Technology in and for developing countries. This includes both technology industries as a source of economic growth, and technology use for education and other purposes. Special focus on Lebanon, in connection with the TechLeb conference.
War is inevitably a terrible thing. This truth is repeatedly forgotten or disregarded, not least in the Middle East, most recently by Hizbollah and Israel alike, and perhaps by other parties influencing the Lebanese conflict as well.
But I am writing today, not about hatred and folly in general, but about a narrower point – namely, the need for an actual peace treaty in Lebanon, after decades of a formal state of war. Such a treaty is, in my judgment, essential for Lebanon’s economic future. And so it is essential for Israel’s security too, and by extension for the security of many other countries as well. For if Lebanon does not thrive — if the people of Lebanon lose hope — Lebanon will remain what it has been for three decades, an unstable and uncontrollable enemy of the Israeli state.
Maybe I should explain why I feel motivated and qualified to hold forth at such length about public policy issues such as net neutrality, free-world privacy, authoritarian censorship, economic development, and so on.
If you’re reading here, you’re probably familiar with my software industry credentials — top-ranked stock analyst, top-tier product analyst, sometime entrepreneur, etc. If not, there’s always my official bio. But I also have some non-trivial public policy and economics chops. I spent two years at the Kennedy School of Government after getting my Ph.D. Then, turning down an assistant professorship at the Kellogg School of Management as well as research jobs at RAND and IDA, I went to Wall Street — which is, if one chooses to make it such, one heck of a further education in economics. And then in the mid/late 90s, Linda and I actually got active in the internet services market, analyzing, consulting, etc. Indeed, we even (re)wrote a few speeches for Steve Case of AOL, including some Congressional testimony.
Bottom line: Yes, I actually have some idea what I’m talking about.
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Dave Kellogg has a long, interesting post based on his own experiences with the attempts to make Paris into a Silicon Valley (at Business Objects, of course). He comes out very negatively. Reasons include:
1. Worker culture — people don’t have the same entrepreneurial, hard-working drive in France as they do in the US. Based on what I know of Business Objects and also of Dave’s tenure there, my gut reaction is to say this is 2/3 justified, 1/3 Dave just being Dave.
2. A lack of specific skillsets. Also, a lack of connection to the most important market, the US. I agree completely, except that these considerations apply more strongly to well-established industries than they do to truly new ones.
3. A wealth tax that drives rich people, including previously successful entrepreneurs, out of France. Ouch.
Stan Gibson asserts a significant cultural difference in Russan vs. Indian outsourcing. Basically, he characterizes the Indians as compliant servants, while the Russians are argumentative team members, although one quote acknowledges there are exceptions in both countries. Based on this, it appears that some companies are happier doing serious product development in Russia than in India.
At best, he greatly overstates the case. Much more product development has been done by Indian outsourcers than Russian ones, going all the way back to Release 1 of Microsoft Visual Basic. Even so, it’s a distinction worth thinking about if you’re trying to kickstart an outsourcing business (or considering using an outsourcer) in a less-commonly-used outsourcing country.
My Computerworld column finally came out this month, pointing back here. Only there were typos and omissions in the URLs. Also, a couple of the key notes here were incorrectly published in draft form, and got reedited. So let me summarize again, and reiterate the internal links.
1. There’s a whole section on privacy, censorship, and freedom, both domestic and abroad. You can also find a link to it in the left sidebar.
2. I proposed two modes of hands-on involvement in fighting authoritarian-government censorship and repression. One is to immediately adopt the quick-and-dirty tactics of http://www.irrepressible.info, by adding a little code to your websites. (I’ve done that already on four sites.) The other is to help me theorize about a badly needed next-generation improvement on those.
3. There’s a whole section on technology-related economic development (again, also accessible from the left sidebar), most of it added recently in connection with my preparations for or ruminations after TechLeb. The most actionable private-sector idea in the lot is probably this one.
Please help. Everybody can.
|Categories: Economic development, Privacy, censorship, and freedom, Public policy and privacy||3 Comments|
Scoble points out Paul Graham’s essay — turns out there’s more than one — one creating “silicon valleys” elsewhere. Some of the points are downright laughable, such as “it might be a lost cause to try to establish a silicon valley in Israel.” (Hellooo — how many countries in the world enjoy Israel’s per-capital technology startup success?) And despite the two essays’ length, I have trouble finding many specifics I actually agree with.
Even so, if you care about technology industry economic development, the essays are worth skimming.
One theme at TechLeb was that developing countries need to focus their efforts on particular technology industry subsectors. It’s a lot easier to come up with a government program that’s really effective for a few kinds of businesses than it is to come up with a plan for strengthening “all” kinds of enterprise. And of course it’s crucial to get to a critical mass, so that proven success – and proven successful people — in an area spawns more opportunities in similar ventures. Read more
I came away from TechLeb with some very interesting mixed messages about incubators, science parks, technology trade zones, whatever. (Jacques Masboungi’s talk on the subject was particularly interesting.) On the one hand, they seem to be one of the best things governments can do to foster technology development. On the other hand, they seem to be one of the easiest ways governments can screw up. And since no two projects are the same, it can be hard to generalize from experience.
Given all that, I shall now proceed to theorize about how to construct an environment for fostering technology development. And please note that government does not have to play a leading role. Instead, universities or even private entrepreneurs can and quite possibly should take the lead. Read more
The Q&A session to my TechLeb panel did produce a few interesting observations. Perhaps the most instructive were when I asked for “unsuccess” stories of government intervention — things governments tried to aid tech businesses that didn’t work out so well. Most of the answers all boiled down to the same thing — throwing money at ill-conceived ideas. These could be economically-motivated research projects that never produced much of economic value — Japan’s Fifth Generation Computer Project is a prime example, but there are many similar developed-world fiascos. (Basic research and even military research seem to produce more benefits by serendipidity than economically targeted research does in total.) Or they could be incubators and science parks to which nobody much ever came. But basically, most of the answers amounted to over-optimism about specific initiatives.
Most of the rest of the answers were of the nature “Well, in addition to X and Y, government should also have done Z.” But that’s a story for other posts.
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. Read more