We tend to associate innovation with capitalism. Capitalism is a dynamic system and the incentives for making huge profits from patents have inspired many great inventions and innovations. However, it is often said that innovation would not happen without capitalism and that society would be a more backward place. How true is that? Just how necessary, if at all, is capitalism to innovation?
If we look closely into the market place we start to see instances of the opposite happening. In many cases, innovation is actually retarded by the market. One example is the way that corporations delay product releases until the most potentially competitive and profitable date arrives. Once the ideal machine is invented, an inferior version of it is released at first, and it may take a decade before the original ‘ideal’ product is actually up and fully running to its full potential in the market place. But by then there could be a much better product out there. In this way, technology under capitalism is always loping behind its real potentials.
If to this system of staggering we add the notion of pre-programmed obsolescence, then what we see is a massive waste creating machine that is supposedly geared to giving us what we want whilst ensuring that the quality of what we want is sadly lacking. Why can’t we really have what we desire and need, which is a good product that will not be obsolete two years after buying it?
But even this slogan that capitalism only gives us what we want is perniciously misleading. So much necessary technology has never been produced because there was no profit to be made from them, or, the maximum profit was to be made somewhere else. Clean, hydrogen-fueled cars could have been manufactured eighty years ago, if the profit to be made in petrol was not so lucrative. In the question of car motors what was at stake were the profit margins, not clean air. Capitalism is a system of waste, enormous, unnecessary and dangerous waste.
Clean-energy technology development is loping at least thirty years behind where it could and should be. Here we see how capitalism is completely antagonistic to necessity. But progress has to be intrinsically linked to necessity. Because of this capitalism has to be suspect of actually working in a non-progressive or even anti-progressive way.
In terms of innovation, the greatest achievements we have made in the last century would have to be those made in the space race. They were achievements made with public, not private money. Capitalist innovations have so often be nurtured through the breakthroughs made by state promoted projects, especially military ones, that, rather than a great innovator, capitalism is really just a very clever parasite.