September 5, 2019

INFORMATION WANTS TO BE FREE:

WHY INDUSTRIAL ESPIONAGE IS GOOD FOR MANKIND (Tom Cassauwers, 9/05/19, OZY)

It may no longer be politically acceptable, but stealing technology is actually great for economic development.

I'm from Belgium, a country that has dedicated statues to industrial spies. In Ghent, right next to a medieval cathedral, you find the likeness of Lieven Bauwens, who, in the 18th century, helped make Belgium one of the first countries to industrialize after the United Kingdom. How? By stealing British technology.

Bauwens stole British machine designs and even lured away skilled British workers -- highly illegal at the time -- to set up his own textile factories in Ghent. Eventually some bad political and economic dealings bankrupted him, and he died alone in Paris. But his shady moves kick-started the industrial revolution on the continent.

Today, of course, Belgium is a well-behaved follower of patent law, and it no longer builds statues to economic spies. But that doesn't change the fact that the historical prosperity of most Western countries was built atop this sort of stealing. Which makes it all the more ironic that the West is currently having a collective temper tantrum about Asian, and particularly Chinese, industrial espionage.

Having your technology stolen, of course, isn't fun. But it's a way in which weaker countries can quickly develop themselves economically and technologically. It's a type of forced technology transfer that allows the weak to steal from the rich and push themselves out of poverty sooner.

For all its taboo, industrial espionage might actually be a good thing when we zoom out. "If you look at the perspective of mankind, so what is best for all of us, very often industrial and economic espionage is a beneficial force," says Klaus Solberg Søilen, professor at Sweden's Halmstad University and Copenhagen Business School, where he researches these sorts of espionage.

Posted by at September 5, 2019 7:19 AM

  

« THANKS, UR!: | Main | IT IS IMMIGRANTS THEY HATE, NOT ILLEGALITY: »