Czech Republic infringes the Lisbon Agenda:

International corporations are being subsidised from public resources

7. 9. 2009 / Jan Matonoha

Matěj Šuster of the Prague-based "Liberal Institute" has recently, on the basis of a few titles of my academic articles, courageously rejected the relevance of the whole subject of literary theory. His courage is admirable, and I will try to repay the favour by writing a few impressions regarding the current effort of the Czech authorities to liquidate the Czech Academy of Sciences. I admit that I am not a qualified economist, yet I would like to discuss here what I see as the very strange paradox of economic relations between the private and the public sector in the Czech Republic today.

A Czech version of this article is HERE

The Lisbon agenda upside down?

Jiří Chýla, Professor of sub-nuclear physics, has published an analysis of Czech Statistical Office data in Hospodářské noviny recently. Professor Chýla has shown that compared to Western Europe, Czech Republic still invests very little money into research and development. However, applied research done by private businesses is subsidised from public funds to a much larger extent in the Czech Republic than in the most technologically advanced countries, such as Finland, Sweden and Japan.

Yet private businesses invest much less into public domain research than is the case in West European countries. Such a situation is contrary to the aims and objectives of the Lisbon Agenda. It is also a total distortion of elementary logic. In other countries, it is regarded as normal that private, commercial profits finance the difficult, long-term and by definition insecure "pure" scientific research in the public domain. Not so in the Czech Republic.

As Professor Chýla says, it is as though Bill Gates, instead of giving funds to various good causes, expected the state to subsidise the development of his Windows. But this is exactly what firms in the Czech Republic, the land of Hašek and Kafka, expect of the state.

As a result of the recent coup in financing scholarly research in the Czech Republic, public funds, earmarked for scholarly research, in fact line the pockets of the largest international steel-making firm in the Czech Republic, ArcelorMittal.

I do not understand why the Czech taxpayer should be funding large international businesses which re-invest their own profits into their own research outside the Czech Republic while siphoning off financial resources from the public domain.

The Lisbon Agenda pre-supposes that research and development should be funded by 1 per cent of each country's GDP from public resources and by 2 percent of the GDP from private resources. In the Czech Republic, the state now funds private business research, so the aims of the Lisbon Agenda are thwarted.

It is particularly remarkable in the Czech context that this situation isn't due to the current economic crisis, but it is the result of a long-term, systematic preparation of the field by private business lobbyists, which have links even to some of the members of the government Council for Research, Developement and Innovation.

Should society be guided by ideas from the Czech Liberal Institute?

In his article, Matěj Šuster also argues that it should be businesses and ordinary citizens who should decide which topics of research should be taken up by scholars and scientists.

If this happened, you could expect, for instance, that diseases affecting small groups of inhabitants would never be studied.

Should we really trust businesses to determine the direction of public research? It is well known that various large firms have systematically suppressed information about the dangerous characteristics of their products (in the 1960s, General Motors suppressed the fact that some of its models lacked proper equipment and were dangerous to drive; tobacco firms have, for decades suppressed information about the dangers of smoking; firms specialising in genetic engineering have been suppressing information about the questionable impact of genetically modified seed).

I believe that a civilised society should cultivate plurality and freedom of scholarly research, with its own internal dissent. It would be very dangerous to limit oneself merely to research commissioned by private firms.

The vision, offered to us today by proponents of neoliberalism, seems to me to be similar to the "ideals" of totalitarian societies. Such societies aim to create an effective industrial sphere, which produces profits for large corporations and the ruling political elite. They reduce society to an obedient, passive and manipulated mass of people who never resist when the large players from private business or government circles assert their interests.

China has become a typical example of such a society. One has to ask whether the Czech Republic wishes to follow suit. If not, surely it is necessary to change the principles of appointing people into the Czech governmental Council for Research, Development and Innovation and to recall its current members who have openly participated in the asset-stripping of the public sphere.


Obsah vydání | Pátek 26.2. 2010