Are big breakthroughs all behind us?

  • Article by: The Economist
  • Updated: January 14, 2013 - 6:52 PM

The pace of innovation has slowed, but it could revive if government got out of the way.

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jdlellis1Jan. 14, 13 7:47 PM

Worked for a company that went through the entire FDA approval process which wihile approving all safety concerns, did not approve the submittal as it did not see the merit of the product in the marketplace. The relevent question would be, "In a free soceity, is it the governments or private citizens responsibility to determine a product's market worthiness?"

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SorghastrumJan. 14, 13 8:02 PM

Another propaganda article from The Economist that fails to clarify factual information within the context of reality. It is a bogus argument not worthy of being republished in a local newspaper.

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pumiceJan. 14, 13 8:05 PM

From the commentary: "When government was smaller, innovation was easier. Industrialists could introduce new processes or change a product's design without a man from the ministry claiming some regulation had been broken." Government's bad... blah, blah, blah. Regulations are bad... blah, blah, blah. Public sector unions are responsible for the decline in innovation... blah, blah, blah.

Odd that industrialists can't "introduce new processes" because of overregulation when the innovations the author lauded (cars, planes, telephone, radio, antibiotics) happened during the heyday of unions. Odd, too, that as employment (and union membership) declined in manufacturing and construction, innovation declined.

The innovations mentioned by the authors were, by and large, point-of-production innovations. How can public sector unions--whose members provide services--cause an innovation deficit in production of goods? Isn't it possible that off-shoring/outsourcing US manufacturing correlates with the innovation deficit in production of goods? Isn't it possible that innovating (which the author defines as "using the stuff we already have in better ways") declines when we no longer make the stuff we use?

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owatonnabillJan. 15, 13 8:10 AM

"yet nobody recently has come up with an invention half as useful as the humble toilet." ................ Heh. Could that be because the toilets we currently have work fine? A lot of what is being "invented" (or refined, to be more precise) is not as obvious as the ol' bathroom throne. Look back 40 or so years--a Boeing 707 looks pretty much like the airliners of today. Look at a 707 taking off or landing at MSP (there are still a few around) and to the untrained eye it looks pretty much like any other airliner. But get inside the cockpit, and the innovations and refinements in avionics from 1970 as compared to what is available today is night and day. Same with about a million other products one might name. We might not be doing things differently, but we ARE doing them better.

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gandalf48Jan. 15, 13 9:38 AM

We have a lot of innovation in electronics, computers and vehicles (such as aircraft mentioned in a previous comment). Many of these improvements are minor tweaks on a small scale that you can't see with your naked eye as opposed to the toilet. Just think about how many thousands of times more processing power you have in your pocket vs what the astronauts had on a spacecraft that took them to the moon. Much of what happens today are refinements to previous inventions, think about the Kinect device and how it will evolve in the next 5 years or so (I didn't think I'd be able to yell voice commands even a couple of years ago, now it's the new normal). Within the next decade you'll start to see some big leaps including self driving cars, utilizing retroviruses to genetically modify cells in order to treat diseases and light processors in computers (even faster speeds). Much of these developments are being created by the private sector.

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davehougJan. 15, 1311:51 AM

Isn't it possible that off-shoring/outsourcing US manufacturing correlates with the innovation deficit in production of goods? Isn't it possible that innovating (which the author defines as "using the stuff we already have in better ways") declines when we no longer make the stuff we use? - - - AMEN

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davehougJan. 15, 1311:54 AM

Think how transforming the invention of treads like on a bulldozer or a tank was. Sure we can come up with a new screen or app or remote sensor today, but I bet the "Next Big Thing" will be something we can't even guess at.

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hermajestyJan. 15, 1311:59 AM

gandalf48:"Much of these developments are being created by the private sector."--And of these developments, many are being created on the basis of university research funded by government grants.

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pagejgJan. 15, 1312:12 PM

"And of these developments, many are being created on the basis of university research funded by government grants." Or even outside of Universities. Oil production has surged because of fracking, a process available only because of funding by the government. Military, NASA have also led to a lot of the consumer products. A better conversation is how to improve the govt/business relationship.

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potter101Jan. 15, 13 4:09 PM

Love these regulation haters, Games without rules criminals without laws ,humanity without conscience. If business had total free rain their would be body parts strewn throughout every pathway and it would be the poor that were trampled. All degrees of regulation is proportionate to these values.

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