The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy


The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

July 2006

Where Does All This Lead?

In my defense I will weave together four strands of ideological evolution to fabricate a possible future answering the question: Where does all this lead?  Together they form the fabric for a new biologically-based ethic to replace the ‘Me-ism’ of the Standard Model of economics and the ‘Collectivism’ of Marxism.  The four are:

(1) Progressive Individuation of the Individual;

(2) Re-Definition of the Person;

(3) Re-Integration of Technology into Biology; and,

(4) Re-Definition of Modernity.


1.    Progressive Individuation of the Individual

Among the epistemological relics of the Market/Marx Wars are the atomized pleasure-seeking individual of Jeremy Bentham and the alienated worker comrade of Karl Marx or John Lennon’s ‘working class hero’.  In this post-Cold War period they are one and the same, flip-sides of the same coin.  In production, the increasingly individuated or specialized knowledge worker is alienated from the means of production – knowledge as codified & tooled capital - by the existing intellectual property rights regime.

While the traditional manufacturing-based economy boasted life-long employment, the knowledge-based economy is characterized by contract work, self-employment and job insecurity.  Pervasive use of blanket or ‘all rights’ licenses extinguish all future claims by creators.  The employee, of course, enjoys no copyright whatsoever and cannot even claim paternity.  This makes a mockery of Zechariah Chafee’s words “… intellectual property is, after all, the only absolute possession in the world...  The man who brings out of nothingness some child of his thought has rights therein which cannot belong to any other sort of property.”

If this trend continues then the income distribution for knowledge workers will likely assume the shape of self-employed artists and entertainers who are second only to pensioners as the lowest income class recognized by Revenue Canada.  The income distribution is not a pyramid with a broad base, wide middle and narrowing peak.  Rather it is an obelisk with a huge base of poor ‘starving artists’, a thin column of middle class survivors and a tiny elite earning enormous sums, e.g., Pavoratti.  This could be the future of the knowledge-based economy - no middle class.

In consumption the increasingly individuated consumer strives to become the ‘star’ of one’s own movie.  Ego gratification becomes the primary pleasure and each individual seeks to differentiate oneself from others by style and taste, by being ‘cool’.  The result of mass education has been the opposite of Bentham’s standardization of taste, custom and tradition.  Globalized, standardized products are contextualized by the consumer at the local level, e.g., the often bizarre and garbled English expressions to be found on T-shirts in Japan, while local differentiated products may be globalized allowing distant other’s to spice up their lives, e.g., reggae music.  Arguably, the most dynamic consumer market today is China where the ‘one-child policy’ has given birth to ‘the little Emperors’.  Where hope, love and affection of a traditional Chinese family was ideally spread over six children – three sons and three daughters - today it is all focused on the ‘one’ child.   The ego enhancing effect shows in the changing consumption pattern of a once ‘classless’ society.

On both sides of the economic equation – production and consumption - division and specialization of knowledge is at play.  In fact, they coevolve.  On both sides the individual, as autonomous agent, is increasingly individuated creating a growing adjacent possible accelerating the possibilities of change – cultural, ideological and technological.  The range of substitutes and compliments is rapidly expanding.  Such change must, however, meet the test of fitness.  Too many exaptations, mutations or experiments too fast, can cause an organism, culture, firm or Nation-State to fall off of its fitness peak and slide into extinction.  The most important of these exaptations is re-definition of the Person


2. Re-Definition of the Person

We are now on the cusp of a revolution as profound for definition of what it means to be a ‘Person’ as the Republican Revolution of the 18th century.  Given time constraints I can only ask, but not answer, some pressing questions surrounding contemporary re-definition of the Person.  When does a Person begin: at conception, birth or the dawn of sentience?  Similarly, when does a Person end: heart death, brain death or decomposition of the body when cryogenic freezing fails?  Does a Person hold copyright in one’s own DNA?  What is the distinction between a natural and a legal Person?  Can an artificial intelligence become a citizen?  Is a clone a dependent or a taxpayer?  Should couples who avoid reproduction to eliminate hereditary disease from the genome be rewarded?  Should cyborgs and the genetically enhanced be penalized?

Arguably such questions are rapidly migrating from the adjacent possible called ‘science fiction’ into the realm of fact.  Radical and rapid exaptations raise again questions about fitness.  The selection process plays, according to Kauffman, a critical role in determining whether an organism climbs up or slides down its fitness landscape.  A critical factor is ‘recognition lag’.  We first must recognize a question before the search for answers can begin. 


3. Re-Integration of Technology into Biology

It is often forgotten that Aristotle was a biologist.  His four causes of ‘why things are the way they are’ reflect his disciplinary bias.  Efficient and material causes are sufficient in mescopic physics and mechanics; formal and final causes, however, are essential in explaining why living things and human-made artifacts are the way they are.  As demonstrated by Kant and more recently by Martin Heidegger, technology is an elemental expression of biological humanity.  Enframing and enabling the environment to be ready at hand to serve human purpose is as natural as a beaver building a dam.

With the Genomics Revolution humanity can now inject living things, including itself, with human purpose.  A vast techno-economic regime of compliments and substitutes is emerging out of this enabling technology or general purpose tool.  In the process technology is ceasing to be ‘other’.  It is perhaps no coincidence that Francis Bacon published Of the Proficience and Advancement of Learning Divine and Humane in 1605.  This was a year after publication of the first extant edition of Christopher Marlowe’s play Faustus in which a bargain is struck between the Devil (a.k.a. Science & Technology) and Natural Man whose gives up his soul and place in heaven in return for dominion over the earth - here and now!  Biotechnology is now extending the human hand towards the Tree of Life grasping at a significant extension of the three-score and ten years assigned to the fallen Adam by a jealous God.  In terms of Western mythogems, we are witnessing the eclipse of the Faustian myth by a Return to Eden.


4. Re-Definition of Modernity

If, as suggested by Heidegger, human thought and therefore knowledge exists only in time then what is ‘modern’ is subjective.  This contrasts with objective Victorian technical progress according to which newness defines ‘modern’.  There are, however, knowledge domains other than the natural & engineering sciences.  Re-definition of modernity requires their inclusion, i.e., the humanities & social sciences, the Arts and the Practices.  In this sense, ‘post-modern’ applies.

Globalization has brought 21st century science and technology, compliments and substitutes, to cultures still practicing 6th century sexual apartheid condemning 50% of the species to second-class status.  Such patristic males coexist in a world of 21st century Metros – men appropriately sensitive for relationship with the modern self-aware Western woman.  In the First World, at least, modernity also involves awareness of the dirty hands associated with ‘new’ knowledge from all domains and practices.  Modernity, in other worlds, is an overlapping of temporal gestalten according to Emery & Trist or epistemes in Foucault’s terms – of religion, science, culture, art and practice – the weave of which varies around the world and between individuals.  Whose definition is right – Al Quaeda or Disneyland?  We can now ‘objectively’ test them against genomic norms.


5. Biological Ethics

Since the discovery of the DNA double helix by Watson and Cricks in 1953 our understanding of life has expanded dramatically.  For example, according to Kauffman, life emerges naturally from chemistry, i.e., “as the molecular diversity of a reaction system increases, a critical threshold is reached at which collectively autocatalytic, self-reproducing chemical reaction networks emerge spontaneously”.  He also suggests that a fourth law of thermodynamics is at work in living systems including the ‘econosphere’.  Specifically, he finds “a tendency for self-constructing biospheres to enlarge their workspace, the dimensionality of their adjacent possible, perhaps as fast, on average, as is possible”.

Darwinian survival of the fittest must now be complimented by an equally important test.  Specifically living systems are characterized by increasing complexity resulting from progressive division and specialization of autonomous agents achieved through mutuality, i.e., coevolution and coconstruction.  Put another way, life involves not just predator and prey but also symbionts or partners.  Similarly, Beatty concludes:  “A diverse, panmictic population, and the democratic beliefs necessary to sustain it, produce the most adapted, and adaptable, populations”.

These findings suggest a new biological ethic: choice that fosters complexity, diversity and cooperation among increasingly individuated autonomous agents is a life affirming choice.  It is clear from this ethic why the Communist Revolution failed and the Republican Revolution, unfinished though it may be, survives.

Martin Heidegger in his essay “The Age of the World Picture” stressed how representation beginning with Renaissance perspective has lead to our modern concept of objectivity.  The representation or model becomes the reality: seeing is believing.  Carl Jung in Civilization in Transition noted that every age has its own symbol that iconically sums up its values and ethics, e.g., the Cross of Christianity, the Crescent Moon of Islam and the Star of David.  Arguably, the symbol of this new age and its ethic is visible as the image of Earth seen from space.  Our instrumental realism, our technology, now allows us to see that there is only one planet, one biosphere and one human race.


The Competitiveness of Nations

in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

July  2006