Is an evidence-based knowledge economy such a good thing?

I used, occasionally, to travel in Russia during the 1990s. I had a
few good friends there. Acquired a taste for spirits and saunas, but
that is a later part of the story. In Russia in the 1990s it became
clear to me that in Soviet times, access to middle class comforts must
have depended on having a research job in an Institute. There were
institutes for everything: Heavy Electrical Equipment, Folklorics,
Education, Languages, Chemicals, Cars, you name it there was an
institute studying it. A Russian oil pipeline pumping station would
have a number of PhD Engineers on the management committee council of
a small city with homes, children, farms, schools, commisariats and
medics, maybe a hospital and a clinic, and, you get the picture. In
the US wild places, such a facility would be unstaffed, telemetred and
surveyed by Helicopter once a week. In Russia, there would be a branch
of a couple of institutes holding scientific meetings every Thursday
evening from 1900-2200, and probably a small, professional, opera
company and orchestra. Through the institute you got housing, a car,
washing machine, holidays on the Black Sea, travel to industrial
congresses or sporting events (following Institute Spartak FC) in
distant parts of the land. There were lots of jollies in the later
Soviet Union. It is not remembered grimly, but fondly, by much of the
population. I read this morning in Wikipedia, that the University of
Novosibirsk and the large research zone, Akademgorodok, 30 K outside
the city were established because: “Siberia possessed copious natural
resources, but lacked large research institutions which would promote
economic development and growth in the region.”
( Large
Research Institutions drove regional growth. Expansion could drive
this. But what happens to institutes crafted to drive growth when
growth stops? A lot of academics drive taxis? Is this a bad thing?
Krushchev’s ambition was said to be to get a cold beer to a man on a
hot beach faster than they could in the USA. Even if they had to go to
space first to do it. The Russians know everything about everything
(it is part of their charm). But seriously, the Soviet Union was
nothing if not educated. State scientific planning by GosPlan drove
everything or tried to: rationally, analytically, underpinned by
theory and most importantly, evidenced-based. Russia was pre-eminently
a knowledge economy. Revolutionary France was a knowledge economy
(metric system, I rest my case). Maybe as well as economic expansion,
knowledge drives revolutionary transformation. 18th and 19th c.
popular movements and thinkers culminating with Marx gave the huge
human urge for equality a theoretical, economic, scientific
underpinning. Russian revolutionary psychologists (Vygotsky, Luria)
explained community and literacy and French psychoanalysts (Lacan,
Kristeva) explained the Sadean the Foucauldian, the deviant. Violent
transformation was facilitated. Is one of the unintended consequences
of driving a knowledge economy that simultaneously a critical
understanding of power, inclusion, exclusion, hierarchy and authority
is also driven? Is that such a bad thing?

Posted via email from George’s posterous

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