8 September 2023

Chronic. While we are rethinking state intervention in “ecological planning” and industrial sovereignty, rediscovering the Japanese experience in terms of innovation policy is not without interest, without however idealizing it. or want to transpose it as it is in the French context, as the innovation systems have different logics.

The book of two Japanese economists, Hiroyuki Okamuro and Junichi Nishimura, The Economics of R&D Support: Towards Evidence-Based Policy (Editions Yuhikaku, 2022, untranslated), has just been crowned with the prestigious 2023 “Economist” prize, while Japan’s reputation has faded in recent years in terms of innovation. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the public share of research and development (R&D) spending in Japan is only around 17%, compared to nearly 23% in the United States.

Because contrary to the Silicon Valley “myth” according to which the government plays a minor role in innovation, reality shows that the American federal state invests massively, although often indirectly, in innovation via military spending. and security.

A course for the benefit of the general interest

Moreover, public innovation policy is not limited to R&D expenditure. The two authors rely on solid and original data (company accounts, government budgets, patents, etc.) to describe the very design of innovation policies and measure their real effects according to several indicators (productivity of companies assisted or of their business partners, etc.).

The results show that governments have a role to play in terms of innovation when it comes to setting a course for the benefit of the general interest, and that the market fails to coordinate the actors. However, the state is also fallible and it is therefore important to evaluate its policies.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers “Technical innovation is not programmed according to short-term and profitable ends”

The authors observe that the constitution of consortia composed of private companies, universities and governmental organizations not only has effects on the productivity of the participants, but also has positive effects on the commercial partners.

An incentive for financial optimization

They also point out that the interests and ideas of the various participants being very heterogeneous, problems of moral hazard and free riding quickly appear. In this context, public subsidies facilitate the formation of mutual trust, while government control of projects indirectly improves results by strengthening the commitment of participants.

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