The fact that MIT profited by federal largess, in land grant form or any other form, is not important.

        Stanford takes in loads of federal money. That does not account for its spawning achievements in Silicon Valley and elsewhere

        A story: Once, one of my Stanford mentors – who was also yours, I believe – was having his federally funded research program inspected by a federal appointee. I expressed nervousness about my slim production within this program. The mentor, a mild man by all counts, said about the federal inspector, “Fuck her!”

        I suspect your intuition has already told you that Europe has nothing like that.

        PS Frans will no doubt comment that there is a school just like MIT in Lower-Slovobia and that an essential rocking-horse remote control component was invented there.

      • Prof. Terry: Excellent memory!
        Same thing for me. My research was a violation of the intent of government in supplying the money that supported it. It was good research (as social science goes.)

        The point, for our readers abroad, is that in the best public universities no one probably has such a cavalier attitude toward the single fund provider that is the government.

        The attitude at Stanford was : “The government needs Stanford more than Stanford needs the government. Therefore, we do what we want.”

      • No luck! Prof. Amburgey knows he should hate me but he can’t help loving me. The same happens all the time with many feminist women.

      • Terry Amburgey says:

        Lol. Unless I’m mistaken the reviewer was Ralph Nader’s sister. I was very nervous since my research had nothing whatsoever to do with the alleged goals of the program 🙂

      • Just a thought: Why did Jacques opt for Humanities ? – He evidently has great innovative potential, e.g. “essential rocking-horse remote control” 🙂

        How about an automated black-jacques card dealer ? – It exists, thanks to cooperation between MIT and Lego ! – Lego’s “Mindstorms Robotic Invention Kit” was based on an invention at MIT Media Lab. You can read about it here: http://tinyurl.com/coedjtk

        Here’s a quote from the introduction:

        “The story behind LEGO Mindstorms is, in reality, a fascinating narrative
        of how three organizations—Resnick and Papert’s Epistemology and
        Learning research group, the LEGO Corporation, and the MIT Media
        Laboratory—engaged in a complex social interaction, which shaped the
        evolution of the technology. Each group had its own interests and ideas of
        what success meant”

        I share your admiration of MIT, but the point I wish to make is that COOPERATION / Social interaction is the key to succes. The reason why I wish to emphasize that, is the somewhat futile argument about who should be given credit for the developement of great Universities. Instead of animosity, federal / state – and private human and financial resources should cooperate. I am sure they do to some extent, but in Scandinavia there seems to be a much better understanding of the important role of both public and private sectors. Just yesterday I heard on the local news that the Danish governmet has launched a grand plan for future innovativeness, and its focus is on even better cooperation. I dont’ know if I should tell Jacques that public R&D spending is not being “exploited” as much as intended and hoped for, – I am sure he will say “no wonder” or something..

        Just checked a list of World’s 50 best Universities. 42 are located in the U.S., two in Switzerland, one in Israel, one in Denmark : DTU – Denmark’s Technological University (no. 45). – ( It’s just a list Jacques :). .http://www.leidenranking.com/ranking.aspx

      • Frans: This exchange is becoming an ethnographic study about addiction to lists!

        I don’t care if a list of the fifty best universities places fifty of them in the US. It’s still only a list. Mind you, it could be a good list. My experience with lists however is such that it’s not worth my effort investigating. We must all have strategies to cope with excess information. Mine includes the command: “No list!”

        And, by the way, and again, I don’t doubt that Denmark is a civilized country with as good universities as public governance of universities allows.

        Frans, Frans, you keep confusing programmatics with facts. That the Danish government has an agency to promote innovativeness tells me that some part of the Danish political elite keenly feels a shortage of innovativeness in Danish society. They respond, in typical European fashion, with government action. (We are back to my earliest description of the cow pasture in central France with the fence and the sign: “Vallee du silicone.”

        In similar fashion, t the Danish commission on innovation, there is in France a Ministry of Culture (N. S. !)

        The fact is that the US does not have any agency to promote innovativeness * nor is there a US Ministry of Culture. Yet, Americans and others working in the US innovate all the time in major and minor ways. And yet, American popular music and American movies dominate the world. (French movies suck as everyone knows.) Interestingly, India has the other healthy world movie industry with no government financing and no government direction.

        * The American National Science Foundation provides tax money for research. It’s a distribution agency governed by a co-opting elite of scholars.

        Your formula on how to create a good university seems to me completely arbitrary. It sounds like Danish gourmet food: Mix a little bit of this with a little bit of that! (God ,what a low blow! How ashamed I am for saying this.)

        Thanks for the compliment on my inventiveness, I keep trying. For a lazy man, I had quite an innovative career within he discipline of sociology. I did not chose the “Humanities.” The kind of sociology I did (and Prof Amburgey does now when he is not ranting) involves careful evaluation of data, cautious measurement, rigorous methods to try and isolate causality and, above all, a blood-thirsty adversarial system of refereeing. The latter, I have not seen or heard of in Europe. I think that there, papers get published on the basis of kinship (my brother- in-law is Editor) and beer-drinking comradeship.

        Prof. Terry who may have more experience than I about European scholarship but from a different angle will put in his views, I am sure. When and if he does, keep in mind that as a political lefty liberal, he is incapable of speaking frankly ill of anyone except of American conservatives. (Think of is rage against the Tea Party movement which is composed mostly of geriatrics cases armed with aluminum folding chairs.)

      • WOW – powerful – and most entertaining – rhetoric ! – It is so good I will not even begin to object, but also I am running out of time as Christmas is around the corner.. – I will have to let Prof Amburgey teach you a lesson..

        Merry Christmas everyone !

      • Ps. and 4 in the U.K. – to make it the 50 best.

  8. Frans: I knew I could entrap you in the end. I was amazed you did not mention Lego right away. You finally did, at last. It’s obvious that Lego is Erector Set (Meccano) for retarded children. It’s a humanitarian wonder. (Incidentally , “Erector Set” is now trademarked as “Limpset” out of respect for Scandinavian feminists.)

    I am interested in the Oscars and in the Nobels in literature. Please, name the Danish Oscars since 1950. I am not doubting you; the search is just difficult.

    The rest of your list leaves me cold. Danish furniture should be called “Lutheran furniture.”

    Tell us more about the Swedish group that’s the most commercially successful. (Is it a winner of the Eurovision weight-lifting contest of the lightweights?)

    Later: Again, I am interested. Please, name the Danish Oscars. There are too many Oscar categories to extract the Danish winners from a general data base.

    Later: Your claim of two Danish Nobel prizes in literature drew my attention. I got all excited! Ooops, you answered as if I were disputing the healthfulness of the Danish genetic stock. I have done no such thing.

    I keep arguing instead that high-tax societies that bottle-feed even adults are inimical to creativity of all kinds. Accordingly, I have no doubt about Danish achievements before Denmark became an exemplary such society (“social-democrat” in a general way). That would be roughly before 1950.

    I have found no Danish Nobels in literature at work since 1950. This could easily be an effect of scale. I don’t blame Danes. They are a very small population. But you, Frans, volunteered that info as if scale did not matter. And, a quick survey leads me to hypothesize that Denmark’s small scale did not seem to impede Danish creativity in other fields before 1950. Amazing!

    People will think I made you up or bought you off the way you persist in making my argument for me! It reminds me of an old American saying:

    “The deviousness and lack of scruples of old age will always triumph over youthful vigor and imagination.”

  9. Jacques, – you know what a Boomerang is, don’t you ? -Think about it.. – Point is: I’m rather pleased to be “entrapped” here, as it gives me a perfect alibi for proving you wrong !.- Don’t you triumph just yet..

    Lego:
    I’m not sure what exactly you are saying, – but I don’t suppose you consider guys at Nasa retarted ? – Here are a couple of quotes for you: Astronaut Dan Tani, a veteran shuttle flier: “”LEGO taught me a lot of things about how things are built, what makes sense in terms of structure,” – “I don’t think I’d have been as good an engineer if it had not been for things like LEGO and construction kinds of toys.” –

    “NASA’s fundamental goal is to use the (LEGO) partnership to inspire children to learn about science, technical fields, engineering and math. Known as STEM education, the focus has been a priority for the agency throughout this year’s “Summer of Innovation.”.

    I don’t really have an opinion about LEGO myself, but since you have stated yourself, that your criteria for what counts as (cultural) innovativeness is popularity, LEGO quite clearly is extremely innovative.
    Founders of Lego are good for 10 billion dollars, not bad for a small nation.

    Film-industry:
    – Three Danish movies have won the Oscar: Babette’s Feast (1987), Pelle the Conqueror (1988) and In a Better World (2010).
    – Another five were nominated for the Academy Award: Qivitoq (1958), Paw (1959), Harry and the Butler (1960), Memories of a Marriage (1989).

    – Four “Golden Palm” winners: The Red Meadows (1946),Pelle the Conqueror (1988), The Best Intentions(1992), Dancer in the Dark (2000).

    Design /Architecture:
    We are not concerned here with what leaves either one of us cold, but what, objectively speaking, qualifies as innovative, and you can’t deny the reputation of Danish design and architecture. Trust me, a lot of “innovative” garbage, technologically and culturally, leaves ME cold, and not all of it is coming in from where the sun rises..

    Swedish “ABBA:
    “remain the world gold standard for pop music. They are credited with selling over 375 million records worldwide”
    In 2004, they turned down a $ 2 billion offer to re-unite. Yes, in 1974 they also won the European Song Contest, with their song “Waterloo”.

    Litterature:
    Nobel-prizes won in 1917 and 1944, but I don’t agree with you that only accomplishments later than 1950 should be counted. The building of the Wellfare-state began mid-19th. century, and Social-Democracy played a central role. It is true that taxes skyrocketed after WWII, but so did prosperity.

    By the way, the Sydney Pollack film “Out of Africa – based on the storytelling of Danish author Karen Blixen, won seven 1985 Academy Awards (Oscars) in 11 nominations.

    You didn’t say a word about Computer-gaming, an industry with a mulit-billion – (BILLION, that is) – dollar potential. Are these guys culturally innovative or not ? – Succesful Danish inventors of Computer-games are said to build on before-mentioned tradition for story-telling.

    As I said, I could give you many more examples of contemporary Danish innovativeness, technologically, as well as culturally and socially, but it would take more of my time. I really haven’t thought much about it before we began this discussion, and honestly, I am not “bragging” in order to win some pissing-contest. My sole concern is to refute your (wrong) idea, that “bottle-feed even adults are inimical to creativity” – It even contradicts your own statement, that creativity is born in joy.

    • Very interesting and educational. The computer gaming industry matters a great deal. No disagreement there.

      I can’t look into the other claims right now but I take them seriously.

      I suspect you don’t know what” Erector Set” and” Meccano” refer to. I think that Lego is an inferior version of such. I suspect the NASA scientists you quote have never heard of it either. NASA culture is successful but boring. At no time in history have so few spend so much money doing so little, I think. Still, good point.

      I think one should never use quote marks without identifying who or what one is quoting. It’s an issue of hygiene.

      It was not exactly a pedantic remark I made about “it’s.” Mistakes are social class markers, unavoidably. It’s bad for my prestige if I am seen arguing with a redneck. (I know you are not but I care about what of my readers might think.) It’s a jungle out there!

      • I usually provide links, but didn’t bother because of earlier troubles, and anyone can plot a string of text into a browser, and vupti, take you straght to the source. Anyway, Nasa-quotes from here: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/behindscenes/lego.html

        Every Danish child – boys that is – played with Meccano when I grew up, and it still sells, but I don’t know how much. – I think you need some updating though, when it comes to Lego. Nowadays, it is much more than hardware. Again, I don’t know much about it, but you may check out Lego Robotics, and nowadays of course, you need software and programming skills if you want your toys to do what you tell them. It is getting ever more advanced, but I would have to ask someone who knows better than I.

        Re: Your readers: Don’t underestimate your own readers..

      • Meccano had nuts and bolts Lego does not. I rest my case.

        I did not ask you for a NASA link. Read my note again please, to see my request .

        PS I think NASA should have been disbanded years ago.

  10. I “complained” about you to yet another friend, this time a Danish “pédant”. This was his reply: Joern, correct punctuation MATTERS ! – Consider the following:

    An English Professor wrote the words “A woman without her man is nothing” on the chalkboard and asked his students to punctuate correctly. All the males wrote: “A woman, without her man, is nothing”. All the females wrote: “A woman : without her, man is nothing“.

    • David says:

      Side note, Lego started in 1949. As another aside, it is, in my opinion, much harder to build viable models using legos, unless the model in question is some varient of a cube or other rectangular prism, so it can, at times, be more challenging than a normal Erector Set. Also, legos are inferior in a structural sense too, they’re less able to withstand stresses that an Erector Set would be much better able to handle, thus needing improved (often time ingenious methods) to support any real structure if one doesn’t want to have a model that weighs 30 pounds. I’ve spent much time tinkering with both.

      • David says:

        Frans, regarding Computer gaming, there is a difference between making a good game and actually innovating. Halo was a good game. Wolfenstein and Doom innovated. Civilization and Starcraft innovated. Angry Birds innovated. Hitman, though a fun play, didn’t innovate. Both good games and innovative games make lots of money, but one type is a stand out, the game from which all others in the genre leech off of. Ever been Zerg rushed? Innovated. Just…one…more…turn… Innovated.

  11. David says:

    Also regarding authors, Bram Stoker’s Dracula…Innovative. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series…good (and amazingly successful) but not innovative. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein…Innnovative. Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein…hilarious, cult classic, not innovative. Success doesn’t necessarily indicate innovation.

  12. David says:

    Consumer electronics. Why are there so many attempts at iPhone killers? Because the iPhone innovated. Five years later, the closest thing to a phone that rivals the iPhone is the Samsung Galaxy SIII. Tablet computers bombed around the DotCom bust…yet here we are 15 years later with the new iPad and iPad Mini. Everyone else is trying to get a chunk of the tablet market now…because Apple innovated. (Full disclosure: I loathe Apple products with a passion. I really wish Microsoft did tablets right the first time around, but they did not and here we are today. Though there is some hope on the horizon with the Surface tablet Microsoft has put together.)

  13. David says:

    Pop music…maybe I’m a little too young…but who is ABBA, and how are they the “Gold Standard for Pop Music?” Hell, Hansen was wildly popular for a few weeks. So was Vanilla Ice. Hell, Justin Beiber (Or Vanilla Ice 2.0, as I call him) has had a good couple of years. William Hung (of American Idol infamy) got himself a recording contract. Anyone heard of an obscure Korean rapper by the name of Psy? Most every one of these people was successful (if only for awhile) yet I don’t think of any of them as innovative.

  14. @David
    Very valid points you make, but notice I am keeping my personal opinions and tastes out of the discussion and instead using more general definitions of innovativeness. Arguing about which computer-game is better, whether Meccano is superior to Lego, Apple better than Microsoft, – this or that lousy but best-selling pop-Diva is better than.., etc., is a bit futile. – One definition of innovativenss I’ve been criticising is “a product that creates added value”. The reason is this: A “product”, in most peoples minds, is physical “stuff”, and “value” is $$$. – I prefer a much broader definition, such as “Any technological, Social, Cultural, Educational invention contributing to overall Well-being” – The trick here is a shift away from measuring innovativeness in “succes”, and instead evaluate “well-being”. – In other words: I agree completely with your point, that succes, fame and $$$ has little to do with being innovative.

    • A small interject. I agree with Frans’ rejection of the narrow definition he gives of innovativeness. I recognize that this fact alone plunges us into the real of subjective definitions. Somehow, I am optimistic about such discussions if everyone acts in narrow good faith. (No “winning the argument” for the hell of it.)

      Lego may well be wonderful but NASA is not a good reference for me. It has been a primary superior waster of taxpayers’ money for years.

      • David says:

        To which “he” do you refer to JD? I don’t recall explicitly defining innovation, unless a meaning can be reasonably deduced from giving lots of more or less meaningless examples of persons/ideas that innovated and/or didn’t innovate. And Frans has a very wide angle definition of innovation, so I doubt you are referring to him.

  15. Jacques, – I did write who said those words, and all my quotes are on that Nasa page I linked to.

    If you read my comment to David, you will notice something interesting: I don’t even think all those film-awards prove anything, and my personal opinion is that most of those films are lousy ! – I don’t count Nobel-prizes as proof either ! – I also think the way they hand out “Peace-prizes” is ludicrous ! – As I said to David: I’ve been keeping my personal tastes out of the discussion, – perhaps that is a mistake after all, – not sure.. – I am sure you understand though, that my personal criteria for innovativeness is first and foremost any technological, social, cultural, etc. invention than brings humanity well-being and moves us forward.

    I will be taking a break, but don’t count on it 🙂

  16. Frans. David: I realize there is a problem of metric in our discussion. It does not mean that measurement is impossible or unnecessary. Without quantification, every opinion appears equally valid. (“Women are less intelligent than men, in general.”) The fact that efforts at quantification often go awry (“The best restaurant in the world is in Denmark.”.) does not mean that we should not try. Existing metrics all have one immense advantage over implicit judgments: They can be criticized and thus improved. They can also become the object of widespread agreement that is enough to make them something like objective. That’s what happened to the metric system, for example.

    Nobel Peace Prizes are absurd.

    Nobel Prizes in Medicine or in Physics are not absurd. They are always given to something or someone important although not necessarily to the best. Even in Economics, I could easily find work that was not chosen that is more important than work that was chosen but I can’t think of any Econ prize given to something trivial, not one. Nobels in literature are often mysterious, including giv n to writers whose languages no one knows. Many people of culture are puzzled about the great writers who never received one, but that award has pretty much stood the test of time. With the single exception of the mediocre, intellectually dishonest French writer J. P. Sartre, it was never given to someone utterly ridiculous.

    Let’s not be too refeened, OK!

  17. Jacques, – I detest Postmodernism, so I agree with every word you wrote in your last comment. That is not to say being “objective” is an easy task !

    Ps. I have defined myself elsewhere as an “Transhumanist Existentialist”, which hasn’t got all that much to do with Sartre, but that is another story.. – However, Sartre’s involvement with newspaper Libération came to my attention during the “Mo’-crisis”, and again when Charlie Hebdo headquarters were fire-bombed by Islamists. What is VERY interesting about Libération, is that it is the ONLY leftist newspaper in all of Europe that has been on the side of Freedom of Expression, rather than being apologetics of Islam. I don’t know if Sartre should be given credit somehow, but Libération has got balls ! – How about a Nobel Prize of some sort…

    • Liberation is an extremist newspaper with balls, I agree. Sartre gets not credit. He was a totalitarian to the end.

      This discussion is becoming too rarefied for an American blog but see if the following phrase rings a bell although you are too young to have heard the original from Sartre:

      “Il ne faut pas desesperer Billancourt.”

      The latter is the area adjacent to Paris where the main Renault factory stood.

      • No, that phrase didn’t ring a bell, but it took me no more than a couple of minutes to find out that it refers to Sartre’s disapproval of Khrushchev’s denunciation of stalinist crimes, in 1956 I believe. Sartre was apparently afraid of the “negativ

      • Yes, Sartre did not want the truth. He wanted it less than Khrushchev.

        Liberation, the newspaper defended freedom of speech along with other papers. So did the Wall Street Journal (in a far less trident terms) . Even the New York Times does, once on a while. Political correctness is a huge problem in the US, obviously.

      • You will be pleased to hear I have taken notice of the positive role of WSJ when it comes to defending your First Amendment. I have also taken notice of NYT, and I am really disappointed, for a number of reasons, but that too is another discussion..

        I am aware of the heated discussion about your SECOND Amendment of course, but I’ve decided to stay clear of that !

  18. – hit something by mistake, but I was going to write that Sartre was apparently afraid of the “negative” reaction of the proletariat. – I guess you are right about his totalitarianism, but what I know about Sartre is for the most part about his existentialist side.
    So you think Liberation is an extremist newspaper.., that’s interesting, but at least they’ve stood up for freedom of speech, which is more than one can say even about U.S. newspapers, which I find extremely disappointing.

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