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Bell Labs was a massively successful experiment. It didn't try to do basic research work. It developed: synchronous sound motion pictures, the photovoltaic cell, encrypted speech transmission, the transistor, the laser, electronic music, cellular telephones, optical tweezers and discovered cosmic microwaves, among other things.

Why did it fade, though? AT&T was able to fund Bell Labs when it still had a monopoly over the telephone market. The article claims that antitrust laws were relaxed in the 80s, but AT&T was broken up in 1982 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breakup_of_the_Bell_System). This break up lead to increased competition and innovation in telecom, but it did come at the cost of Bell Labs losing funding until eventually being spun off into Lucent.

Peter Thiel argued in the book Zero to One that only monopoly (or pseudo monopoly) businesses can afford to fund surplus salaries and corporate research labs that cost billions of dollars with potentially little or no gain for many years. I would argue that if a corporation exists in a competitive industry, their margins are driven too low to fund basic research.

Also note: even in the U.S. corporations fund a good chunk of basic research in academia: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/03/data-check-us-govern...






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