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Don't the candidates care about Innovation?

Posted by: Michael Mandel on January 18

John Kao writes

It is January 18, 2008, the presidential campaign has been in full swing for longer than most of us would like to admit, and the “innovation” issue is still conspicuously MIA from discourse and debate.

We’ve had the Iraq “frame,” and now the recession and change “frames.” But what about the Innovation “frame?” Are we just not getting the importance of innovation? Vannevar Bush, presidential science advisor, said it best in 1947, “A nation that loses its science and technology will lose control of its destiny.” More recently the National Academy of Science referred to the problem as a “gathering storm.” And in my own recent book, Innovation Nation, I state that America is losing its innovation edge with profound implications for our security and prosperity as a nation.

Is anybody listening out there in leader-land?

Richard Florida responds to Kao:

The answer to my mind is simple: few people care and those that do figure they can take care of it on their own. Innovative businesses have realized that politics is beyond dysfunction. I learned a lot in my short years in Washington DC. Nobody cares about this stuff. And that goes way, way beyond the Bush Administration, people: just try to find someone on Capitol Hill who cares. Cutting edge companies are walled off in Silicon Valley and many are globalizing to gain access to the talent they need. Their bets are well hedged. The US is a collection of innovative, talent attracting region, embedded in a nation and political system that is increasingly, if strangely, at odds with their needs and requirements.


Who among the current crop of candidates - in either party - has a theory of America's role in the world economy? Who among them has said a word about creativity and innovation? Who among them has uttered a peep about how to extend the innovative, creative, and entrepreneurial regional engines of the economy into a broad and shared prosperity. Silence, as the old adage goes, is deafening - and also very, very telling.

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Reader Comments

Joe Cushing

January 19, 2008 01:55 AM

I have mixed feelings on this issue. On one hand I see science as the foundation of economic growth even when it is hard to see where the money is going to be made. On the other hand, where does it say in the constitution that federal government has the authority to day money from you and I and give it to someone who decided they want to study the effects of global warming on earthworms in Alberta. A third point is that all knowledge flows very quickly across borders and only seems to have competitive value if it is proprietary--even then it still flows across borders. It seems to me that the most prosperous country would be the one with the least red tape and lowest taxes. Science will flow to the country were it can be most easily used, reguardless who funds it.

Damon B

January 29, 2008 10:45 AM

My feelings aren't very mixed. Government expenditures in the fields of science and technology are problematic at best, a hinderance at the worst. When the government decides to "invest" in research, there is often a tendency to focus on a few paths to discourage waste (a joke in and of itself). This in turn engenders a belief amongst the non-technical administrators that other paths are flawed or not worth pursuing. A free market without government support of a few answers is more likely to pursue many posible answers to a question. Including the right one.

Thank you for your interest. This blog is no longer active.



Michael Mandel, BW's award-winning chief economist, provides his unique perspective on the hot economic issues of the day. From globalization to the future of work to the ups and downs of the financial markets, Mandel-named 2006 economic journalist of the year by the World Leadership Forum-offers cutting edge analysis and commentary.

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