Time and time again the question is raised, what will Denmark live off in the future. Time and time again the answer remains the same: Innovation preferably with a distinctive focus on green knowledge, green energy, green jobs and a green thumb.

By Vincent F. Hendricks, dr. phil., ph.d., Professor of Formal Philosophy, University of Copenhagen and Columbia University, New York City

(Originally published in Danish as “Verdensmester i Danmark“, Dagbladet Information, October 21, 2011)

It sounds alluring, but is green innovation, or just innovation for starters, and knowledge intensive jobs possible in Denmark at all? Is there something in the way one has chosen to organize oneself, or a way of thinking, which obstructs the innovative ambition? The question is an evergreen, but even more pregnant immediately after a parliamentary election.

Political quarters have a dream, that Denmark must belong to the heavy hitters in the international league when it comes to knowledge, innovation and growth, but have simultaneously introduced a separate Danish market competition model, which hinders the same dreams’ fulfilment.

For instance it is evident in the thus far practiced university politics. The ambition is for Danish universities to become pivotal partners in growth, knowledge-production and the new innovation agenda.


America’s success model

As a professor at both University of Copenhagen and Columbia University in New York, I have the privilege to observe both the Danish and American university system concurrently.

The IVY-league universities; Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Yale etc. find themselves in the world class that Danish politicians and universities regard as a role model and presumably aspire to when it comes to creating the foundation for knowledge, innovation, growth.
Before the financial crisis Harvard University’s equity was 16 billion dollars, second was Stanford University with approximately 4 billion dollars. Even though the crisis has pared down the fortunes, large sums still reside in the coffers.

Colombia University doesn’t exactly posses that sort of equity, however they are one of New York’s great landowners. Main Campus is situated on 116th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, and ‘Colombia Country’ covers by and large the area between 110th street and 143rd street from the Hudson River to Harlem!

Hence Columbia University virtually possesses Upper West Side of Manhattan, and it’spartially due to this, money for world-class research and education is made.


Danish Non freedom

In recent years the squad of Danish university politics have attempted to adopt something which ought to resemble the American marketfundamentalism. Though the substantial difference being, that the state dictates the price and terms of the ‘free’ universitymarket.
In the last 10 years a prominent leading political vision has been for Danish universities to engage in internal competition for both state-owned and private funds.

Every single Danish university has naturally tried to utility maximise on their own. It may appear rational in a classical homo economicus context, that is, the idea of humans as calculating self-interested beings.

But local competition does not necessarily imply the international ditto. What’s worse even: The universities can become victims in the so-called prisoners’ dilemma, recognized from game theory. It demonstrates how, it can result in a lower net profit for each player, if the players each try to maximise their own utility, rather than choose to cooperate.

Self-evidently, Danish universities do not retain equity like Harvard or real estate such as Columbia. Accordingly they don’t have the opportunity to individuallycreate similar self utility maximization and world-class placement in research and education as the American universities. It can only be done collectively.Cooperation amongst the universities is required in order to count nationally as well as internationally. The problem is, that it’s not easily pliable in the present version of the ‘free’ market fundamentalism in Danish university politics and organisation.

My colleague from Aarhus University, Professor Frederik Stjernefelt, and I have, on several occasions, endeavoured to co-finance research scholarships and consolidate research funds in order to maximise knowledge sharing and- accumulation.  Yet the projects always founder on local strife amongst the universities about who will bare the cost or who should be allowed to hatch the PhD. degree.

Correspondingly we have numerous times attempted the so-called ‘joint-degrees’, where one Danish and one foreign university unite in financing a PhD.project and hatch the degree mutually afterwards. Such degrees are not uncommon constructions in USA for example, who one likes to collaborate with and compare oneself to. However for the time being the ‘liberal’ Danish university market forces doesn’t allow such amphibians.

First of all; how can the universities escape the prisoners’ dilemma?

It’s like with dog poo and dog owners: There are two possibilities, ‘leave it’ or ‘pick it up’. If everybody else picks it up, why should I then do it, because one hot splodge doesn’t make a difference. Conversely, if everyone leaves it, and I pick it up, it’s still one drop in the sea of faeces. So even though nobody cares for droppings on the street, one might as well continue to leave it; or the universities might as well continue trying to utility maximize locally, even though everyone can see, that it won’t lead to one becoming world-class.

The way out of the prisoners’ dilemma would be the possibility for coordinated cooperation amongst the universities, pliability to enter agreements and finance research projects jointly, both nationally and internationally. It will generate world-class knowledge, development and innovation, and not just Danish-class.


The Dilemma of Denmark

Allegedly there is something, which goes by the name “Danish-class”; or actually: The prisoners dilemma not only concerns Danish university politics, but may be generalised to many significant circumstances which potentially stand in the way of Danish innovation and knowledge accumulation. To be caught in the dilemma is the result of a perception, which states, that there is more utility maximization in fending for oneself and creating own standards, than in cooperation.

Denmark as part of the world class has until now mostly meant word-class in Denmark, and there is not much class over that neither here nor there.

For too long Denmark has acted in a way, which suggests self-sufficiency with private standards for what it is to be Danish, having Danish values and belonging to Danish culture, shielding oneself from other influences, foreign people and alien nations, markets and ideas, having its own politics and go-it-alone approach in a number of areas, having exceptions and special ordinances on everything varying from border control to growth goals and market shares.

And if Denmark is not entirely self-sufficient, then it’s passable to trade and interact with local neighbours like Germany, Sweden and England.

Presently only 3 percent of Denmark’s total export, goes to the so-called emerging markets, including the BRIC-countries. And during Danish Industries summit on the 27th September the questioned was posed, whether Denmark is even open for business. In the lead to the summit is in fact stated in extenso:

“Luckily there is a new way forward for Denmark in the New World Order. If we, mind you, are open to the new times, new markets for growth and new people. Our livelihood depends on nations. Therefore we must be culturally open for alien ideas and people, economically attractive for foreign corporations and investments, in addition to being open to how we sell our products in overseas markets”.

The idea that Denmark will be just fine has for the past 10 years lead to borders being closed, exclusion politics being implemented, without vision or interest in consequences. It’s a sure way into a blind alley. If Denmark isn’t careful, and realizes the need for enlightenment, knowledge, inclusion politics, open borders and new embracive international strategies along with appertaining vision, its exactly like the prisoner in the dilemma: Denmark will have a future with innovation, located in a very small local setting. And forget about a green innovation with Denmark in the lead. So Semsi mountain, get a move on and open thyself up!