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The Point Of Inventions Is To Be Able To Use Them, Not Sell Them

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This is a common complaint about the British economy, that we can invent things but don;t then go on to make fortunes out of them. The problem here is that the base idea is wrong. What makes us rich is being able to use inventions, not the creation of them:

It’s a familiar story, so much so that it has become something of a cliché; Britain is very good at discovering and inventing stuff, but when it comes to commercial exploitation it’s been an abject failure. Magnetic resonance imaging scanners and the world wide web included, Britain’s post-war history is littered with groundbreaking inventions that for one reason or another the nation has been unable to turn into sustainable sales and profit. Those benefits have instead tended to go to others.

The problem with MRI should be put at the feet of the NHS. A Stalinist bureaucracy is not going to be at the leading edge of actually using a new technology. This, in turn, means that domestic manufacturers are not going to have that reliable base upon which to build scale.

It is still true today that the NHS uses MRI less than other places. One recent research paper from the NHS said that “using MRI to do this” seems sensible. Proper cutting edge research – except for the fact that CDC has been recommending it as standard practice since 2013.

But leave that aside. What actually is the benefit of MRI? Or even of the WWW invented in Switzerland? It is that we the peeps get our diseases cured, or that we the peeps get to send cat pictures to each other.

That Brit peeps get employed to make these things happen is a cost of the peeps being able to do these things, not a benefit.

The other way to make the same point is that being richer means we can consume more. Can we consume more because MRI, or the WWW, exists? Yep – so we’re richer. Who invented it, who builds the things, these are trivia compared to being able to have and use them.

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expunct

in British English
expunct (ɪkˈspʌŋkt)
VERB (transitive)
1. to delete or erase; blot out; obliterate
2. to wipe out or destroy

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