How to get more innovation bang for the research buck

ABOUT A DECADE ago, a few economists began asking whether the rich world’s prolonged spell of lacklustre growth might have something to do with a shortage of new ideas. Tyler Cowen of George Mason University suggested that when it came to discovery, humanity may well have plucked all of the low-hanging fruit. Robert Gordon of Northwestern University scoffed at recent technological contributions, noting that none was nearly as important to human welfare as the humble toilet. Progress since—in gene editing, artificial intelligence and even rocketry—seems impressive. But the radical change and roaring growth enabled by the innovations of the 19th and 20th centuries continue to elude rich economies. Before abandoning hope, though, it is worth considering that it may be the motivation we provide our innovators, rather than a shortage of ideas, that is the problem.

The argument that humanity has run out of big ideas (or nearly so) makes a degree of intuitive sense. Fundamental forces of nature, like the theory of electromagnetism, can only be discovered and exploited once. Scanning through available evidence, it certainly seems like breakthroughs are ever harder to come by. In a paper by Nicholas Bloom, Charles Jones and Michael Webb of Stanford University, and John Van Reenen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the authors...

via The Economist: Finance and economics Business Feeds

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