Book Notes: Launching the Innovation Renaissance

AlextAlex Taborrok’s Launching the Innovation Renaissance is full of common sense about how to promote innovation in America. Unlike so much “innovation” literature that is disconnected from policy realities, Taborrok offers specific policy observations on patents, immigration, education, and more. He also offers helpful ways to think about themes like the rise of China. At two hours tops to read and a $2.99 price point for the e-book, it is an easy way to be brush up on some of the straightforward ways to accelerate innovation in a country.

My highlights from the book:

After hundreds of years of experience, there is surprisingly little evidence that patents actually do promote the progress of science and the useful arts.

Imitation is not as easy as it appears even with an exact recipe. What is true about recipes and the French Laundry is also true about innovation in general. It takes effort and time to imitate a product even when the formula is known.

The major vice of a prize fund is that it replaces a decentralized process for rewarding innovation with a political process.

“Sit down, stay quiet, and absorb. Do this for 12 to 16 years,” we tell students, “and all will be well.” Most of them, however, crash before they reach the end of the road — some drop out of high school and then more drop out of college. Who can blame them? Sit-down learning is not for everyone, perhaps not even for most people. There are many roads to knowledge.
How many visas are allocated to people of extraordinary ability from China, a country of over 1 billion people? 2,803. The same number as are allocated to Greenland.
Should Bill Gates get prostate cancer, his billions will get him a private room and a personal physician, but they won’t do much to extend his lifespan beyond that of a middle-class man with the same disease.
The United States benefits not just from more idea creators in China, India and the rest of the world but also from more idea consumers. Recall the problem of rare diseases. People with a rare disease are doubly unlucky: They have a disease and only a few people with whom to share the costs of developing a cure. Misery loves company because company can help pay for research and development. Misery especially loves rich company. I wish ill on no man, but if I get a rare disease, I do hope that Bill Gates gets the same one.
I see two views of humanity. In the first view, people are stomachs. More people mean more eaters and less for everyone else. In the second view, people are brains. More brains mean more ideas and more for everyone else. The two different perspectives are not just a matter of ideology or mood. We can look for evidence for or against these views.
3 comments on “Book Notes: Launching the Innovation Renaissance
  • I wonder what neuroeconomics has to say about an aversion to reading book excerpts with Kindle Locations tags?;-)

    Tabarrok did say, however:

    “Patents, innovation prizes, patent buyouts and advance market all have their place. The key is to match problems to institutions.”

    In her review of Launching the Innovation Renaissance, Sarah Dillard makes some cogent points about the fragmentation of markets and how this limits the reach of Tabarrok’s tagline, “One Idea, One World, One Market”.

    Tabarrok is not the stupidest man in the world (that would be his Ayn Rand-loving buddy Bryan Caplan). The thought experiments he poses here may be worthy of consideration, even if he and his fellow quasi-Austro-libertarians (or is it anarcho-capitalists?) are so eager to advance any argument they can to block progressive reform.

    George Mason University and the Mercatus Center are quite the nest of such libertarian androids as Cowen, Tabarrok, and Caplan, and all that Koch brothers money certainly supports a mountain of bullshit there and elsewhere. Given the company that Tabarrok keeps, I don’t feel particularly obligated to read the book before I consign it to the dung heap.

  • I dismissed Taborrok years ago when he insisted there was no real estate bubble. Since then he has published blog posts indicating he doesn’t think income inequality matters, and that US society should be run like a business (bring in the productive people, dump the unproductive ones).

    Like many academics (and teenage libertarians), he has no idea of how the real world works. You can’t ignore human psychology and build an economic system assuming that nobody cares about status and relative income; yet that is what so many libertarians prescribe.

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