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A Moonshot Mission that misses its target Mariana Mazzucato recommends pouring money into problems that can't be solved

Unlike most government-sponsored missions, the moon landings had a very specific aim. Credit: Nasa/Getty Images

Unlike most government-sponsored missions, the moon landings had a very specific aim. Credit: Nasa/Getty Images


January 26, 2021   7 mins

On 26 May 1969, the crew of Apollo 10 reached an astonishing speed of 24,791 miles per hour. Two months later, their more famous Apollo 11 colleagues Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would have the privilege of actually landing on the moon, but no one has ever travelled as fast as Thomas Stafford, John Young and Eugene Cernan in the previous flight.

Then, another milestone was passed in 1970, when the crew of Apollo 13 travelled further from Earth than any human in history — 248,655 miles to be precise. Five decades on, we’re still waiting to break that record too.

Speed and distance may not be the only measures of human progress — nevertheless, on those two metrics, we’ve peaked.

What makes the achievements of the Apollo programme all the more remarkable is that it only started in 1961. Men were walking on the moon by 1969. By way of contrast, the first phase of the HS2 high-speed railway began in 2009 — if we’re lucky it’ll be finished by 2029. So eight years to get to moon; 20 years to get to Birmingham. An unfair comparison, perhaps; but I can’t help feeling that we’ve lowered our ambitions. 

Mariana Mazzucato wants us to raise them again. In her new book, Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism, she argues that the state must lead the way. Certainly, she doesn’t have much faith in the willingness of the private sector to reach for the stars — not in its current state.

Even before Covid, things were bad: a decade of anaemic growth, poor productivity, wage stagnation and faltering innovation despite record low interest rates. Capitalism is stuck, she thinks — it needs is a metaphorical rocket. The economy must be re-energised by highly ambitious government-led projects. The state must become an active partner of industry — using its clout to shape and create markets that serve the public good.

She’s certainly picked her moment. Right now, our fates depend on a quest to vaccinate the world against Covid-19, and remarkable progress has been made. Not one, but several, vaccines have been developed in record time — and in most developed countries, vaccination programmes are underway (Britain has just passed 10% of the population while Israel is coming up to 50%). Though the vaccines were developed by private companies, they acted as part of a global effort in which political leadership and public investment made all the difference.

Given this triumph, why not embark upon more missions? Further technological breakthroughs would turbo-charge the recovery and provide the fuel for long-term growth.

The conventional objection is that if the state attempts too many “moonshots” it will distort the priorities of the market, “crowding out” private investment. Mazzucato’s riposte is that big business is already bent out of shape by its own bad habits. She shows that most private investment now consists of financiers financing other financial activities. For instance, “in the UK, 10 per cent of all UK bank lending helps non-financial firms; the rest supports real estate and financial assets.”

This is not capitalism, it is onanism — a sterile process of self-abuse in which the economy is deprived of the real investment on which sustainable growth depends. The system desperately needs a reboot — and, for Mazzucato, this is what a mission economy would achieve, not least by pulling capital into productive activities.

What, then, is stopping us from unleashing the transformative power of an ambitious, entrepreneurial state? Perhaps we’ve been conditioned by decades of neoliberal ideology? Mazzucato certainly thinks so. In particular, she points the finger at “market failure theory” (the state should only step in where the market fails), “public choice theory” (civil servants can’t be trusted) and “New Public Management theory” (the state should be made to work like the market). Then there are the policies that were inspired by those theories — privatisation, outsourcing, the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).

Like all ideologies, neoliberalism leaves a lot to be desired in practice. Mazzucato is particularly good on the dubious benefits of outsourcing government functions to management consultants and other carpetbaggers. However, the crisis in “state capacity” can’t be blamed on these flawed ideas alone.

The anti-tax campaigner Grover Norquist once said that he wanted to “reduce [government] to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub”. Well, he — and his fellow anti-statists — failed. Across the western world, government remains much bigger than a bathtub. Indeed, it accounts for at least a third of GDP in most countries — and often more like half. Furthermore, it dominates entire sectors like healthcare and education.

There are hundreds of thousands of civil servants in the UK alone and they control budgets worth hundred of billions of pounds. If our senior civil servants — hardly known for their libertarian tendencies — were minded to build-up the entrepreneurial, innovative capacities of the state, then they have ample scope to do so. It is they, not here-today-gone-tomorrow ministers, who determine the culture of the civil service.

Having experienced that culture at first hand, I can say that it is not one that encourages a spirit of enterprise. In fact, it’s the most creatively stifling environment I’ve ever worked in. There are exceptions to the rule, of course: individuals, teams and units who do things differently. But that’s just the point — they stand outside the civil service mainstream. Or, at least, they do until their distinctiveness is smothered by the system. If Mazzucato believes this is due to the lingering influence of Thatcherism, then I have a privatised bridge to sell her.

The ambitions set out in Mission Economy will not be fulfilled unless some parts of the state are allowed to be different from the rest of the state. Indeed, the best bit of the book is devoted to the ultimate example: the Apollo programme.

Generous long-term funding was of course crucial to getting a man on the moon — as was the political backing of the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations. But as important as the money and the power was the programme’s operational independence. NASA’s awe-inspiring feat of technological engineering was enabled by a feat of organisational engineering that is of direct relevance to us today.

Bringing together the many different technologies required for Apollo’s success would not have happened without seamless communication up-and-down the chain of command and also across the different departments working on each component. In this regard, NASA (specifically, the Office of Manned Spaceflight) was free to mould itself precisely to its mission instead of conforming to some pre-existing bureaucratic model. Furthermore, it was in proper control of its budget, its contractural relationships with key suppliers and, perhaps most importantly, its hiring policy.

It should be said that commercial contractors were also crucial to the mission’s success — NASA did not do everything in-house. However, as Mazzucato shows, in-house government expertise is a prerequisite for a fruitful partnership with the private sector, not something that can be replaced by it.

The lessons of the Apollo programme can be applied to the missions of our own time. Above all, if we want the state to make extraordinary things happen — then those parts of the state that we entrust with these missions must also be extraordinary. They can’t look like “normal” government, which is about maintaining the status quo not going boldly where no one has gone before.

But instead of going into these lessons, Mazzucato focuses on what today’s missions should be — and it’s here that she makes a mistake of astronomical proportions. Rightly, she argues that missions should be stretching, and also tightly defined. “Get a man to the moon and bring him back home again”, while enormously ambitious, was also specific. It is only because of this clear purpose and the obvious definition of success, that US government was able to grant an agency the funds, authority and independence to get on with the job.

However, the modern day missions that Mazzucato is most interested in are exemplified by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations. These are worthy goals, but they’re so broad in scope that it’s impossible to imagine a NASA-like agency being allowed to take charge of any one of them. Consider Goal 8, for instance, which is to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”. That’s not a “mission” — it’s a basic duty for the whole of every government in the world.

The sprawling challenges that Mazzucato wants the mission economy to tackle are what social scientists call “wicked” problems (as she herself acknowledges). The term was first coined by the design theorists Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber to describe the sort of problem that, among other nasty features, has no definitive formulation and no ultimate test of a solution. Government would not trust an agency — however capable — with the money and power required to complete such a mission.

Indeed, by definition, wicked problems are never truly solved. With no neat answers and multiple conflicts of interest, the best we can hope for is to muddle through. Muddling through is what the messy business of everyday democratic politics is about — not what we should surrender to the focused, expert endeavour of a state-led mission.

In the jargon, the opposite of a “wicked” problem is a “tame” problem — but that sounds rather unambitious. In deciding where the state should embark upon missions we’d do better to use EF Schumacher’s distinction between “convergent” and “divergent” problems. A convergent problem is one in which ongoing attempts to solve it eventually arrive at a single agreed answer (or at least a range of mutually compatible answers). The Apollo programme was therefore a convergent problem. So is the development of the Covid-19 vaccines. The same can be said for the climate policies that have incentivised dramatic reductions in the cost of clean technology.

If we choose wisely, such game-changers can indirectly contribute to solving wicked problems by making them tamer. For instance, the horrible trade-offs involved in the Covid lockdowns are more bearable now that a vaccination programme is underway. As for tackling climate change, there are fewer obstacles now that low carbon solutions are cost competitive with fossil fuels.

If, however, we choose to do things the hard way — taking on wicked problems without convergent solutions — then the mission economy is doomed to failure. As such, it doesn’t just need rescuing from the dried-up ideology of the free market Right, but also from the flaky politics of the progressive Left.

It’s telling that Mariana Mazzucato concludes her book with a grab-bag of fashionable, but badly thought-through, Left-ish ideas. They’re all in there — Citizen Assemblies, Modern Monetary Theory and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s bonkers Green New Deal. There’s also room for some old favourites like “stakeholder capitalism” and “pre-distribution”. But the idea of a mission economy is too important to waste on magical thinking. It’s all very well-meant, but this sort of stuff wouldn’t have got Neil Armstrong out of bed, let alone to another world.

 

 


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
3 years ago

Goal 8: “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”.

Excellent, says it all really. Are the other goals good health for all, happiness, an end to crime, poverty and all discrimination.

Reminds me of the footbball pundits who drop pearls of wisdom like: “They need to score more goals and concede fewer”.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  LUKE LOZE

I agree with this but with a small caveat: how do you choose what to grow?

Growth in electronic gadgets like phones has and will depend on mining in the third world. Growth in fashion, like clothes, has destroyed large areas of the third world – back in the 18th century we polluted our rivers with waste from cotton production; now our rivers are clean and the pollution is in Indonesia and Pakistan. Growth in transport is running up against the fossil fuel protesters. Even the production of batteries for electric cars is grossly polluting, as will probably be the disposal of said batteries.

The Left, which is anti-growth on a world stage does have a point.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

The Left has hijacked reasonable environmental debate, lots of what we hear now is socialism/communism wrapped in a green cloak.

Alison Houston
Alison Houston
3 years ago

The idea goes back to Leibniz, via some of the American founding fathers and has been championed most intelligently in the 20th century and up to the present day, by Lyndon LaRouche and the Schiller Institute.

I haven’t read the book you are reviewing, but from your account it seems to me the author has missed the central point of the idea, that it is the improvement in education and the spin offs in other areas of innovation which are really the aim of the moonshot. Sending a man to the moon requires a proportion of the population to be very highly intelligent physicists, which requires schools science programmes to be really taxing, it requires primary schools to be educating children to a very high degree of literacy and numeracy, which requires excellence in teaching a more thorough teacher training regime. It requires the mining or manufacturing of lightweight materials, providing employment for those who are not bright enough to work on the mission itself and so on.

“As for tackling climate change, there are fewer obstacles now that low carbon solutions are cost competitive with fossil fuels” This is nonsense. To make Britain alone in the world carbon neutral by 2050, which is our idiotic governments Soviet era long term plan, would require many times the total world supply of heavy metals. Since every country in the developed world has set itself the same goal they will be unobtainable. Instead the real plan is a return to serfdom for the majority of the population as far from a ‘Moonshot’ as can be imagined.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Yes, you make the point that I often make, and which I allude to below. Until you overhaul the education system you will not deliver anything. And that is impossible when it is run by and for innumerate (and often illiterate) leftists whose core objective is to inculcate left-wing beliefs.

LUKE LOZE
LUKE LOZE
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

“Innumerate (and often illiterate) leftists” I don’t think that’s particularly true, if it was simple reading and maths skills would solve the issue.

What’s important is what they read (and didn’t read) and how they critically think about the world.

Having said that some of the modern lefts warped ideas on logic, truth and indentity politics shows either sheer stupidity, cowardness or malicious intent in those who expouse them.

Mark H
Mark H
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

During the late apartheid era, South African government technology programmes consumed just about every scientist and engineer the country could produce, and then some.

Those programmes didn’t deliver much in the way of value, but when they came to an end a lot of bright people were released into “everyday” engineering, to the benefit of the country as a whole.

George Lake
George Lake
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark H

It did give them an Atomic Bomb or is that a CIA myth?

Mark H
Mark H
3 years ago
Reply to  George Lake

That’s correct, 3 atomic bombs were built. Well maybe 4 because there was a suspicious explosion in the South Atlantic of which the govt denied all knowledge. There were certainly 3 that had to be dismantled at the end of Apartheid. There were various successful conventional weapons systems developed, and many that didn’t see the light of day (if this is your kind of thing, search for project Carver).

George Lake
George Lake
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark H

Many thanks.
If I recall correctly that ‘suspicious explosion’ was a high altitude burst, possibly assisted by an Israeli ‘Gabriel’ rocket.

Either way the whole operation has set an interesting even encouraging example, in a otherwise unstable world.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
3 years ago
Reply to  Mark H

Where did the Physicists and Engineers end up when the ANC took over? I imagine most went to the US, I can’t see many would have stayed in SA. I’m curious if any ‘freelanced’ for any other powers – Israel, possibly even India or China?

Mark H
Mark H
3 years ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Of the people I know, the CSIR physicists stayed in SA. The successful weapons projects were commercialized (e.g. Rooivalk helicopter) & some engineers continued in the arms industry. Many facilities were put to other purposes, e.g. wind tunnels rented out on a commercial basis, electronics manufacturers moved to making “off the shelf” boards but to very high quality standards.
Ultimately about half the engineers I worked with have dispersed to English-speaking countries, more Aus/NZ/UK than US.
Take these guesses with a pinch of salt as it’s a small sample!

George Lake
George Lake
3 years ago
Reply to  Alison Houston

Why are we still having this facile discussion?
The great Green Guru, James Lovelock saw the light more than ten years ago. The solution is nuclear, nothing else will do.

larry tate
larry tate
3 years ago
Reply to  George Lake

I wonder if you have ever heard of Fukushima?

George Lake
George Lake
3 years ago
Reply to  larry tate

How could one forget such a word, giving its closeness to a well known Anglo Saxon expletive?

However I suspect you mean the little village where those idiotic Japanese built a nuclear power plant, knowing full well the risk of an earthquake?

Given their experience of nuclear benefits, you might have thought they would have curbed their greed and been more cautious.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

Mazzucato obviously embodies all the reasons why the left rarely gains power, even though we live an economic system that rewards all the wrong people and all the wrong behaviours. The left can often identify the problem, but it has no viable solutions. All it can ever offer is more state and more money printing, the latter of which merely serves to make the rich even richer. It would never occur to them to reduce the size of the grotesquely grasping and incompetent state, or to engineer a return to some sort of sound money, or to fix the education system etc. Thus we have given up on them.

stephen f.
stephen f.
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Truly-the “moon shot” that is apparently undoable is reduction of metastasized government bureaucracies-everywhere wasting more funds on questionable “research” and endless make-work tasks than any space mission.

tom j
tom j
3 years ago

Astonishing to write such an article and not mention SpaceX.

Have a look on YouTube – just a couple of days ago they launched a spaceship (live on youtube) with 60 satellites on board, which are part of their StarLink satellite broadband service, which is available in the UK.

Brought to you not by the US government, which is no doubt more concerned with identity politics and impeaching former presidents, but by good old capitalist Elon Musk.

croftyass
croftyass
3 years ago
Reply to  tom j

Elon-love him or hate him he’s a catalyst for sure.”If you don’t make stuff, there’s no stuff…This notion,” said Musk, “that you can just sort of send checks out to everybody and things will be fine is not true.”…Difficult to argue with no matter how many left wing textbooks you wheel out>
Can you imagine putting any of our current establishment in charge of anything innovative-!

Mark H
Mark H
3 years ago
Reply to  tom j

And that is probably a good analogy for the success of the Moon landing programme – clear articulation of the goal, and single-minded pursuit of it!

Though Elon is also a proper Pretoria boy with his flamethrowers, shooting cars into space, etc.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
3 years ago

Mariana Mazzucato recommends pouring money into problems that can’t be solved

I’ve read her articles when they pop up on Project Syndicate – she’s a high priestess of the religion that is the European Union – so what did you expect? Wasting (other people’s) money goes with the territory.

Nick Whitehouse
Nick Whitehouse
3 years ago

I see you chuck in the statemen that “low carbon solutions are cost competitive with fossil fuels”.
This is only true if you ignore the elephant in the room.
The great big fat elephant is that low carbon solutions are intermittent. This means that for windmills, in the times when the wind does not blow, they do not produce electricity

To cover this shortfall, we need fossil fuel produced electricity, for which we currently have enough – just. However this backup solution, is facing an aging in our production ability and some will be closed soon.

So to ensure that we have electricity in the future, with no blackouts, we need to build more fossil fuel electricity generating capacity.

So you need to add that cost to the use of an intermittent supply, to arrive at the real cost of low carbon solutions.

Tim Bartlett
Tim Bartlett
3 years ago

‘Eight years to get to moon; 20 years to get to Birmingham’ says it all really. One sentence explains why the US gained an empire and we lost one.

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
3 years ago
Reply to  Tim Bartlett

Good point. I remember that the steam engine was invented in England, but had no measurable impact. Then the idea was taken up in the US, where it generated billions… so much for which culture values actual hard work!

Tim Bartlett
Tim Bartlett
3 years ago
Reply to  Andre Lower

Thanks, but I’m not 100% sure about your example – we really did harness the steam engine in the 18th and 19th centuries. The jet engine would be a more telling symbol of our decline, a British invention squandered here but indeed used to its full potential by our friends across the Atlantic.

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
3 years ago
Reply to  Tim Bartlett

Yes, the jet engine was another example – a more painful one, with Frank Whittle’s invention ending up as the powerplant for the phenomenal Mig-15…
But my point on the steam engine was that the English”harnessing” of the invention never came close to yielding the benefits reaped by other countries. There are people who hang patents on the wall, and then there are people who make fortunes and effectively drive progress with them…

George Lake
George Lake
3 years ago
Reply to  Andre Lower

What? It kicked started the Industrial Revolution in England for a start.

George Lake
George Lake
3 years ago
Reply to  Tim Bartlett

One word is enough: War.

Tim Bartlett
Tim Bartlett
3 years ago
Reply to  George Lake

Yes, also true. 39-41 they grabbed us and started squeezing hard. Doesn’t really explain why we stopped being able to actually do anything though. I suppose Socialism didn’t help.

George Lake
George Lake
3 years ago
Reply to  Tim Bartlett

Well despite the Stafford Cripps loan, and the largest single tranche of Marshall Aid, Labour blew it all on a Utopian fantasy, leaving little for industrial regeneration.

Additionally when there was some hope, in say the Aerospace Industry, was it really necessary to develop the Princess Flying Boats, the Brabazon, and the Comet simultaneously? Two complete duds and a somewhat dangerous disappointment.

Kiran Grimm
Kiran Grimm
3 years ago

Perhaps a greater leap foward than the moonshot, related but less single-minded, was the development of aviation in 20th century America. This laid the groundwork for the moonshot ““ most of the technology was produced by aviation engineers pushing their skills to the limit.

Consider this: 1903 saw the first powered, heavier than air flight by the Wright brothers. By 1945, just 42 years later, an “intercontinental bomber”, the B29 developed by Boeing was carrying the world’s first nuclear weapon over Japan. A long way from the Wright brothers Flyer this massive plane was constructed of aluminium, had a pressurised cabin, could cruise at an altitude of 33,000 feet and was armed with remote controlled guns.

Looking back 42 years from the present time to 1979 and the only development which compares with aviation is that of the personal computer and its offshoots.

John Williams
John Williams
3 years ago
Reply to  Kiran Grimm

“The only developments …” but wow, what developments! Advances in quantum computing, robotics, pharma-with-AI – yep, it might not turn out exactly as we predict, and there will be lots of wrong turns and dead ends along the way, but turn out it will. Progress ending with a whimper of 40-character (or whatever it is now) tweets? Don’t think so!

Peter KE
Peter KE
3 years ago

Capitalism has a problem because of too much government. Especially incompetent government as the U.K. has at the present time with politicians, civil servants, quangos and ngo’s only really interested in self perpetuation.

Kiran Grimm
Kiran Grimm
3 years ago

Interesting how quickly the public enthusiasm for lunar exploration faded when they realised the space opera worlds of “Star Trek” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” were a very, very long way off. 2001(?!) Just like other forms of fantasy Sci-Fi makes the real thing seem disappointing.

Still, no need to worry, interstellar travel is waiting for us in the future. Someone, somewhere just needs to get cracking and invent a hyperspace drive ““ Oh! while they’re about it, we’ll need plenty of artificial gravity as well.

Martin Davis
Martin Davis
3 years ago

What is wrong with ‘zero carbon’ as a convergent goal? It is measurable, and the technologies and associated social, political and economic means to generate a diminution in carbon (and other greenhouse gases) can be compared and evaluated in that light. It’s very complicated (especially if compared to a largely technical problem like getting a man to the moon), but it is gathering support from audiences which are increasingly recognising its importance as a goal.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Martin Davis

Is it gathering real support outside Europe?

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Only in the US. But they are as mad as the Europeans, which is why the West will probably fall in the decades to come.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Yes but focus here is heavily on green power and on cars. Will the US give up fracking? Don’t think so. Will the US with its great distances be happy to have battery cars? Don’t think so.

peter lucey
peter lucey
3 years ago

“Generous long-term funding was of course crucial to getting a man on the moon ” as was the political backing of the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon administrations.”
It also helped that the USA could print money. Or rather, could assume those holding dollars would not swap them for gold. When the Democrats Big State 60s spending (Vietnam, Big Society, Moon landing) came to be paid, the piggy bank was empty and, rather than raise taxes, Nixon took the US off the gold standard. We are living with the consequences…

Colin Haller
Colin Haller
3 years ago
Reply to  peter lucey

The consequences look pretty good from where I’m sitting.

nickwiz1
nickwiz1
3 years ago

The biggest problem in Govt and other large organisations is Silo thinking. The Handling of this pandemic is a good example. Govts are busy heaping disaster on disaster, destabilising their countries (Holland now in riots) and damaging over all health because a refusal to listen to all of the available science and trying to bill this a a public health programme. They are entirely focussed on case numbers and attribution of cause of death based on a very flawed PCR test (it is in fact too accurate) They are seemingly blind to the devastation that is occurring in all other aspects of life. And their planning and strategic thinking has become focussed on one very narrow issue. They are in a Covid silo!

Yes Covid is going to kill large numbers of people. It exploits poor health (which goes hand in hand with poverty) and age predominantly.

But hand in hand with Silo thinking is a perverse risk avoidance idea! An idea that far from avoiding risk is heaping problem upon problem and adding greater risk of ill health, death and economic disaster to what is already a problem.

Its as if the Political classes have failed to grow up and accept that however hard and sad, letting people die in order to prevent the utter destruction of human life and democracy for millions nay billions of people who will not die may be a tough choice but a trade off worth making. But it is one an adult who has accepted responsibility has to make. Maybe Trump was only the tip of the infantile thinking political class currently in charge now!

Mark H
Mark H
3 years ago

It’s interesting to contrast the moon landing program with the space shuttle program which followed it. The space shuttle was over-budget and beset by delays because its goals were too divergent… I think in the end the best one could say for it is that is a half-success.

Julian Flood
Julian Flood
3 years ago

While being of the opinion that Dominic Cummings is a bit of an ass ““ if you want to change humanity then dressing like a distressed teenager is not a good idea in an adult world ““ his influence in certain areas is going to be missed. His big idea was UKARPA, the home-grown equivalent of the American Defense Advanced Products Agency, a mix of research and development that brings advanced technology to the production stage. For decades HMG has been demolishing that capability in the UK.

Back in the 70s I spent a less than productive year in the RAE, a semi-moribund research establishment that had settled into torpor, but the excellent people at below bureaucracy level were still capable of doing world-changing work. For twenty years no-one with a modicum of aerodynamic understanding could look look at an Airbus wing and fail to marvel at the way the high speed cruise configuration ““ fuel efficient, slender ““ transforms for landing by growing in all directions, bending and caressing the air into holding the aircraft aloft tens of knots slower than the clunky Boeing equivalent. Only now after decades has Boeing caught up. That single project, aided of course by fuel-efficient engines courtesy of the UK, built Airbus into a world class competitor. RAE did the work, the Low-speed Wing Project, the French get to pose on the world stage.

UKARPA could choose similar achievable goals and for amazingly little money make a major difference not just to the UK but to the world. A few billion on SMRs, a few million on engineering the haem molecule into bean plants to give a vegetarian diet the same iron content as beef, giving Alan Bond and his team hundreds of millions to get his Sabre Engine into the air. The latter is a perfect illustration of what is wrong with the UK, we’ll develop it and then let someone else skim off the cream. And why aren’t those Reaction Engines Ltd engineers in the Lords?

We can deal with loony-tune priorities. Too much CO2? Build affordable SMRs and export them to Africa. End war? Use the threat of Sabre-powered instant response kinetic weapons to enforce compliance on countries out of control. Green the world while still feeding the poor? Crispr-Cas9 can give grains the ability to fix nitrogen. Heal the sick? Phage research. Restore ecosystems? Engineer Omega 3 into plants to feed fish farms, leaving the sand eels for seabirds. Meat without animals? It’s coming, speed it up.

And if I’m allowed my druthers, just two more. Throw tens of millions at marine biology and find out what’s crashing the plankton population. A similar effort on cloud physics to find out why cloud amounts are decreasing would close the loop, demonstrate the errors in climate science and keep us from starving in the dark. BTW, I bet those two are connected.

Not The Green Reset. The Technological Fix.

Come back, Dom. Think new thoughts, but this time wear a suit, there’s a good chap.

JF

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
3 years ago

I think the author under-estimates the misery of the civil servant’s mindset. The public machinery carefully selects the people that get hired, ensuring boundless adherence to status quo and hierarchy preservation above any other interest. No other environment can be less fertile to innovation and progress. And this sickening mindset is universal – one of the few things that remain the same across country borders, cultures and indeed history. A solid example of human nature perpetuating human misery.

k.juan1971
k.juan1971
3 years ago

Capitalism is stuck due to inefficient States. I think you got the problem wrong… Look at who financed the covid vaccines for example…

larry tate
larry tate
3 years ago

Instead of wasting billions of dollars in sending a man to the moon ( which purpose was a sour mix of nationalist propaganda and military interests ) the US could have invested in clean energy and sustainable farming. People don®t get it : resources are finite, there®s no Planet B. Only possible alternative: stop breeding now. Of course, women won®t put up with this so we are doomed to overpopulation. This mild pandemic is a godsend. We need natural birth controls to take over. We need to let the most of the population to catch the virus. It®s a natural killer, and that is what we most need at the moment, a blameless force that reduces our exhorbitant tax on the planet. Only thing is that the so called pandemic is a joke. We need something strong and unfightable. We need the world population halved by 2024.

thelmiandev
thelmiandev
3 years ago

I suppose you do realise that the photo of Neil Armstrong you use to mark this post has been analysed by professional photographers and could not possibly have been taken on the moon! For one thing, there was insufficient weight capacity in the vehicles to convey the heavy batteries and filament lights needed for creating such a bright pool of light around Armstrong. And the background illumination of the ground is uneven, whereas on the moon it is completely even, right to the horizon.
There is more recent version of this which has obviously photoshopped to correct these blunders!
And take care, and with Coved and Climate.These blog posts are full of wrong and unproven assumptions about Anthropogenic Global Warming. Their authors have fallen for Al Gore’s ‘ganda! And despite Attenborough’s crocodile tear-filled reports, polar bears and walrus are doing just fine, and not going to go extinct an time soon. Some serious fact checking needed here.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 years ago
Reply to  thelmiandev

I salute you for refusing to conform to established ideas, which does not mean that I agree with you on each of your points.
I agree totally on Anthropogenic Global Warming which has been taken to the status of a religion, which makes you into a heretic if you even discuss it.
The moon landings I have glanced at but don’t know enough.
How can Covid be fake when we can actually see it in our hospitals – my granddaughter works in a hospital and she comes home in tears almost every night. Maybe she is faking it or actors are dressing up as Covid patients.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
3 years ago
Reply to  thelmiandev

“And the background illumination of the ground is uneven, whereas on the moon it is completely even, right to the horizon.”

How do you/we know that is the case on the moon if we’ve never been there? Unless someone else got there first!