A tale of two industries

Frank Muller

A global contest is emerging between two industries representing different visions of our future. One was established by government and remains protected or state-owned in much of the world. It is fifty years old and has been through lean times in recent decades, especially where markets have been opened.

This industry has always enjoyed high level political access with well-funded government and international agencies representing its interests.

It is an industry where governments have often picked specific technologies, and non-market considerations lie behind the different choices made in different countries.

Now a major campaign is being waged for this industry's revival, which will require billions of dollars of further public subsidies. The industry is based on highly centralised technologies that fit well with central planning - its plants are huge and can more than a decade to build.

If private investors are to put up the money in today's uncertain markets, they will need guarantees that we will buy their product when the plants eventually come on line.

The competing industry is based on numerous smaller-scale, decentralised technologies that provide for the same consumer needs.

It is almost wholly privately-owned, ranging from small start-ups to major international corporations.

Its products and services fit more naturally into a market economy - they can be brought to market relatively quickly at varying scales in response to consumer demand.