Launching The Innovation Rennaissance

Over the weekend I read Alex Tabarrok’s short ebook Launching The Innovation Rennaissance and you should to. Honestly the worst thing I have to say about it is that it was a bit too short. The material in there on K-12 education is, I think, correct but also not argued at sufficient length to persuade anyone who’s inclined to be skeptical. The best part of the book is the thoroughgoing critique of the current system of patent monopolies in the United States, which has become deeply dysfunctional:

The trouble comes when we try to correlate the existence or strength of patent law with measures of innovation. In the 19th century, for example, some countries, notably Switzerland, Denmark and later the Netherlands, had no patents at all and other countries had weak patent rights. According to the traditional theory, countries without patents should innovate very little. Yet that was not the case — countries without patents had as many innovations as those with patents, and in international fairs such as the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London in 1851 they even received a disproportionate share of the medals for outstanding innovations. […]

Isaac Newton said that he had seen a little further “by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” Newton’s story might have been different and his innovations fewer had the giants required him to pay for the privilege.

Another highlight is the section on immigration. Tabarrok mostly focuses on the case for high-skill immigration, but his extremely brief-but-well-phrased points about the value of low-skill immigration are also extremely important, not just to immigration policy but to one’s general understanding of human society as a cooperative scheme for mutual advantage. The sad thing is that essentially the entire book is about stuff that congress isn’t arguing about. It’s always a pleasure to read about subjects that aren’t in the ideologcal trench warfare of tax rates and oil extraction, but it’s become frighteningly difficult to get the political system to spend any time on these many other issues.