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What Kind of Innovation Do We Need?

What Kind of Innovation Do We Need? Economy Near Us (XVIII)

The morality of capitalism is, without a doubt, based on the value called to have (money, goods, power, social position, and so on) – and to have-to be is intensely debated in social philosophy and in ethics. I will not examine this from an ethical standpoint, since it is generally accepted both by the supporters of capitalism and by its opponents. I will narrow my considerations to the issue of innovation, as a paradigmatic model of improving human life. 

What is innovation? 

Regarding humanity’s evolution, we can take into account four paradigms of life (or, equivalently, four actional paradigms), regarding the social, economic, and ethical structure (SEES):

  1. a) stationarity: a frozen SEES, trying to smoothly internalize the mutual perturbations with the environment;
  2. b) stability: small variation of SEES, trying to maintain it within a natural band of survival;
  3. c) optimality: large variation of SEES, trying to extremize (minimize or maximize) a goal (generally of utility) – the current almost-generalized actional paradigm is the optimality, with its historic hypostasis called capitalism (NB: the so-called socialism/communism is not properly a new paradigm, it is assigned also to optimality, the difference from capitalism consisting only in the role accepted for the economic property, with all of the logical consequences which can be inferred from that);
  4. d) sustainability: recapturing the stability which is then complemented with ethics (intra and inter-generational).

The highest need for innovation is, of course, within the paradigm of optimality (in which humankind is currently engaged), and the lowest need for such is the paradigm of stationarity. The stability paradigm is located at a medium level from the perspective of innovation needs, while sustainability is located between the medium level and the highest level.

Since, historically, the sustainability paradigm follows the optimality one, it results that the need for innovation must decrease in the future. How is it possible to have such an inflection? In my opinion, the “rationality” of the mentioned trajectory for the innovation need could be designed as follows:

An abstract and general definition of innovation is an individual or social way to get better at a goal or to get a better goal.

On the chain of actional paradigms, stationarity – stability – optimality, the need for innovation is given by the need to increase consumption, in its general meaning; this increase of consumption was and still is the fundamental way to build a human condition according to the current values; the increase of the need for consumption has caused a corresponding increase in the need for innovation. Here, we are discussing a technological innovation – that is, an innovation aimed at extending, improving, multiplying and even replacing the endosomatic tools with the exo-somatic ones (the exo-somatic tools are, conceptually, prostheses).

Beginning with the sustainability paradigm, the need for technological innovation will decrease, because the goal of the humankind will no longer be the objectifying of the value called to have, but rather the objectifying of the value named to be. So, at global level, the need for innovation will not decrease at all, but simply the structure of such a need will change: less need for technological innovation, and more for other types of innovation. 

Three types of innovation 

Based on the previous considerations, I think there are three types of innovation, always as a means, not as an end.

1) innovation-speed (IS): innovation regarding the efficacy/efficiency – the standard representative for this type is the “technological innovation” (for example: innovation which automates routine activities); the innovation-speed arises both at individual and at social level, with inherent circular causation between the two levels;

2) innovation-communitarianism (IC): innovation regarding the direct inter-individual communication and the communitarian life – the standard representative for this type of innovation is the “social innovation” (for example: innovation which makes the cities bigger); the innovation-communitarianism arises at social level;

3) innovation-plenarity (IP): innovation regarding the individual internalizing and valuation of the life – the standard representative for this type of innovation is the “moral innovation” (for example: innovation which improves liberty, democracy and social outcomes); the innovation-plenarity arises at individual level. 

Should we choose among the types of innovation? 

To choose among the types of innovation is not realistic, because humans require all the three types identified. We have stated that innovation is always a means, never a purpose per se, which is a reversal of the Kantian warning according to which humans must be treated as purpose, not only as means (NB: treating humans as means is not always avoidable). Always, in the concrete historical evolution of humankind, the three types of innovation have mixed, but, of course, the relative weighting of each has differed. The decreasing order of the three types of innovation is today: IS – IC – IP. In my opinion, in the future, we need the following decreasing order: IC – IP – IS. So, we must not choose among the types of innovation, but we must choose among their order of importance. By considering the fact that the human society is more and more built intellectually (that is, based on intellectual desirable projects – see, for example, the European Union, United Nations, NATO), the order suggested above seems to be more productive and more ethical. 

A “prophecy” 

The sustainability paradigm of human praxeology is already binding us regarding such a change in the relevance and significance of the three types of innovation. I think the globalization (a logically necessary road of the optimality actional paradigm of today, which destroys itself – see here an interesting parallel with the Marxian prophecy on the fate of capitalism, namely that the capitalism will disappear through itself, because it structurally contains or generates the causes of its replacing) will unavoidably force us to rethink the true purpose and the true significance of our lives. Certainly, such a resignification will lead us to adopt the second order of the specific importance of the three types of innovation. More economic growth may not signify a better life, but less economic growth is not sure to signify a better life. Rather, another economic growth (or another economic degrowth) could provide a better life. But, such a different economic dynamic does not possess a name yet: such a name is, probably, neither sustainability, nor viability, nor other labels which conserve the current economic features. I would say such a new economic dynamic should be named with a barbaric flourish: lifely economic dynamics.



The Romanian-American Foundation for the Promotion of Education and Culture (RAFPEC)
Amfiteatru Economic

OEconomica No. 1, 2016