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Nationalism and Technology

In the mid 20th century, a favorite activity of populist governments across the world and especially Latin America was import substitution industrialization (ISI), an economic policy designed to reduce dependence on foreign manufactured goods by coming up with your own homespun, inferior knock-offs at much higher prices.  While these days ISI has fallen by the wayside, crushed by unforgiving the economics of efficiency, there is still a certain attraction to parading out a big government sponsored consumer product, offering a patriotic alternative to an expensive foreign product.  That appears to be what we are seeing in this recent episode between President Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei “innovate or else” Chemezov, as the first Russian designed and manufactured 4G dual-screen Smartphone is unveiled.  Nothing says national sovereignty and innovative superiority like a confusing non-functional block of wood.

The Russia Monitor has a short translation of the dialogue:

Medvedev: “I can’t even tell where to press.”
Chemezov:
“It is still a prototype.”
Medvedev
: “But this is entirely our product, which will be produced in our factories?”
Chemezov
: For now, unfortunately, we will only be able to make it in Taiwan.  But soon we will completely switch over to production in Russia.”

What Medvedev may not have realized is that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez pulled this same PR move of technological nationalism brilliance in May of last year, although he strangely decided to call it “the cockphone.

If a Venezuelan state-owned company can get it together to make one production run on the Vergatorio, it will be interesting to see if Chemezov’s device will make it to market … it could certainly make that pesky chore of wiretapping so much easier.