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!