6.24.2012

Innovation Nation (Redux)

This morning, I'm somewhat lazily reposting below two post of mine from a few months back on innovation in America. How's that for irony: to emphasize the subject of promoting innovation, I'm rehashing some of my old stuff.

With the presidential election run-up in full gear, I'm still waiting for a real response from the candidates. Obama is serving up warmed-over arguments about how Romney would be a return to the failed policies of his predecessor, while Romney argues that the incumbent has failed but hasn't provided a sense of why what he'd do different would make any difference.

Look, I realize the real way out of this mess is through some painful medicine, unpopular reforms, and boring blocking-and-tackling, not the greatest fodder for campaign sound bites. But we're the US of Freaking A, and we're at a moment. So if you're auditioning for Leader of the Free World, I expect you to show some cojones and to be able to think something complex and say something simple at the same time. Gentlemen, I'm waiting.

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Dear presidential candidates: here's a 25-point toss-up.  What is your plan to make America a place where innovation happens?  I'm tired of your pandering on jobs and tariffs and subsidies, and I want to know what policies you will put in place to create a welcoming environment for our innate curiosity, creativity, and drive to make the world a better place.

Within the past week, I have read about a running shoe made out of two sewn pieces, a camera that allows you to focus after you've taken the picture, and a soccer ball that stores the kinetic energy from its movement to provide electricity, and I am heartened by the ingenuity and cleverness.  But I am not sure that America is doing all it can to encourage such risk-taking and multiply such successes.

If you can give me a cohesive response to my query, you have my vote on November 6.


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Dear Sir:

In the eyes of many of your constituents, capitalism is not only on trial but has been found guilty. And yet I argue that it remains the most powerful tool we have for solving many of today's biggest challenges. And so I urge you not to take the steps necessary, while guiding capitalist forces, to not squelch them, and in doing so to squelch the innovative spirit that has made our country so great and so prosperous.

The numbers are sobering: we are creating 100,000 fewer start-ups per year now versus the period from 1985 to 2005. The possible suspects are many - slack demand, soaring health care costs, plummeting housing prices to use as collateral - and I do not mean to suggest that the public sector holds all the levers. However, at the very least the government should strive to do no harm, and to not fear the disruptive nature of capitalism.

With great progress comes the loss of many jobs and even of entire industries, which I realize is hard to swallow at a time of high unemployment, and hard to bear when you are judged by the job numbers of the jurisdiction you represent. But churn is an essential part of our great American economic story. We want entrepreneurs out there disrupting old ways of doing things and offering new things in new ways. For from that destruction comes great advances, with gains for all.

A completely free market is no solution. Government has a role to play. But in playing that role, let it consider how it can stimulate and not discourage the risk-taking, innovation, and even disruption that is characteristic of our nation. Please be mindful to encourage and not discourage entrepreneurship. It is part of what has made us great as a country, and I hope it will be part of what keeps us great.




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