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Airbus: The Case Against State Capitalism

Europeans look to Airbus as a champion in their ego battle with the U.S. ("Boeing roars ahead," News: Analysis & Commentary, Nov. 7). The A380 was a prestige airplane, the biggest in the world, and designed to show that Europe had finally surpassed Boeing Co. and the U.S. in high-tech proficiency. Death to the 747! Since Airbus and European politicians decided that the A380 was the answer, they then needed to ask the right question. They defined a picture of the air transport market that suited their product. Boeing did it the other way around and tried several concepts before one design seemed to fit the market.

I see two big problems with Airbus at this time. They are locked into selling airplanes at low prices to remain competitive. Yet they need high cash flow to finance the costs of the A380, A350, and A400M. If they go to their governments for support, the combined total cost is enough to make even a prestige-hungry minister choke. The second problem is that Airbus will always be several years behind Boeing in offering new airplanes. Airbus worked on the A380 while Boeing worked on the 787. Airbus will be working on the A350 while Boeing is designing the 737 replacement.

Airbus demonstrates why state capitalism doesn't work in the long run. As long as Airbus is catching up, government funding works great. But once you have to innovate yourself, it gets a lot harder. Politicians are not very market-driven, and they tend to stick with a decision once they have committed their prestige. Airbus had a good laugh when Boeing canceled the Sonic Cruiser, but I don't think that they are so amused now.

Al Withers

Renton, Wash.

There has been a paradigm shift in research in the past decade: A traditional one-man show in any research, be it in the field of pure sciences or social sciences, is being gradually replaced by a collective-minded group ("'Mosh pits' of creativity," The Corporation, Nov. 7). Brainstorming allows different ideas to interact and counteract. It is a wonderful way to create ideas, get rid of conformity, and nourish creativity. The standard research methodology is fast giving way to network collaboration. No new hypothesis is to be taken lightly unless proved to be so. The innovation lab is the "thing" of the future. It matters. Thank you for printing the article.

Jack Spencer


Collaborative innovation works. It brings together multiple disciplines, skills, knowledge, viewpoints, and experiences to explore diverse approaches, and create new solutions to problems. But to read "older workers, especially baby boomers, might have a hard time" with innovation labs, and to imply that only younger generations are open to them, is exactly the type of myopia the process should eliminate. To say, "the market for handsets today is young people, and we have a lot of young people here..." also shows shortsightedness. Young people are "a" market, not "the" market. Where are the cell phones designed for bifocals, arthritic fingers, or memory and hearing problems, which many older people have? Why isn't that large market being served?

Edmund Britt

Wakefield, Mass.

In "Dear Santa: Skip the batteries" (News: Analysis & Commentary, Nov. 7), your list of preferred Christmas toys emphasizes battery-less tech-free toys such as building blocks and family-oriented games. Sixty-five years ago my parents gave me an Erector Set for Christmas. My fascination with the battery-powered electric motor in it started me on a lifelong career path. Forty years ago I earned a PhD in physics. If the U.S. wants to maintain its lead in science, kids need toys that do more than mainly encourage social interaction and teach spatial skills.

Robert Shafer

Los Alamos, N.M.

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