Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Prizes for Innovation

Prizes are a time-honoured method of rewarding inventions when industry associations, governments or other bodies want to encourage useful innovations. The practice was particularly common during the Industrial Revolution era. It works, essentially, by offering cash instead of the monopoly rights that come with a patent. In certain areas, where you know what you're looking for, it can be quite effective. The idea achieved some degree of fame recently with the success of the X-Prize for commercial spaceflight.

Some have argued that the principle should be deployed as a way of getting the private sector involved in creating innovative solutions to climate change. I'm not aware of this happening yet on a large scale but it seems only a matter of time before someone tries prizes as a response to climate change.

In a somewhat sad turn of events Microsoft is now offering a prize for studios to create a global warming video game. Instead of using prizes to address the actual issue they're going to be used to find the most innovative propaganda for eco-socialism. Ars Technica's prediction is "A platformer starring a polar bear being chased by the melting ice caps". My money is a game where you play George W. Bush using a gargantuan magnifying glass to hunt poor people or one where you play Zombé Guevara bombing Exxon plants.


Communication consultant said...

The word "eco-socialism" suggests you have moved from respectable agnosticism to a more entrenched position on the global warming issue.

One has to assume, in that case, that by "addressing the actual issue", you mean "doing nothing at all".

Perhaps the winning game could feature hundreds of bloggers, with their counterpart conspiracy theorists elsewhere on the political spectrum, all sitting in their bedrooms tapping away about solar activity, the danger of scientific consensus and how nothing can be done.

But it wouldn't make a very good game. The consensus view might be wrong. It's good to voice minority views like some of the excellent analysis on your blog. But Microsoft is emphatically not part of an eco-socialist conspiracy.

Anonymous said...

I read this post, and the prior post on cap-and-trade, with great interest.

I wrote the cover story for the new National Review on a global warming strategy (that makes heavy use of prizes and rejects cap-and-trade). It addresses some of the points that you raise here.

Jim Manzi

Matthew Sinclair said...


I'm not an agnostic on the economics of the Kyoto-Plus agenda for emissions curbs. Haven't been in a long time. This is part of the broad spectrum of policies I term "eco-socialism"; I'll admit that's hardly an academic term.

However, there are more sensible policies that might curb emissions such as prizes for scientific discoveries. On those I am less decided.


I'd love to respond to your article. In fact, I went looking for it today. However, very few bookshops in the UK sell the National Review. I'll find my way to the LSE library and take a look. However, should you read this again and have access to an electronic version please e-mail me a copy.


James Higham said...

...the most innovative propaganda for eco-socialism...

Matthew - sigh.

Matthew Sinclair said...

Don't be a prude James. Rhetoric for the win!