The Growing Risk of Contrapreneurs

Originally published on 28 August 2015.  This is part two of a three-part series on how the hazard-based regulatory process has taken root in Brussels. Re-blogged for the Risk School series. Image source
See the French translation of this blog

Let me start with some definitions:

Entrepreneur: One who takes risks, creates opportunities and seeks to innovate and solve problems

Contrapreneur: One who is risk averse, creates fears and seeks to inhibit innovation (identified as the cause of problems)

In yesterday’s blog, we considered how the strategy of pushing for hazard-based regulation has legitimised precaution as the chief policy tool in Brussels. It not only has resulted in the loss of important benefits that proper risk management could have ensured, but it has entrenched a risk averse mindset in a widening population that looks at any innovation or development as suspicious or dangerous.

The spirit of innovation: Science, innovation, development and technology are seen as key elements in man’s ability to conquer the threats of nature: building shelters to protect man from the elements; pharmaceuticals and vaccines to protect us from disease; seed technology and plant protection measures to ensure a secure food supply for a growing global population. Innovation and entrepreneurship has exemplified the spirit of humanity since Francis Bacon’s call for a new science to protect man from the threats nature has thrown at us.

The threat of innovation: For the contrapreneur, however, man is the threat, and nature is the victim. Man’s innovations have caused nothing but problems: chemicals that contaminate our bodies making it impossible to reproduce, foods “drenched” in poisons coming from labs; drugs that do more harm than good; and climate change from our excessive consumption that will destroy the planet. Worse, the entrepreneur takes all of the profits of these unwanted technologies and leaves the 99% impoverished from such unbridled greed and ignorance.

To save Mother Nature, the contrapreneur must stop Father Profit. Some examples:

  • The fight against GMOs and synthetic pesticides has reached a watershed of eco-religious imperative, most recently in the US, with the organic-led witch-hunt against plant biologists and GM science.
  • The attacks on international trade and globalisation has found its voice in the demonstrations against the TPP and TTIP trade negotiations. Global finance and wealth creation is looked upon as evils that must be supplanted with small local communities of Jeremy Rifkin inspired prosumers.
  • Fears of climate catastrophe has been the clarion call for a major economic, social and environmental realignment out of fossil fuels, out of global trade and out of a consumption-based economy.

Contrapreneurs do not believe that man can innovate and solve global challenges – in fact, they feel that man needs to get out of the way and let nature correct itself. Vocabulary like growth, development, innovation and return on investment have fallen out of favour in a narrative stressing sustainability, precaution and nature. We are seeing a social/political/economic realignment by activists successfully pushing their contrapreneurial agenda in the policy arena:

  • The recent shift towards a hazard-based regulatory approach has allowed the precautionary principle to become entrenched in Brussels.
  • Activists are making demands that regulators like EFSA release all of the proprietary research from Monsanto’s patent applications. Entrepreneurs are no longer expected to benefit from their innovations.
  • Contrapreneurs are battling to change the risk assessment approach, to reduce the role of scientific evidence and allow more societal concerns. This was seen most recently by activists campaigning from inside EFSA and IARC.
  • Corporate research investment in certain industries has shifted out of developing innovative technologies and new products towards fulfilling regulatory risk requirements to try to keep substances from being taken off the market. Repeated crop protection studies continually demonstrate declining investment in new products due to more regulatory demands to comply with stricter data requirements.

Contrapreneurs do not care about the loss of benefits or the threats to our economy and quality of life. They will blithely mumble that we can produce enough food with organic, or generate all of our energy needs with renewables and that you can save the planet by changing a light bulb, aware that the attractiveness of their well-communicated ideology will usurp any statistical rigour. Precaution will allow us to eliminate most chemicals, sources of energy and means of production.

This, of course, is madness – an idiocy only echoed in surreal constructs like Brussels – a Bubble where nobody actually works, makes things or has to face difficult decisions on a daily basis. Regulation does not lead to innovation as the Brussels mantra of the last decade portended, but rather to a culturally defeatist mentality that growth and innovation are no longer necessary.

In a de-industrialising economy, it is possible to believe that cultures can survive (and even thrive) without development, venture capital investment and innovation. We have been convinced that we can do well allowing others in a global economy to manufacture our material goods, grow our food and design our products of the future. Trade and corporations are despised, new technologies feared and shunned by social media gurus and an unrealistic economic vision is now being espoused by an emerging activist political class not open to dialogue.

Research is built on risk-taking and often the risks can lead to mistakes. Great inventions and innovations have frequently developed from errors, but as mistake-making has become more socially intolerable (see the All-trials campaign that is demanding that all failures in pharmaceutical development be made public), research is shifting away from exploration into more results driven domains (like regulatory risk assessments). In a contrapreneurial world, there is no risk-taking and all research will be directed towards fixing the errors of our misguided scientific forefathers.

Why is it today that those who took risks after the financial crisis and made money are despised by the contrapreneurs? Why is it that people are happy with a decade of slow or non-existent growth and treat this as the new normal? Why is it that contrapreneurial activists are perfectly OK seeing children die in the hundreds of thousands each year from Vitamin A Deficiency rather than allowing researchers to develop new strains of Golden Rice?

How has the contrapreneur become so successful in handcuffing innovation and denigrating the entrepreneur? This is the subject of the third and final blog on this series where we see how, in a vision-less political culture, expediency is the practice that allows contrapreneurs to use precaution to turn back the clock on our achievements.

6 Comments Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s