Letter to Stewart Brand about Mariana Mazzucato (Sent 2014)

Jordan Hedberg
3 min readOct 30, 2019


Dear Stewart Brand,

I have been deeply troubled by last nights presentation by Mariana Mazzucato. Your nice emailed summary of the talk pinpointed my uneasiness. In all of the talk about innovation, research, progress, private, public, returns, profits and investments, a fundamental long-term subject has been left out of the discussion. As is often with such discussions that are deeply ideological — basic and fundamental assumptions about the texture of reality are made without much regard. Where — in this discussion of progress — are the questions regarding risk?

It is not my intention to talk about investment risks, but rather the long-term risks to individuals, communities, nations, and humanity itself. In the political battle of private vs public both sides agree that “progress” is a universal good and the only dispute seems to stem from which side deserves more credit; public or state? Yet, no one seems to question at what cost is progress being made?

I can hardly disagree with Mazzucato that deep technological discoveries often stem from government spending (though I do believe that, Haug, Taleb, Scranton, Beaujoan and many others listed in Nassim Taleb’s Book Anti-Fragile would disagree that directed research was responsible for innovation and randomness played a larger role than Mazzucato would admit). If fact, the more I think about it, the more state sponsored technologies seem to come to my mind. Let me start with some of the more important “innovations” that the state has created in the past 100 years that I am forced to deal with daily.

100 million acres of land in the United states will be planted this spring with a single crop; corn. This massive undertaking of corn planting would not be possible without state sponsored technologies that date back to the 2nd year of World War I. Pesticides sprayed on those 100 million acres are a watered down grandchild of gas warfare deployed in the trenches during the war. Although the Germans were the first to successfully deploy chemical weapons the British were quick to catch up and the United States brought the technology home after fighting to kill bugs (rather than humans).

Of course, chemical pesticides might not have been very efficient if not for another tech that evolved in the trenches; mechanization. Tanks were designed to wade through mud, trenches, gas, and bullets to kill enemy soldiers. Chemical fertilization also came from the war where the Germans figured out how to create artificial ammonia-nitrogen to keep the armies supplied with explosives. Once again, the “peace dividend” you mentioned in the talk was deployed as pesticides, tractors, and chemical fertilizers, and a new agricultural boom was born that 100 years latter would see the farm population in the United States drop to 500,000 and inspire such works as Silent Spring (not to mention the effects of surplus monocrops such as high-fructose corn syrup, heart disease, feedlots, pollution, and the Big Mac).

These are just two state sponsored techs that have wrecked huge amounts of environmental, human, and communal damage to the entire globe. So now the solution is to have the “state” invest in “green” solutions to save humanity from state sponsored innovations as suggested by Mazzucato? Also, if we are so eager for the state to take the financial gains of it’s innovations than the current anger at Monsanto should be directed at states rather than Monsanto; for it is only using technology the state created. Maybe a class action suit can be leveled against the government.

Hopefully you understand my train of thought without me having to write a book and give a talk to clarify my point. Here is the core of my argument: “risks that individuals or the (small) private sector is not willing to take are too dangerous for society to bare.”

I am a proud member of the Long Now Foundation and I am glad that you brought Mazzucato to speak, yet, blind faith in government innovation is not worth the risk for the long term survival of civilization. It is not even clear if we can survive nuclear technology in the next 100 years let alone the next 10,000. Let us not suffer from the survivorship bias.

Thank you for your work on this wonderful foundation.


Jordan Hedberg