Tuesday, September 03, 2019

The Transplant Metaphor

I'd draw some parallels between transplanting plants and transplanting ideas.

This post is triggered by the concerns over Chinese "thefts" of intellectual property, and also by reading a book on the Industrial Revolution in Britain.  The author of The Most Powerful Idea in the World emphasizes the interactions and connections which created the revolution.  

As any gardener knows, it's tricky to transplant a plant. Some are very difficult to transplant; in all cases it has to be the right time of year.  Usually plants need soil and climate in their new location close to those where they originated/  When they don't have the right conditions, they wither and die.

I'd argue similar conditions hold for many ideas. It's more clear when you consider such ideas as democracy, market economy, social and political freedom.  Usually they transfer from one country to another only with considerable modifications.  Consider the operations of democracy in Kenya or India.  When you come to more technological institutions or ideas, we assume they can be transferred easily, but not in many cases.  

Consider history in what we used to call the Third World.  In many cases optimistic first world types financed shiny new things, railroads, roads, bridges.  But without the connections to other parts of society there wasn't the money to maintain them.  In Afghanistan, hurdles to the US training an effective Afghanistan army and air force included the lack of literacy among many recruits and the absence of a mechanism to get salaries from the government treasury to the common soldier without fraud.

I'd argue there are similar problems with science and technology.  Even in the US, lots of cities have aimed to create a new Silicon Valley.  Aimed to, but haven't had major success.  Part of the problem is history, part is the fact of competition--we already have a Silicon Valley, part is the lack of the unique set of conditions.which created Silicon Valley in the first place.

All of the above makes me more relaxed about intellectual property issues than most people.

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