Limiting all forms of extractivism*
Over 70 years ago, Prebisch (1950) referred to technological dependency as a major cause of underdevelopment. Besides some exceptions of catching-up countries in certain technologies (with China as the paramount 21st century example), by the end of the 20th century, Niosi and Bellon (1996 in Arocena & Sutz, 2000) pointed out that international flows of technology remained concentrated in developed countries. This was a sign of both the slim technical gap between them and the prevailing wide gap with underdeveloped nations. The analyses in Chapters 6-9 reinforced this conclusion, a quarter of a century later. The emergence of global innovation networks led by intellectual monopolies from the core has not been an opportunity for development.
Some peripheral countries (like India, Brazil, South Africa and Argentina) have state-of-the-art academic research capabilities but occupy a subordinate place in the international division of academic labour. Academic dependency, where core countries’ institutions define research programmes and questions and leave more routine tasks to researchers from the peripheries, prevails in international academic collaborations (Arvanitis, 2011; Beigel et al., 2018; Kreimer, 2014). This contributes to partially displace paramount research questions for development, from diseases associated with poverty pockets to permanent macroeconomic instability, to multiple research problems that emerge from considering the specificities of capitalism in these regions.
Knowledge extractivism adds to these previous features. We defined it as the multiple ways in which science and technology elaborated in the peripheries are assetized in core countries, usually by corporate intellectual monopolies and eventually by academic intellectual monopolies (see Chapters 11-13). Ideally, states should protect promising results from assetization, while allowing local research communities to access and further develop them. Such a policy would require higher public S&T budgets in peripheral countries and has limited feasibility, given that the global knowledge regime favours privatization.
An alternative, while pushing for a radical transformation of the international knowledge regime, could be to regulate university-industry collaborations with multinational corporations. These companies do not spill over their technology, thus generally do not contribute to local firms’ catching up. On the contrary, they appropriate and turn into intangible assets promising R&D results from locally leading universities and public research organizations. These institutions lack the enforcement skills and resources to litigate against knowledge extractivism. Public research should privilege other links that can contribute to development, such as collaborations between universities and public research organizations, collaborations with local actors, social movements, workers’ unions and state dependencies. Therefore, states could also promote these links while discouraging those with multinationals.
A change in scientific evaluation criteria, now mostly focused on publications in peer-review journals from core countries, could also contribute to limiting knowledge extractivism. While peripheral countries’ evaluation criteria foster fast publication, thus global disclosure, core countries’ corporate and academic intellectual monopolies assetize knowledge.
Peripheral countries are net providers of raw data that is freely harvested and monetized by a handful of data-driven intellectual monopolies mostly from the United States and China (see Chapters 7, 8 and 11). This form of data or digital colonialism reinforces underdevelopment (Couldry & Mejias, 2019a, 2019b; Kwet, 2019). Data privacy laws, inspired by the law passed in Europe, are being implemented in countries like Brazil, Thailand, South Korea, South Africa and India.4 As we argued above, these regulations are tricky because as much as they try to limit tech giants’ access to data, they still fall short and further promote a culture that celebrates private property of intangibles.
An alternative could be to force data-driven intellectual monopolies to transfer data using state-owned infrastructure in every country. The price of this service could include withholding taxes on data exports. A step further could be to still charge them for privately appropriating data and also force them to store them in local datacentres. Some peripheral regions host local data- driven intellectual monopolies, like MercadoLibre in Latin America. Given the importance of some digital services, like e-commerce and e-payments, states should regulate these giants too, for instance, with the same regulations applied to banks because, besides e-payments, e-commerce is intertwined with new forms of private credit and asset management (Frost et ah, 2019).
In countries where tech giants’ operations are underdeveloped, there is a chance for national and even local authorities to develop state-owned platforms. Tech giants are now expanding cloud servicing to the peripheries. This is the case of cloud computing in South East Asia.5 There is, therefore, a small window of opportunity for states to coordinate and offer state-owned public clouds before data-driven intellectual monopolies capture this market.
The pandemic has been an opportunity for developing state-owned digital initiatives. In Indonesia, a state-owned enterprise already manages the digital payment service LinkAja. Brazil has seen the emergence of several public platforms since the pandemic, like the delivery platform FiqueNoLar that operates in the northern part of the country. In Argentina, the state launched a public and free to download e-payment application and Correo Compras, an e-commerce platform. In Bahia Blanca, a medium-sized city also from Argentina, the local government has put in place an e-commerce platform for local producers called “Desde casa Bahia” (“From home Bahia”), that can be accessed from this link https://desdecasa.bahia.gob.ar/. Another alternative has been the cooperative organization of producers, such as the e-commerce platform http://www.reddecomercializacion.com/. Beyond local initiatives, a regional initiative to build a public e-commerce and e-payments system could play a paramount role in a regional development plan, which is our subject matter in the next sub-section.