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Does subsidising R&D spending encourage subsidy dependency?

Relevant Topics

This question pertains to topics in Microeconomics, such as Market Failure, Government Intervention, Subsidies, and Research and Development (R&D).


Subsidy: Financial aid provided by a government to a firm, industry, or other economic entity to encourage activities that would otherwise not take place, or to protect domestic firms from foreign competition.

R&D (Research and Development): Innovative activities undertaken by corporations or governments in developing new services or products, or improving existing services or products.

Subsidy Dependency: This occurs when an industry or company becomes overly reliant on government subsidies, reducing their incentives to improve efficiency and innovate.

Detailed Explanation:

Subsidising R&D spending can encourage increased innovation and help correct a market failure where private firms underinvest in R&D due to its public good nature. However, there is also a concern that subsidising R&D could potentially lead to subsidy dependency.

Subsidy dependency occurs when firms rely on subsidies for their operations or growth, reducing their incentives to improve efficiency, control costs, innovate, or make better economic decisions. This can lead to complacency and inefficiency in the long run, as firms become less motivated to operate optimally knowing they have a financial safety net in the form of a subsidy.

However, whether R&D subsidies lead to subsidy dependency depends on the design and implementation of the subsidy programme. If the subsidy is structured in a way that encourages continued innovation and improvement, and if it is temporary and tied to clear, measurable outcomes, it can stimulate R&D without creating dependency.


The United Kingdom's R&D tax credit scheme is an example of a well-designed programme that encourages firms to invest in R&D. It allows companies to reduce their tax bill or claim payable cash credits as a proportion of their R&D expenditure. This scheme encourages investment in R&D without creating a long-term dependency, as the benefit is tied to the amount the firm spends on R&D.

An example of potential subsidy dependency can be seen in the agricultural sector in various countries, where subsidies have sometimes led to inefficiency and overproduction. However, this is more often tied to output or input subsidies rather than R&D subsidies.


While subsidising R&D spending can potentially lead to subsidy dependency, the extent of this risk largely depends on the structure of the subsidy programme. If well-designed, such subsidies can spur innovation and address market failure, without causing firms to become overly reliant on them. Two examples illustrate this - the UK's R&D tax credit scheme which promotes innovation without inducing dependency, and the contrasting case of certain agricultural subsidies which have sometimes led to inefficiency and overproduction.

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