In late 17th century England, there were no newspapers outside of London, and scarcely a printer outside of London, Cambridge and Oxford. The difficulty and expense of conveying large packets from place to place was so great that an extensive work took longer to reach Devonshire or Lancashire than it took, in Victorian times, to reach Kentucky. As a result, books and printed matter generally were largely unavailable outside of London — and London, for most rural Englishmen, might as well have been the moon.
I learned this from Macaulay’s History of England, which I just pulled up on my Kindle, which of course gives me instant — and searchable! — access to pretty much everything that’s ever been published. But the Kindle, and its brother e-readers, are more revolutionary than that. Not only do they give us easy access to existing literature; they call forth entirely new literary genres, such as the Kindle e-book, which brings to market extended essays that are too long to be magazine articles but too short to be traditional books — and are priced to sell.
All of which brings me to Alex Tabarrok’s Launching the Innovation Renaissance: A New Path to Bring Smart Ideas to Market Fast, which is both a product and a celebration of the innovation revolution, along with a recipe, or rather a set of recipes, for nurturing that revolution.
This is a great book. It’s fast-paced, fun to read, informative as hell, and it gets everything right. At first I wished I’d written it— until I realized I could never have written it half so well.
Those of us who write about economics know that the search for perfect real-world examples can be excruciating. Readers crave them, but most of the time a given example ends up illustrating a point that’s close to, but not exactly, what the writer is trying to get at — and so ends up muddying the waters. Tabarrok’s got an amazing knack for finding exactly the right examples, so that we’re simultaneously enthralled by his storytelling and clued in to exactly what he wants us to understand.
His recommended policies — patent reform, prize funds, better education through better teachers, trade schools instead of colleges for many students, liberalized immigration policies for skilled workers, globalization — are all backed by formidable intellectual consensus. Among people who know what they’re talking about, almost none of this stuff is controversial. For the public at large, this book will explain why.
In fact Tabarrok is extremely careful to stick to those subjects where he’s surely right. For example, he mentions in passing that liberalized immigration for unskilled workers would also be a good thing — but that he’s chosen not to dwell on that because, compared to his other proposals, it’s not quite so widely endorsed by the cognoscenti.
My only quibble is that he left out one of my favorite hobbyhorses, namely tax reform and the urgency of reducing taxes on capital — another pro-innovation policy with a substantial but too-little-publicized intellectual consensus behind it.
I wish everyone in the world would read this book. It only takes a couple of hours, and it is by far the best introduction I know of to the topic that towers above all others in its importance for the happiness of human beings everywhere, now and in the future, namely how to foster and accelerate the kinds of innovation that lead to economic growth. It will, I hope and expect, make you an enlightened advocate for enlightened policies. And it will arm you with a bundle of fun facts and anecdotes to share with your friends. This book might turn you into a proselytizer, but it will surely not turn you into a bore.