Industrial espionage damages a country’s long-term productivity, study finds

StasiState-sponsored industrial espionage aimed at stealing foreign technical secrets may boost a country’s technological sector in the short run, but ultimately stifles it, according to the first study on the subject. The study is based on over 150,000 declassified documents belonging to the East German Ministry for State Security, known as Stasi. The now-defunct intelligence agency of communist-era East Germany was known for its extensive networks of informants, which focused intensely on acquiring technical secrets from abroad.

The history of industrial and economic espionage by governments is indeed extensive. It includes lucrative efforts by the United States to steal industrial production methods from Europe in the 19th century, and successful attempts by the Soviet Union to steal atomic technology from the American-led Manhattan Project in the 1940s. But there have been no systematic attempts to evaluate the effect of state-sponsored industrial espionage on the entire economy of the sponsoring nation –until now.

This new study –the first of its kind– was carried out by two economists, Erik Meyersson, from the Stockholm School of Economics in Sweden, and the Spain-based Albrecht Glitz of Pompeu Fabra Univeristy in Barcelona. The two researchers describe their preliminary findings in a working paper entitled: “Industrial Espionage and Productivity”, published by the Institute of Labor Economics in Bonn, Germany. Its findings are based on an analysis of nearly 152,000 declassified industrial-espionage-related communiqués sent by Stasi spies to their handlers between 1970 and 1988. The communiqués were examined with reference to their date of authorship and the content-descriptive keywords appended to them by the Stasi.

The report concludes that stealing industrial secrets can boost a nation’s economic activity in the short run. However, in the long run, a nation’s strategic focus on industrial espionage tends to impede homegrown research and development, and ultimately stifles technological productivity on a national scale. This is because “easy access to secrets” from abroad tends to “discourage both state and private investment in research and development”, according to Meyersson and Glitz. That is precisely what happened to East Germany, argues the report. The country’s total factor productivity (TFF –the growth of its output measured in relation to the growth in inputs of labor and capital) rose significantly as a result of its industrial espionage.That was especially noticeable in the digital electronics sector, where the output gap between East and West Germany was narrowed by a fourth. However, that trend was temporary, and East Germany was never able to develop an organic digital-electronics industry. Industrial espionage is like “research and development on cocaine”, professor Meyersson told Science, the magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Maybe you can have a little bit of fun with it, but it’s not good for you in the long run”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 01 August 2017 | Permalink

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One Response to Industrial espionage damages a country’s long-term productivity, study finds

  1. Jack says:

    Not too surprising; kinda the same concept as cheating on a test. Short term benefit, but long term learning is stifled.

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