There’s a general consensus among those who know more about developing countries than I do that the ideal scenario for technology-led economic development is a public/private partnership. Even so, I think there are only two absolute requirements for government participation:
1. Removal of barriers
And of course in some countries, even higher education can be provided by the private or at least non-governmental sector.
To see why I believe that’s all that’s necessary, just look at some success stories. What else did the US government do? Yes, military research, but that’s really just another form of education. Ditto Israel. India’s government didn’t do much except fund the IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) and create some zones in which barriers to commerce were removed a few years faster than they were in the rest of the country.
Looking further at the US, one might think that regional advantages of some sort are crucial. After all, look at the concentrations of activity in Silicon Valley, around Rte. 128, etc. But a closer look shows this is largely a myth. For example, over the course of my analytical career, I’ve visited software vendors in over 20 states — all up and down the Eastern Seaboard, all through the Rust Belt, up and down the West Coast, in Texas, in Arkansas, in Wisconsin, in Minnesota, and so on.
That’s the good news. The more challenging point is that there’s a LOT involved in “barrier removal.” Categories include but are not limited to (and of course I picked a lot of this up at or in connection with TechLeb, most particularly from Kevin Carroll):
- Licensing requirements for starting or expanding businesses.
- Labor mobility.
- Telecom and transportation availabiity and pricing. Ditto any other infrastructure failings.
- Intellectual property protection — this turns out to be a much broader and more important area than one might think.
And finally, it is highly desirable to have a government agency provide “one-stop shopping” for navigating the bureaucracy and, where needed, learning about the local business landscape. Even in the US, cities have this. It is certainly a good idea for developing countries.