There are things happening other than the war, although they may seem momentarily unimportant. The other night I went to a debate on science and the economy, organised by Prospect magazine. The debate wasn’t up to the standards of the magazine, but Tim Hubbard from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Centre was right on target.
He talked about market failure in medical research, where existing drugs for so-called neglected diseases (those that affect the world’s poorest people) can’t or won’t be manufactured at reasonable cost. I recall a tussle I had in Davos with Jeff Garten, dean of the Yale School of Management, about the phrase market failure. To Jeff, at the time, it was a contradiction in terms.
Hubbard also spoke eloquently about the benefits of scrapping the current intellectual property regime. “Data is more valuable to you if lots of people can see it and work on it.”
Tim Garton Ash has an excellent analysis in The Guardian (update: I see the piece is running simultaneously in The New York Times in a demonstration of op-ed clout). He outlines three ideas competing for the “succession to the cold war west”: the Rumsfeldian, the Chiraco-Putinesque (which sounds like a chess opening to me) and the Blairite.
The Rumsfeldian, which is in the ascendent at the moment, is that American might is right. The Chiraco-Putinesque is that American might is by definition dangerous. Both, Garton Ash reckons, are “half right and therefore all wrong”.
The third idea is Blairite: “Blair’s idea is that we should re-create a larger version of the cold war, transatlantic west, in response to the new threats we face. What he calls the ‘coming together’ of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism should frighten us as much as the Red Army used to. Europe and America must stick together to defeat it.”
There’s no doubt which vision presents the best hope for the coming years. But Garton Ash’s has a tough verdict on the Blairite vision as well. “Blair’s idea is completely right. The trouble is the execution.”