Innovation without economic growth: a panel on development models

What is innovation for and who is it for? How can we develop innovation for the common good, no longer for economic growth? These questions formed the backbone of the conversation of the panel Innovation, Growth and Post-Growth, coordinated by Mariano Fressoli during the Research, Development and Innovation Week organized by the School of Economics and Business of the National University of San Martín. Anabel Marín, director of Bioleft, discussed this topic together with Adrian Paul Smith (University of Sussex) and Mario Pansera (Autonomous University of Barcelona / University of Bristol).

Smith opened the talk, presenting the notion of post-automation: a form of production that differs from the automation of the so-called “industry 4.0” in its collaborative processes and human factor. “Technological determinism and the discourse of industry 4.0 does not open alternatives to participation. It ignores the networks of makers, hackers, repairers and citizen innovation platforms, which are more democratic and humane, which we call post-automation”, he said.

Later, Mario Pansera questioned Schumpeter’s concept of innovation, which he defined as “destructive creation”, while he proposes to destroy the previous in order to dump our products: “Programmed obsolescence is the essence of the capitalist system, which survives through the creation of new goods and services”. Thus, he questioned the concept of growth as objectifying: “Capitalism brings a direct relationship between innovation and economic development that I call the religion of growth: the idea that economic growth is always good. All the effort of our societies is organized around maximizing GDP. If we cut down a forest and the GDP grows, it is taken as a positive number. This idea that you have to grow to be well is a dogma, it has no scientific basis. Why do we have to innovate? Why do we want to grow? It’s a loop. Technological determinism maintains that technological change is irreversible, and that it is always positive; I call it productivism. This is how he dismantled the argument that without economic growth there would be no investment, and without investment innovation would disappear. Taking up Smith’s words, he defended grassroots innovation, motivated by community needs: “One can think of an ethics and practice of care, a creativity dedicated to caring for things, people, animals, plants.

In her turn, Anabel Marín explained the foundations of Bioleft, and the work of co-designing a collaborative and open plant breeding network that is carried out by incorporating very diverse actors, from farmers to public officials. “Open knowledge, unlike patents, takes advantage of the cumulative nature of knowledge; it also encourages diverse values,” he explained. “Today, three global companies account for 60% of the seed market, and 90% of those with genetic events. The companies invest more in testing networks; therefore, we are working to create a testing network for open and collaborative genetic improvement. The idea is to rely on diversity instead of cancelling it”.

Then came a question from the audience: What are the indicators for innovation without growth? “GDP is not only a technical indicator, it is also political,” said Pansera. “The human development index is shown in terms of ends, as a ceiling for all people, but it loses sight of processes,” Smith said. Marín rounded off: “The idea that growth leads to welfare, the spillover model, is in crisis.
Finally, Marín brought up the situation: “Today in Argentina there is permanent tension about the proposal of certain sectors that we know can generate foreign exchange, but that are going to bring irreversible problems of environmental justice. Argentine society is reacting. We have been discussing ways for innovation to reach social welfare by skipping growth”. And she concluded: “This is not new. What we are seeing in Latin America, where we were theoretically so desperate for growth and development, is that we are not so desperate, and that society wants to discuss how: what are the new models of development that we are going to be proposing”.