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Mon, 13 Dec




Richard Nelson in conversation with Franco Malerba

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Time & Location

13 Dec 2021, 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm GMT



About the Event

The CONVERSATION series portrays prominent innovation scholars of the day in the form of intellectual-biographical interviews with other senior scholars. 

In the first event RICHARD NELSON will be interviewed by Franco Malerba (on 13 December). Subsequently Mariana Mazzucato will be spoken to by Giovanni Dosi, Giovanni by Sidney Winter, Sid by Giovanni, Carlota Perez by Raphie Kaplinskey and so on. Several major innovation scholars have agreed to join the series.

Structure of the program (2 hours split up as follows)

Brief intro to the program and introducing Franco Malerba (Rajesh GK)


i. Introductory remarks by Franco (5 minutes) followed by a conversation between them as follows

ii. Formative years and major influences - (10 minutes)

iii. Contributions, Critique and weakness, Current work & future course - (35 minutes): starting from the important contributions of Professor Nelson, evolving towards a critical evaluation of his works. Then moving on to discussions on what next given the changing circumstances, how the theoretical contributions are relevant in current circumstances etc. Nelson and Franco can shape it the way they want it to be! It is a platform to convey what they want future generations to take from Nelson and how they can further develop standing on the strong base that was created by Nelson.  

iv. Comment on Status of Innovation Economics and what next? - (10 minutes)


v. Discussion (1 hour): For the 1 hour discussion a panel of scholars will ask questions or make comments on Nelson's work. After Nelson's response to them the forum will be open for questions from the general audience. 

Brief Biodata of the speakers

Richard Nelson is currently the George Blumenthal Professor Emeritus of International and Public Affairs, Business, and Law, and the director of the Program on Science, Technology and Global Development at Columbia's The Earth Institute. He is also Visiting Professor at the University of Manchester. He has served as research economist and analyst at the Rand Corporation, and at the President’s Council of Economic Advisors. His central interests have been in long-run economic change. Much of his research has been directed toward understanding technological change, how economic institutions and public policies influence the evolution of technology, and how technological change in turn induces institutional and economic change more broadly. Along with Sidney Winter, he has pioneered in trying to develop a way of economic theorizing that recognizes explicitly that the economy is almost always undergoing change, most of it unpredictable, and that theories that assume that economic agents understand well the context in which they are operating, and that the system is in equilibrium, are inadequate for analysis of many important economic questions. His book with Winter, An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change is widely recognized as a landmark in this field. More about Nelson:  

Franco Malerba  is Professor of  Applied Economics at Bocconi University. Editor of the Journal Industrial and Corporate Change. Advisory editor of Research Policy. Associate editor of the Journal of Evolutionary Economics.  He has written extensively on innovation, evolutionary theory, sectoral systems, industrial dynamics, history-friendly models, knowledge and technological regimes, sectoral patters of innovative activities, start-ups entry and knowledge-intensive entrepreneurship, economic catch-up, the semiconductor and the computer industries, European innovation policy. Winner of the Schumpeter Prize in 2012. He has been President of EARIE (European Association of Research in Industrial Economics), of the International Schumpeter Society and of ICRIOS, Bocconi University,  and Director of CESPRI-Bocconi. He has been a visiting scholar at the Stern School at New York University; the Department of Economics, CEPR and SIEPR at Stanford University; Max Plank Institute-Jena; University of Queensland; University of Stellenbosch and Louis Pasteur University- Strasbourg. Previously he was in the Advisory Board of Max Planck Institute of Economics-Jena; SPRU- Sussex University;  CRIC- Manchester University. He participated in the EU High-Level Panels for “New Innovation Indicators for Europe” and  "The  New European Innovation Policy” Group.  More about Franco:


Bengt Ake Lundvall: I look forward to the session with you and Franco December 13. I will only pose one question but below I list two quite distinct ones and I would like you to let me know which one you think would trigger the most interesting response/discussion.

1. A central element in your evolutionary perspective on firms is ‘routines’ as genes and competition as a process of selection. One major difference between the natural world and the market economy is the role of business consultants, earning their income through locating and propagating what they present as ‘best-practise’. Have you reflected on the role of business services in the selection process? How can we explain that firms, in spite of the size of the business service sector, satisfice rather than optimize? Do consultants primarily diffuse existing routines rather than transform and upgrade them?

2. Chris Freeman in his first mentioning of the concept national innovation system 1982 referred to Friedrich List  and to the importance of protecting infant industries in catching up economies. In an interesting book that you co-authored with Sylvia Ostry 1995 you discuss the concept of techno-nationalism vs techno-globalism with reference to technology related trade conflicts between the US, China and Europe. Currently, in the light of the China-US tech related conflict, this concept is highly topical. How should we understand the concept techno-nationalism today? Should we distinguish between policies promoting innovation at home and policies aiming at slowing down innovation abroad? Do you have any idea on how the world might  be moved toward a new form of techno-globalism characterized by a reduction of global inequality, based on global knowledge sharing?

Giovanni Dosi: Dear Dick, I would like you to comment on the proposition that evolutionary theory has historically been too negligent of macroeconomics , and thus largely silent on issues like crises,  unemployment , unemployment , income distribution , etc

Xiaolan Fu: Dear Prof Nelson, I would like to invite you to comment on the contribution of evolutionary theory to the field of economics. Given the challenges of sustainability and emerging technologies such as those in the 4th Industrial Revolution, how could an evolutionary and system approach of technological innovation help forward the research agenda?

Edward Lorenz: I will be on the panel for the event with you and Franco on the 13th and Rajesh suggested that I send a couple of questions in advance. They relate to issues that I have always been interested in and of course feel free to take them up or not.

One is on tacit knowledge and routines. Like many other doctoral candidates in the 1980s, your book with Sid Winter had a big impact on my understanding of enterprise organization and organizational learning by making a strong argument for the importance of tacit knowledge as embedded in routines and based on a highly contextualized learning process within the organization.  My question is whether your view of the importance of tacit knowledge for enterprise organization and learning has changed in any way due to the recent phase of technological automation based in part on the diffusion of AI and advanced robotics. I raise this because some authors, for example Brynjolfsson, have made the argument that the so-called Polanyi’s paradox, in the sense that we know more than we can explicitly tell, is at least on the way to being resolved due to the enhanced capacity for organizations to codify the knowledge they need for their production processes in new technology.

The other issue I would like to ask you to speak on is your conception of the organizations and institutions making up a national innovation system. Your analysis of NIS is often characterized as emphasizing the importance of formal R&D and the relations between the R&D departments of large enterprises and public sector research organizations. I would be interested in knowing whether you agree with this characterization and further whether your view of the institutions and the boundaries of what should be included in a NIS have changed since the publication of the book you edited on NIS. In relation to this what role do you see tacit knowledge as playing in the interrelations between the organizations and institutions making up the NIS.

SS Sivakumar: Talking of the process of evolution and Economic Theory as an institution, is it possible to see the existence of survival and adaption of theoretical propositions vis a vis empirical experience, as a Kuhnian process?

Francisco Louca: My main question to Dick Nelson would be, following his JEL overview of evolutionary economics, how does he figure the future and the tasks of our field

Erik S. Reinert: I look forward to this session with the two of you. I refer to Bengt-Åke's question and the origin of the idea of National Innovation Systems that Chris importantly traced back to Friedrich List (1789-1846). One important element in List's work is the distinction between agriculture and industry. He wanted to protect industry, but not agriculture. List is perhaps not crystal clear on why 'the productive powers' of industry were so much bigger than in agriculture, but at one point he discusses Antonio Serra (1613) who is the father of the increasing/diminishing returns dichotomy. A former student of mine, Sylvi Endresen, recently published a book on 'Technological Retrogression. A Schumpeterian Interpretation of Modernization in Reverse' where she shows how innovations in diminishing returns industries (in fisheries, but also agriculture and mining) may lead into poverty traps. [High sea fishermen in India are efficient sailors. They innovate with outboard engines, but get so efficient that they empty the sea, and cannot afford fuel. In the meantime they have unlearned sailing and use rowing boats]. Perhaps the National Innovation Systems approach would gain relevance - particularly in the Third World - if Friedrich List's implicit and explicit differences between industry and agriculture were more clearly recognised? Industry: increasing returns and imperfect competition. Agriculture: diminishing returns and perfect (commodity) competition. That might also explain why the most hi-tech farmers in the world - in the US and EU - still to a large extent need tariff protection and subsidies.

Rongping MU: how to define innovation today? how to define development today? how to understand the relationship between the two concepts?

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