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Market successes and failures on innovation 

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In today's society, research and development of innovations tend to prioritize capital above social or environmental benefit. Innovations that do not serve the market rarely get needed investments, subsidies or discounts, government or popular support due in part to neoliberal policies, unaccounted for negative externalities, existing perverse subsidies, and at times entrenched corporate/government ties. These can prevent innovation through various forms of protectionism, whereby special interest groups, corporations or bureaucratic institutions argue over the role of social contracts guaranteeing fair wages, health care, labor laws, environmental policies, etc. We can see this in economic arguments against investment in clean renewable energy or measures to address climate change. Giving renewable energy companies a break in producing their energy would enable them to keep prices within a competitive range, increasing use and demand and preventing carbon emissions. However, this takes business away from the coal, oil, and gas industries so they have an interest in keeping politicians from letting that happen through lobbyists and other political aberrations.

Harvard Business School economist Michael Porter posited some 20 years ago that, contrary to conventional wisdom, well-crafted environmental regulation could actually drive innovation (known as the Porter Hypothesis). A debate has gained steam in the meantime. Many proponents today see the current developments in innovation as inadequate to deal with transitioning to a sustainable society.

Critiques of free market capitalism often mention that there is little financial incentive to choose sustainable action. Consumption of the resource base and continual near-term growth is prioritized over long-term viability and sustainable practices that cost more or have low return on investment. But under the current model pollution, climate change, over-consumptiondeforestationozone depletionbiodiversity losssea level rise, and many other widespread issues are having a negative effect on ecosystems, humans, and our collective commons.

Market successes in the area of sustainable development do occur, and have led to a point in human history of unparalleled average wealth and standard of living. The laws of supply and demand have led to many technological innovations that have led to an increasingly faster rate of innovation and change the world over. The internet, computer technology, 3-d printing, cloud computing, genetically modified organisms (GMO's), medical knowledge & technology, and much more can be attributed in part to market successes filling a needs or wants of the people.

However, these successful market innovations have led to (at least in part) unparalleled wealth being concentrated in the hands of few, increasing social injustice and un-sustainability by default. A new OXFAM report (Jan. 2014) concluded that the top 85 richest people in the world owned the same amount of wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion people, or half of the planet. This concentration, combined with monopolization of markets, leverages extreme power with the capability of market. This power has led many to argue that though there is still innovation, that the market failures are persisting due to the extreme inequality and the power of global corporations to use their wealth to distort markets for their own advantage, which has not been shown to be in the best interest of the environment as a whole.

Lastly, a new social innovation is taking root around the world to bypass the market. Through open-sourcing and crowdfunding, primarily online, people are choosing to share and collaborate in order to create, leading to innovative technology and ideas. Once they have achieved their goals many innovators are making their work free and open to the public, or offered at minimal cost to consumers. 3-d printingbitcoincreative commons websites, and changing laws with regard to intellectual property are examples of new innovations and may help to drive others for the future.

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