City-State

The wrangle between Pfizer and Astra-Zeneca (and just about everyone else with a soapbox to stand on) continues. Pfizer are mounting a takeover bid of their smaller British rival (who from 2016 will be based in Cambridge), in part in response to the strategic alliance recently announced between GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis, and in part because Astra-Zeneca have a strong R&D reputation, and it is R&D (and patent protection) that makes Big Pharma go round.

Big Pharma R&D - Thomas Wijck

Big Pharma R&D – Thomas Wijck

Pfizer have a reputation for asset-stripping companies they take over (deserved or not I have no idea), and anyway no one likes a Goliath. We used to, however. Inward-investment in the 1980s was seen as a way to shore up Britain’s native industrial base, particularly apt as the era of the great nationalised industries segued into that of the globalised economy. What difference did it make who owned the shares, so long as the jobs were located in your town (Cambridge, in the case of Astra-Zeneca)?

Today the answer is complicated by the increasingly fractious issue of taxation. Businesses tend to take the view that letting them get on with business and not squeezing them for tax is in everyone’s interest; everyone else tends to see it differently. So the idea that Pfizer could relocate its headquarters to the UK to take advantage of its mild and invigorating tax regime has a lot of people incandescent; the idea that jobs might disappear at the same time doesn’t help; and perhaps somewhere or other there is still a flicker of national pride.

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National pride has long been regarded as obsolescent in some quarters, and now it seems its demise might be near at hand as we enter the new age of the City-State. An article in the Guardian yesterday claimed that the map of the world will soon look like Renaissance Italy or Ancient Greece, with the great cities the centres of power and economic activity, and the countries surrounding them nothing more than contado. Mayors will be more powerful than prime ministers or presidents.

Cambridge will at that point be nothing more than an R&D satellite to London, that most globalised of global cities. It is a charming thought.

In any case, the development of Cambridge as an economic, rather a merely intellectual centre, certainly continues apace. It was announced a couple of days ago that the construction of a new engineering faculty building at the University of Cambridge will be funded by James Dyson, the entrepreneur and inventor responsible among other things for the bagless vacuum cleaner and for the space-age hand-driers in the toilets at OISE Cambridge. Exciting times!

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