© Dreamstime

This article is from today’s FT Opinion email. Sign up to receive a daily digest of the big issues straight to your inbox.

In the pursuit of global economic progress, the goal of increasing productivity is often held up above all others. Chasing it should be simple: we know that productivity is driven by innovation, and innovation by good ideas. Yet there is a paradox here, argues Martin Wolf. Knowledge is most productive when it is freely available, but there is little incentive to create it unless we can also limit its use — through intellectual property laws, for example.

How, then, should we set the balance between dissemination and control of knowledge? One place to start is to look at where patents are being filed around the world. Strikingly, Martin notes, the annual rate of patenting is stagnant in the big five advanced economies — the US, Japan, Germany, France and the UK — while it is soaring in the emerging world, particularly in China. China is also second in terms of spending on research and development. The divergence is marked by a slowdown in productivity in the west.

Because emerging economies benefit from applying ideas already developed in other countries, the slowdown in innovation in the west is bad news for everyone, says Martin. Globalisation has meant increased competition, but it has also accelerated the diffusion of technologies and widened the market for them. This is a good thing for both east and west.

Tarnished reputations: Collaborations between academia and the corporate world are nothing new, observes Margaret Heffernan, but they used to be less complicated. As pressure builds on universities to commercialise their research and for academics to pick topics that will catch the imaginations of their media-savvy students, conflicts of interest can arise. The Cambridge Analytica scandal has put the spotlight on the integrity of academic research; universities should seek to lead that debate, not follow it.

Pharma frenzy: The drugmaker Takeda’s offer to pay £42.8bn for Dublin-based Shire is the latest sign of a rush of mergers and acquisitions in the pharmaceuticals sector, writes Brooke Masters. The dealmaking is being driven by pressure to cut healthcare costs from US employers, who foot most of the bill by providing insurance to their employees. By merging and buying each other, pharma companies hope to squeeze out costs and grab market share — but there are reasons to be cautious.

President flip-flop: Donald Trump has never been known for his consistency on matters of the day, whether they be US involvement in the Syrian war, the Trans-Pacific Partnership or diplomacy with Russia. But, Courtney Weaver suggests, this might not be a bad thing. Some Democratic lawmakers say they would welcome more of the kind of ideological flexibility that allowed a backroom deal to be struck last year to raise the debt ceiling and pass a relief package after Hurricane Harvey.

Best of the rest

Windrush scandal: why destroying archives is never a good idea — Dora Vargha for the Conversation

The truths Canada needs to remember — John Ibbitson in The Globe and Mail

We don’t need no education — Paul Krugman in the New York Times

Why Is a Liberal LGBT Activist One of Trump’s Nominees? — Michelle Cottle in The Atlantic

Why is Bangladesh booming? — Kaushik Basu for Project Syndicate

What you’ve been saying

Democracy will be well served by vote on May’s departure deal— letter from Peter Mandelson

What will be more damaging to our democracy in the long run — a people’s vote on Mrs May’s terms of departure from the EU, or a growing alienation from the very idea of democracy itself as her version of Brexit fails to resolve the deep and complex discontents that led to the Leave vote in the first place?

Comment from An auld Scots engineer on Brexit could yet be stopped at customs

One scenario that could stop Brexit would be a government collapse followed by an election. The bottom circle of hell will melt before Labour actually gets a working majority and the best they can hope for is support from the SNP who are determinedly Remain. I never, in my most horrid nightmares, thought that I would be wishing for a Labour/Nats coalition; strange times.

Campaign reveals need to reform corporate register— letter from John Eatwell

As a record of beneficial ownership the register is not fit for purpose. The pretence that it is aids and abets the money-launderers and tax-evaders. Kevin Brewer has performed a public service. In pursuing his prosecution Companies House should be ashamed of themselves. The least they can do is pay his fine.

Today’s opinion

Erdogan moves quickly to strengthen his grip on power
The Turkish president’s anxiety for a vote suggests its result may not be inevitable

Donald Trump’s flip-flops keep Washington heads spinning
The US president sees his ‘flexible’ approach to policy as a way to make a good deal

Let knowledge spread around the world
It is not in the west’s interests to stop developing countries from innovating

Instant Insight: A critical showdown on Brexit looms
May is buffeted by opposing forces over the Irish border and customs union questions

A frenzy of dealmaking in pharma points to cost pressure
Takeda’s offer to pay £42.8bn for Shire comes amid a rush of M&A deals in healthcare

University reputations risk being tarnished by business links
Cambridge Analytica scandal shows higher education is vulnerable to taint

Head to Head: Has economics failed?
Two experts debate the future of the discipline

EM Squared: Emerging market current account surplus falls to 20-year low
Global trade patterns start to normalise with China potentially heading for deficit

Lex: Alphabet: spend, spend, spend
Billions are being invested in ‘other’ bets that may never see a payday

FT View

FT View: South Africa has a fresh start under Ramaphosa
The new president has impressed, but the hard parts are yet to come

FT View: A last stand in defence of the Iran nuclear deal
The French and German leaders are right to keep the pressure up on Trump

The Big Read

The Big Read: Greenwich: the rich town on the frontline of US hedge fund fight
Connecticut may be wealthy but a worsening deficit increases pressure to raise high finance taxes

Get alerts on Opinion when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

Follow the topics in this article