Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Investing in science

The government is investing $700 million to create a long-term fund to fund research in the agricultural and food sector. It's a good move - these sectors are big export earners, but we're still basically exporting raw materials. Finding ways to sustainably boost production and move up the value chain is essential to our long-term success. That said, I'm a little surprised that its the government doing this. We have a number of large companies involved in these sectors, and under competent managers, they'd already be making these investments themselves. Unfortunately, corporate management in New Zealand is notable for its short-term thinking and reluctance to invest for the future; they'd rather just clip tickets than innovate, and run things down rather than build them up. If the governemnt has to put up effectively a $700 million subsidy before they'll get off their arses, then it suggests they're not doing their jobs properly.

(I'm also wondering about the IP situation with this fund. This isn't basic, blue-sky research; it's specific, it's applied, it will result in patentable and potentially profitable improvements. The public are paying for it, so do we get to keep any resulting IP? Or will we be putting up the money and effectively taking the risks, while any resulting profits are privatised? Sadly, my money is on the latter...)