Senator Elizabeth Warren’s “Plan For Economic Patriotism” is causing ideological convulsions on right and left. Yet one part of her controversial plan has so far largely gone uncommented upon: she wants taxpayers (read: government) to have stakes in companies utilizing government research and development.
Far from seeing knowledge and government R&D as some form of public good that can be freely commercialized by profit-making businesses, she wants government to benefit from its investments by being an equity investor in firms – being given shares in companies who utilize public research, retaining royalties on publicly funded innovation, or even keeping a golden share of patent revenue. The misguided idea here is essentially that there should be a return to taxpayers for their money being risked on government research projects.
Such a policy appears to have been lifted from Mariana Mazzucato’s The Entrepreneurial State. This book posits extensive evidence that public money has helped develop some of the technologies or advances that we see around us, including the internet, touch-screens, GPS, and, soon, the self-driving car.
Through its role in procurement, investments in national security technologies through DARPA, and direct support for research, government agencies no doubt have contributed to building knowledge that has then been successfully commercialized through products such as smartphones.