The power of irony?

In my last column with Berlingske Nyhedsmagasin as president of CBS in March 2011 I used irony and sarcasm to suggest that the debate about what was needed to get Denmark out of the crisis really missed some fundamental points, at least, when it comes to policies for education, research and innovation.

This was the time when the right-wing party put lots of pressure on the previous government to reduce the inflow of foreign students to the universities and the opposition left-wing group of parties kept talking about higher taxes and all politicians were jockeying for position. In many respects, it was a sad time in Denmark.

In that column I ironically suggest it was time to: (1) Increase taxes, (2) avoid innovating in the universities, (3) protect the local students from foreign influence, (4) ignore the broader regional aspects of Denmark’s capital Copenhagen, (5) prevent so called penta-helix cooperation (state-business-universities-NGO-private individuals), and (6) avoid building on what Danes are really good at (!)

Of course, what I really meant was that this was a great recipe for reducing  attractiveness and competitiveness.

However, a few days after it was published a few people told me they were shocked that I could even make such stupid suggestions…Clearly they did not see the parody, which I find hard to believe. Here it is.

Free us from new ideas and investments

Here is a recipe for how a small country can reduce its attractiveness. Or, perhaps there is a different way of doing it?

Everyone, who follows the public debate, knows that the Danes stand before great societal challenges. One of the challenges is typically called growth; but the way I see it, the problem lies in attraction. The better we are at attracting ideas, talent, inventions and investments, the more jobs and tax revenues can be used to pay for our expensive welfare system and vice versa.

I have a good recipe for doing the exact opposite, namely becoming less attractive and repelling new talent, new ideas and investments.

Here is a recipe for how a little country can reduce its attractiveness.

1. An increased high tax burden is the way forward: Ignore the fact, that the majority of our neighboring countries have gradually lowered the income tax, to motivate people to work more – successfully. Retain all tax levels and taxes, also for small and medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs. It prevents innovation. Forget everything about what has been going on in Sweden for the last five years – a significant reduction of taxes on work.

2. Avoid innovation in institutions of higher education: It is important to have as much command and control as possible at the universities, both concerning wage, educational content, and what counts as good research. A good mantra is as follows: “If it is not regulated, it is not allowed”. Jeopardize all synergy too, by dividing the ministerial responsibilities in to primary, secondary and tertiary education, and in to industry and employment; and furthermore, let us disregard what Finland has done in 2007 – 2008 and what India is doing right now.

3. Protect the students from foreign influences: If we expose Danish students to new perspectives and ideas from abroad, we risk that they seek out. A rigid “one in, one out”-exchange system is what we need. After all, it is best that the Danish universities keep their students within their protective walls, until they are thirty something. Never do as Singapore has done. It can only go wrong.

4. Ignore the Copenhagen Metropolitan Region: The bridge to Malmö is just a bridge, just as the Fehrmarn tunnel is just another expensive tunnel. Seen in this light one should avoid investing 41 billion Danish Crowns (about 7.6 billion U.S. dollars) in five large hospitals in the Scania/Skåne region across the strait in Sweden. Concurrently, one should ignore the 2 billion Euros invested in ESS, MaxLab 4 and Ideon Life Science Village outside of Lund. It would be foolish to imagine, that Copenhagen Metropolitan Region could be one of the most pulsating regions in Europe over the next 20 to 30 years.

5. Prevent penta-helix cooperation: Avoid that universities, public organizations, NGO’s, investors who are willing to take risks, and private individuals ever meet at the same time and place. It is important not to make political changes that attract individuals who may want to donate money to the universities, or that attract investors who are willing to take risks, to our county.

Once again, I must stress the importance of not coordinating with Sweden. There is a possibility that innovation may become bi-lateral and that must be prevented.

6. Do not continue build on what we are really good at: Remember that governments are not good at even picking relevant problems to solve to strengthen already strong national positions and brands such as food production, design and wind power. Last, but not least, we should not coordinate research funding for these areas and keep separating the agendas of the research councils. Thus, we ensure that all universities spread out thinly and try to everything instead of specializing.

Or is there a different way of doing it..?

(A Danish version of this text was published in Berlingske Nyhedsmagasin 2 March 2011. Translated to English by Caroline Roseberry.)

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