Does the government nurture innovation? Most people are polarized on this issue. But amid the noise, a thoughtful op-ed by Joe Nocera sheds some light where there is mostly heat. Here is part of what he said:
“Manzi’s essential point is that American innovation — the key to our prosperity — has always relied, to some extent, on government support. In the early days of the republic, he writes, Alexander Hamilton proposed government help for the developing manufacturing industries — “the high-tech sector of its day.” Hamilton’s basic insight, he adds, was “that the enormous economic value that innovative industries could offer the nation merited public efforts to enable their success.”
And for most of this country’s history, that premise was embraced. In the early 1800s, West Point was founded “in large part to develop a domestic engineering capability.” In 1843, “Congress allocated the money to build a revolutionary telegraph line from Washington D.C. to Baltimore.” In the late 19th century, the government made investments “in biology and health innovation.” Right up until the 1970s, Manzi writes, the free market was paved “with specific interventions to provide infrastructure and to promote incremental, innovation-led growth.” This was The American System.
And then came the age of computers, which, writes Manzi, caused “the center of gravity” for innovation to shift from large institutions — not just the government, but research-centric firms like Bell Labs — toward “newer, more nimble competitors.” Even here, though, government never completely went away. Much of the early Internet, after all, was either funded or developed by a government agency, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.”