Is innovation democracy’s unique advantage?

I say yes, though I don’t think it is easy to prove.  Here is part of the abstract, from Rui Tang and Shiping Tang:

We contend that the channel of liberty‐to‐innovation is the most critical channel in which democracy holds a unique advantage over autocracy in promoting growth, especially during the stage of growth via innovation. Our theory thus predicts that democracy holds a positive but indirect effect upon growth via the channel of liberty‐to‐innovation, conditioned by the level of economic development. We then present quantitative evidence for our theory.

Via the excellent Kevin Lewis.


Peaceful alternation in office

Democracy with limited government, yes. Democracy with no limits on government, no. We used to have a Constitution which limited government, but 100 years of “progressive” depredations have shredded its fabric. Democracy in itself is overrated and tends toward mob rule.

The conflation of Democracy and Liberty is mystifying

Also, democracy with arbitrarily imposed limits is the best democracy.

If it weren’t for straw men, you wouldn’t have any arguments at all.

"Democracy with limited government, yes."

The the word "limited" is and can only be a value judgment. Being a value judgment, it is an arbitrary limit. You might choose one value of "limited," I might choose another, Tyler might choose another.. everyone on this page another.

Thus your claim is an arbitrary limit on democracy itself.

more content please

(I wonder how many people exchange the token "limited government" without really examining what it means.)

Britain 1750-1850 wasn't a democracy.

Neither was Prussia/Germany in the XIX-early XX century, when its metallurgical, chemical, optical and electrical industries were as innovative as anywhere in the world, and its universities had no rival in STEM fields. But the XIX century might be the far side of the moon so far as authors are concerned - they only analyze "data" for 1970-2010.

That's a very shallow idea to analyze data about democracy from one very small fraction of history (and quite close to this moment as well). That's like saying that fascism has good correlation with innovation, if you take 1935-45 data. In 45-65 USSR probably was at least somewhat on par with USA in innovation. One outlier (in the case 1970-2010 it's basically USA) does not make the pattern.

IDK about USSR. You really want to read the third volume of Sutton's "Western Technology and Soviet Economic Development", it covers just the years you mentioned. In particular, Soviet looting of vanquished Germany's scientific and technical potential is well known.

Oh, absolutely. Soviets did pilfer Nazists for tech, and so did USA. That's the point. From historical standpoint, many non-democratic societies were quite innovative (maybe not as much, who knows, I am not a scientist in this field), that's exactly why checking only 1970-2010 for data seems like data-dredging and bias for democracy.

From a purely practical science perspective and the research that supports it (i.e. machines that do things and make things, materials, manufacturing processes, communications tech, and transportation devices - all of which of course includes weapons) , I would anticipate the strongest correlation on innovation is with war-making and war preparations, regardless of form of government.

Pilfering? It was the spoils of war, and as such perfectly legitimate. Pilfering is something fundamentally different, as is looting also.

Only true while you remain on top, of course.

In reply to McMike, NASA should also have a strong innovation correlation and perhaps more commonplace for the average person. For example, a NASA partnership on translucent ceramic led to one of the bestselling orthodontic products of all time.

The State can command resources into some fields, that has nothing to do with an efficient allocation of resources. Nor, I would argue, is that a good measure of innovation. The Soviets were very good at pushing resources into the military but at what cost to the general population.

Germany grew rapidly as a center for science after the French Revolution and the creation of the German Confederation. Amongst other things, this leads to a common market, lowered tariffs (between the German States), a common currency etc. A liberalization of commerce between the German states.

Bismarck gives voice to demands for greater national unity. Critical to his rise was support of economic liberalization and economic opportunity for the middle class.

While burdened with armed conflicts, Germany continued to grow. Growing nationalization of key industries was done with a German obsession with efficiency and desire for a high return on investment.

America was able to take many of the German ideas and find innovative applications that generated much greater growth in the United States. Indeed this makes the authors case. The same basic ideas in Germany and the United States lead to much greater innovations and applications in a more democratic society. How much could the German economy have grown if the talents of their people had been given greater freedom?

“Is democracy superior to autocracy at innovation?” The posing of his question is so tendentious at multiple levels as to instantly promote skepticism in the clarity, not to say impartiality, of the authors’ study.

‘Democracy’ is not a uniform category. Venice c. 1300 CE, the United Provinces c. 1620 CE, Britain c. 1830 CE, Germany c. 1933, the Maldives, the Republic of South Africa, and Iceland of today are all instances of democracies: where is the categorical center to use as a basis for comparison? The conflation of distinct organizational forms and the exclusion of an entire (and more numerous) class of additional forms makes any conclusion inherently suspect, even before considering the issue in detail. Further, there are many mixed forms of political organization between a putative archetypal democracy and a putative archetypal autocracy---yet these are, rather suspiciously, excluded from a comparison. We end up with a strained juxtaposition between putative extremes that seems all but intended to force a choice to the former.

Then too, democracy as we know it is a very recent phenomenon; less than 100 years in duration in most parts of the world now, and certainly less than 300 years in duration as a comparable phenomena. a) That is too small a basis of comparison for confidence. b) This time period and the spread of democracies is completely co-incident with modernity as a societal phenomenon: Which is it then that is being compared, democracy (of some sort) or modernity? Modernity has seen hyper-innovation on any historical standard, a circumstance which may (or may not) privilege the explanatory standing of the democracies which have occurred contemporaneously.

Concerning innovation as a phenomena, it has often been argued that contexts of fragmented governmental purview are rich seedbeds of innovation. Perhaps this is due to lower initial bars to adoption, and perhaps lower constraints to the propagation of successful innovations. This position has some historical support but is contested, not least in that some highly centralized contexts have been innovative, and some highly fragmented ones have not, so the correlation is unclear. It has been argued, I think with better empirical support, that market economies have seen more innovation than controlled ones. Reward incentives are greater, and less constrained by existing institutions (though there is far, far more to this issue). Additionally, societies which have achieved a measure of capital accumulation have tended to see more innovation in historical times than those which have not, somewhat contrary to the ‘necessity is a mother’ convention. Capital provides a support for propagation, and also a means for demand pull. Poor societies have difficulty sustaining innovation, often being forced into survival conservatism of activity, with such resources as there are monopolized by existing power structures. None of these three factors are particular to either democratic or autocratic contexts of governance. Accordingly, any causal weighting of ‘governance type’ must rank below them. How is it a credible approach, then, to do an ‘analysis’ on outcome probabilities using the least impactful of major contextual factors? An analysis done without controlling for more primary influences is entirely moot; one couldn’t tell if anything substantive is in fact proven.

Even more, ‘innovation’ is itself NOT a uniform category, and the treatment of it as such in this argument implies little command (and little interest in commanding) an understanding of innovation as a societal process. There is a substantial and qualitatively valuable literature on this issue in economic history and historical sociology; these are not new questions. At a simple level, innovation can refer to at least three distinct processes: a) basic research or design, b) applied development and/or utilization, and c) human-system adaption or design. Even without considering other parameters, these ones form a three-dimensional outcome space. Yet too many discussions of innovation treat the phenomenon as if it is monotypal, or as if only one of these parameters is THE driver to the exclusion of others.

Some societies may be good at one parameter, but unproductive at others, for example basic research/discovery. Are they ‘innovative?’ It may be that the societies which achieve the most overall innovation are in the middle of all parameters rather than at the extreme of any. This is not a consideration in most studies of innovation to date, I might add, which to my mind is a significant factor in why many studies have been inconclusive: the phenomenon is often considered at too low a dimensionality, so that causal weight is not clearly drawn. Factor c) human systems, to my hypothesis outweighs the other two combined in the likelihood of effectively realized and significantly implemented innovations. This hardly seems to even enter the analysis in the paper referenced. It might be arguable that some forms of democracy are more amenable to some higher performance on these parameters, but that is not pursued in this study.

At a minimum, then, three parameters, with four further contextual variables: Innovation as a phenomenon is prototypally multi-factor. Interaction amongst these factors must realistically receive some scrutiny in any societal context before drawing any robust conclusion regarding THAT context relative to another. I would argue that governance structure is the least autonomous of the principle factors for assessing innovation potential outcomes. That is, governance structure, in isolation, gives the least explanatory utility because such impact as it may impart depends heavily upon the presence of additional factors.

yes rockets, jets etc in Nazi Germany - this was pretty innovative.
Now we have to see what happens, when number of researches per capita in China is near those numbers in developed countries.

The US military depends on a cold war era Russian rocket engine for its primary rocket. Was the USSR an innovative democracy? (Even the secondary military rocket was developed by the US in the leftist Democratic run US.)

SpaceX, built by an immigrant, an illegal from the leftist Clinton era at that, has up ended the US rocket industry created by basically GOP policies since Reagan, ie cutting government spending, and depending on high profits at ULA to drive innovation.

But SpaceX, in spite of taking business from ULA, and the EU space industry, is being blown away by the growth of China's space industry which basically started striving for leadership years after SpaceX started as a commercial space company during the leftist Obama era.

There may not have been universal suffrage, but there was democracy in the UK / Britain then. Democracy in England, and in due course the other countries of the UK, dates back to 1275 and the Statute of Westminster, and arguable long before that. Indeed, one of the sections of the 1275 Statute of Westminster that remains in force today is that “There shall be no Disturbance of the Free Elections”.

Man, you've got to share with us what it is that you're smoking. Must be potent stuff.

Anonymouc — do you have some facts or anything constructive to say, or is it your intention to signal your own worth in your comment? Are you denying that there was a Statute of Westminster in 1275?

I don't know what elections that hoary statute is talking about, and I doubt you do either, but if you want some facts pertaining to what passed for democracy in pre-modern England, look up rotten boroughs.

You don’t know what elections the Statute referred to, and you chose not to do even two minutes of research but instead you seem to prefer to keep hold of your prejudice. You have signalled unmistakably your own intellectual worth. Goodbye.

"Britain 1750-1850 wasn't a democracy." Compared to what? France? The German states? The Austrian, Russian, Japanese, or Chinese Empires?

It was enough of a democracy for the new USA to model itself on it in many ways. (Not in all ways - as far as I know women didn't have the vote in the USA whereas some women did have the vote in some British constituencies until the Great Reform Act of 1832 swept it away.) Though the USA, of course, was no democracy either.

Because a democracy must axiomatically have whatever franchise is in fashion at present.

Rule by coalitions of gentlemen isn't any more democratic than rule by a bureaucracy of mandarins. I LIKE Britain of 1750-1850, by the way.

So in your opinion was democratic Athens not a democracy? If you are redefining the term, perhaps you’d care to give your suggestion for a new definition.

The US isn't a democracy either: you have to be at least 18 and a citizen to vote, two conditions which restrict our voting rights. Not a real democracy if the franchise is restricted.

Um, so, how old do you need to be to vote in your 'real' democracy?

So, Kevin Lewis is again excellent, but linkless.

And lots of places had innovative ideas and implementations that had little to do with democracy - the Roman Republic was not notably innovative compared to the Roman Empire, for example.

Having only checked the excellent Kevin Lewis link in the last couple of days, is there any particular reason while the link is always a couple of days behind his latest excellent link collection?

No wonder why you had to flee the country.

Well, 'flee' is a new one.

Of course, it has been a real burden living in a country with 30 days paid vacation and essentially universal health care. That universities are free is just an extra bonus.

Which country? I want in

Most of Europe, Australia, etc. Different priorities over there, more leisure and lower living standards.

Slunk away?

Think pitchforks.

LOL and pink slips

I'm also glad to see that Kevin Lewis is "excellent" again!!

No. See China and Asian tigers.

The Asian tigers were not particularly innovative, neither has China been.

It does seem to me that China may now being creating some unique and valuable innovations in the digital commerce space.

The same China that developed compass, paper, Chinaware, silk, powder and many others pre-industrial things first and without any contact to Western world (which had copied them later). They seemed like pretty inventive people at some historical moments.

Arabian Empires were also not democratic at all, yet they were the ones who introduced maths, medicine and chemistry to Europe (not that it was finished, but they were the ones developing it at certain time).

I am not arguing that democracy does not help with innovation (I do not have enough data), but statement democarcy = innovation does have a lot of historical counterpoints.

China enjoyed a stable empire for millennia. Tellingly your examples span several thousand years and the number of man-years is staggering. What we know is that the innovation rate for China was quite low. It took hundreds of years for gunpowder to make into the military annals of China and looks like it was an alchemical accident in discovery. It likewise took hundreds of years before the compass moved from being a curiosity to being a navigational aid.

Compare this to the early Netherlands and China's innovation rate is pretty terrible. It really does look like China was an innovation poor society. This would make a huge amount of sense as the smartest individuals who had the means were highly encouraged to devote their studies to poetry and other matters on the imperial exams.

The Islamic empires again had a pretty low rate of innovation. Most of their maths were imported. Likewise pretty much all the practical applications of Islamic alchemy predated Islam. Islamic medicine is likewise massively indebted to other societies with extremely few innovations.

This is not to say these empires were particularly bad. Pretty much everywhere up until the printing press and the Reformation had painfully slow rates of "innovation". Most discoveries were chance events that took forever to make it into practical use.

Innovation, as an actual concept and goal, was a very late development and really only has ever had a high social penetration in western culture (where maybe 1% of the population is actually innovative).

Not arguing about the rest of your comment, but your first sentence is ludicrous. If China has enjoyed anything for millennia, it was regular cycles of rebellion, breakdown, fragmentation and civil war.

If by regular cycles you mean every couple hundred years, sure. In comparison the longest period of stability in the West is much less and was only unified maybe three times (Rome, Charlemagne, WWII). Outside of some rare exception (e.g. Egypt), China is about the most stable imperial territory in world history.

Bah. You might have noticed that Europe was very innovative during periods of political fragmentation. Same goes for Hellenistic Magna Grecia, where Alexander's empire had crumbled immediately after he'd kicked the bucket, and even for China, where the most intellectually fruitful periods when most model works were composed and the standards of literary Chinese established were the Spring and Autumn and the subsequent Warring States. In contrast, the centralized Qin distinguished itself by the burning of books and burying of scholars, Tang suppressed Buddhism, and Ming squashed maritime trade and exploration and put the whole intellectual life into the straitjacket of Zhu Xi neoconfucianism-flavored legism.

It depends on how well you do in the wars. Rome, for instance, was far more innovative when its wars were at the periphery and far less innovative when the Gauls, et al. were pillaging the interior.

The optimal point seems to be fighting wars on other people's turf: Bismarkian Germany, the US in every war after the first (and small parts of 1812/Civil war for the North), Britain from after the Civil War, the Early Dutch Republic, Sweden under Gustavus Adolphus, Poland before The Deluge. China, and particularly parts of China had some pretty impressive runs of this sort of warfare (maybe 4 or 5 generations), yet generated extremely low rates of innovation per capita.

The general idea is that China innovation more fast, slow, fast, slow, than a constant slow rate combined with stability. Warring States is fast, Sung is fast, others not too fast, is the usual prescription. None of these periods were in any sense democratic though.

Indeed Mark Koyama makes the case that China tended to see faster innovation rates during good times due to higher market integration and market size (fosters larger population, larger exchange of ideas, etc.)... but collapsed much more strongly than Europe during bad times, as the stock of innovation and knowledge was pretty fragile to the consistently high market size which regularly regressed in civil wars (perhaps a lesson to bullish globalizers... but then most such people tend also to believe the Next Recession is never going to happen, or have planned such that if it does it'll happen to someone else).

"The Asian tigers were not particularly innovative, neither has China been"

When Jobs returned to Appple, he wanted to manufacture in the US.

Tim Cook explained to Steve than it was impossible to build what he wanted to build in the US because US manufacturing was stuck in the 70s compared to the highly innovative Chinese manufacturing industry.

Jobs envisioned highly automated factories in the plate 80s, much like Elon Musk a few years ago. China has innovated manufacturing to blend both high automation and manual labor to rapidly produce new products in rapidly rising volumes at low costs and very high quality. Look at any Apple product in the 21st century.

Name one nation that can beat China non high volume manufacturing of complex consumer products. Great innovative ideas are worthless if they can't be manufactured and sold in high volumes.

The Tesla Gigafactory in China will drive future Tesla Gigafactory designs in the rest of the world, and the US. More automation, but better integration of manual labor. Chinese manufacting workers are able to change processes more rapidly, which is the key to innovation: the ability to change.

Over a billion people will not achieve zero innovation (a billion smart people at least), but come on. China is mainly a story of relatively low wages and relatively high productivity (for wage level), relatively high young population size (for now, let's see how rich they get before they get old) and learning (or copying, mainly from early East Asian industrializers and learning what to avoid from the experiences of other failed communist states).

China's version of state capitalism is doing well enough. Conventional wisdom is that China is not innovative. My observation is that the China miracle may not have been the result of innovation but the next phase of China's development will be, especially it's emphasis on AI. As for America's version of capitalism, my observation is that the neglect of infrastructure will have an enormous cost to America's economic future, including innovation. Cowen doesn't attribute much to infrastructure, but he often links research papers that connect infrastructure to innovation (e.g., transportation infrastructure that makes it easy for research scientists to collaborate). My sunbelt city has a convenient, modern, attractive airport that makes travel to and from the city a pleasant experience, but once in the city, good luck getting around. As for democracy's connection to innovation, my observation is that democracy assures no long-term favoritism; thus, business will rise or fall on its own merits. What we are witnessing in America today is favoritism, the already-wealthy maintaining their wealth and advantage as the result of money's influence on American politics. One has to look no further than the fossil fuel industry to see old industry hanging on as the result of the influence of money in politics, and the opposite of innovation.

The ten least innovative states are all Right-To-Work states. The ten most innovative states are all non-R-T-W states. Data from Bloomberg several years back.

So what? It is not enough to have data. Conclusive facts are inseparable from inconclusive except by a head that already understands and knows. Vain to send the purblind and blind to the shore of a Pactolus never so golden: these find only gravel; the seer and finder alone picks gold grains there. And now the purblind offering you, with asseveration and protrusive importunity, his basket of gravel as gold, what steps are to be taken with him?

Perhaps you could suggest data on R-T-W states advancing democracy and innovation.

You haven't established any connection at all between the two concepts.

"According to Tim Bartik of the W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, studies of the effect of right-to-work laws abound, but are not consistent. Studies have found both "some positive effect on job growth," and no effect."

"Economist Thomas Holmes compared counties close to the border between states with and without right-to-work laws (thereby holding constant an array of factors related to geography and climate). He found that the cumulative growth of employment in manufacturing in the right-to-work states was 26 percentage points greater than that in the non-right-to-work states.[41] However, given the study design, Holmes points out "my results do not say that it is right-to-work laws that matter, but rather that the 'probusiness package' offered by right-to-work states seems to matter.""

In reply to JWatts: Do R-T-W states have any interest in advancing democracy and innovation? You have ten R-T-W states at the bottom of the innovation list. That won’t change unless you change it. What say you?

R-T-W states have 85% of the nations disenfranchised voters. Slaves could not vote. Did slaves have a legacy for innovation?

I don't see that you are making any coherent point.

What is your point? Other than the trivial fact that states that were traditionally rural and poor tend to lag behind those states with large cities and wealth.

You've not produced one iota of evidence that force unionization laws are in any way causal for innovation.

In response to JWatts: Should we conclude that free market capitalism does not promote democracy and innovation in rural and poor R-T-W states?

So, China rapidly building high speed rail att lower cost that the US building high speed rail in the 19th century is not innovative?

High speed is relative, of course, but the US built rapidly in part by overriding individual property rights like China has done, and the US had to innovate in producing steel rail, innovate various construction methods, but China has gone much further. For example, China manufactures dual track rail beds that are quickly installed on pylons to both speed construction, cut costs, plus eliminate grade level crossings. Where that method is undesirable, China advanced innovation in tunnel boring. Of course, the US tunnels more slowly and at higher cost with tunnel boring machines than a century ago when manual labor was used.

Of course, the US is not the innovator in tunnel boring machines. A Clinton era illegal is trying to change that, Elon Musk's Boring Company.

If we're talking about infrastructure, the sudden enthusiasm for the Centre-Left across the Anglo world for governments to spend on massive state engineering projects after their long silence on the matter is an odd one. Who knew they loved the autobahns so much?

It tends to seem more rhetorical when actual. When recent Anglo governments have tried to implement infrastructure changes, it usually seems that Centre-Left opinion is pretty critical of these as cosy deals for contractors (high speed rail, new airport runways), and would prefer the money to be spent on administering public services, medical programmes and welfare. Particularly when its their tax being spent and not money raised by bonds.

They tend to be most friendly to improvements in urban transportation that makes urbanites lives easier; at the polar end public funded upgrades to massive commercial transport infrastructure which primarily benefits established business and increases its profit are of little interest and much dislike.

I can't say this is true for you Ray, but it is just my general impression.

I would say the original article is correct, if you 'weigh' innovation to count more from the late 19th century to present. Obviously the Roman empire came up with catapults and other labor saving devices, as did the Chinese empires, as did non-democratic Britain and the like. But for modern inventions? No. And you could argue these non-modern inventions did not really change life for the better (Malthus' argument).

All the 'big inventions', including "Nazi rockets" (Goddard, US inventor) were invented by democracies. All of them. Read Vaclav Smil, an economic historian, for more information. ALL OF THEM. Don't argue, I know this area better than you.

The Russians stole inventions from the Americans, not just the atom bomb but mundane stuff like how to make cars, the Space Shuttle, airplane designs, etc etc. Chinese got it from the Russians. The Brazilians? Well, I'll let "TR" opine on that! :-)

Bonus trivia: name me ONE big invention done by a fascist/communist country and I'll go away for a week. Just one. Go on.

The Roman empire didn't come up with catapults or labor-saving devices, it merely applied what was developed earlier by Hellenistic Greeks. Rome's advantages seem to have been in the fields of political organization and administration.

And civil engineering, which does admittedly tie into political organization and administration. One could argue whether civil engineering is 'innovative,' but what the Romans were able to do with aqueducts and roads and concrete was truly impressive.

Roads, yes, but it's not high technology even by the standards of antiquity. Roman aqueducts are applications of Hellenistic hydraulics and are only bigger in scale because of the factors I mentioned above. I don't know if Romans were original in concrete or just applied Hellenistic recipes, it's difficult to establish because they had a lot of Hellenistic-trained Greeks working for them, but most of what Vitruvius lists in De Architectura is Hellenistic.


Romans were engineers and administrators, not inventors. You have the crazy Greeks for that. Keep one about the Domus and be thankful for the working plumbing.

Electron paramagnetic resonance
Reactive Armour
Carbon Nanotubes (albeit completely unused and not even properly understood)
Different space-technologies (although, yeah, there was a lot of
tech espionage between USSR and USA)
Ground-effect planes
Stealth systems (yep, they were unfinished and later stolen by USA)
3D Holograms (albeit practical, theory was known before)
Heterotransistors (a Nobel Prize, not used in USSR though once again)

I am not saying that there were more than USA (which also stole a lot of tech from USSR, Germany and Japan). I must say that USA was much better at implementing inventions. But at least heterotransistors will make you go away for a week?

@Konstantinov Roman - thanks, but all your examples are disputed.

"heterotransistors" is a joint US-RUS invention: (Wiki) "In 2000, the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded jointly to Herbert Kroemer of the University of California, Santa Barbara, California, USA and Zhores I. Alferov of Ioffe Institute, Saint Petersburg, Russia for "developing semiconductor heterostructures used in high-speed- and opto-electronics". (Wow, impressive, they use opto-electronics to get around busy IC address buses)

Carbon nanotubes is also independently invented by non-Russians (albeit later than the Russians): (Wiki) " The true identity of the discoverers of carbon nanotubes is a subject of some controversy.[104] A 2006 editorial written by Marc Monthioux and Vladimir Kuznetsov in the journal Carbon described the interesting and often-misstated origin of the carbon nanotube.[105] A large percentage of academic and popular literature attributes the discovery of hollow, nanometer-size tubes composed of graphitic carbon to Sumio Iijima of NEC in 1991. "

Reactive armor: again, Russians were 'first' be failed to perfect it, so it doesn't count. Jules Verne also thought of traveling to the moon but not in a practical, multi-stage manner. (Wiki) --"the idea of counterexplosion (kontrvzryv in Russian) in armour was first proposed by the Scientific Research Institute of Steel (NII Stali) in 1949 in the USSR by academician Bogdan Vjacheslavovich Voitsekhovsky[not in citation given] (1922–1999). The first pre-production models were produced during the 1960s. However, insufficient theoretical analysis during one of the tests resulted in all of the prototype elements being blown up.[citation needed] For a number of reasons, including the accident, as well as a belief that Soviet tanks had sufficient armour, the research was ended" (Later, German Manfred Held and the IDF perfected reactive armor)

Electron paramagnetic resonance- jointly invented between Russian and England. (Wiki) "EPR was first observed in Kazan State University by Soviet physicist Yevgeny Zavoisky in 1944,[1][2] and was developed independently at the same time by Brebis Bleaney at the University of Oxford. "

Ground effect aircraft - too broad a generalization. All aircraft experience ground effects, due to laminar flow at the boundary layer.

Rest of your examples are admittedly 'unfinished' or theory known before.

I'm still here. Hello? Anybody?

Ok, I do get that many of those were perfected later. That's quite true. But then, what do we view as innovation? The first to perfect something or the first to propose it theoretically? Both? What is "perfected" means exactly? Germans had anti-magnetic armor for tanks to counter the mines. Is this innovation? It was innovative for it's time. But it costed too much and was pretty much useless in late WWII. Do we speak about first successful market penetrating item? That does seem to be biased towards capitalistic democracies of 20th century, right? I am ready for this battle. If we are arguing "just one", I can win it.

@Konstantinov Roman - yes, you seem very knowledgeable. There's a tension in IP law (which was my field before I retired, I'm now in the Philippines with my girl who's half my age) , in this topic, "constructive reduction to practice" (paper invention) and "actual reduction to practice" (building it or a model that works, I'm in favor of giving separate patents to each inventor who does either of these two categories; present patent law only reward constructive reduction to practice, which is absurd IMO).
Another German example: Dr. Porsche wanted to use electric motors to turn tank treads, but lost to a competitor who used mechanical gears for Hitler's Tiger tank. But Porsche was right; today all big equipment uses electric motors to turn the axles or wheels (trains, tanks).

Since I don't want to get kicked off the board for a week I'm not going to challenge you, ;-)

"Don't argue, I know this area better than you." This strikes me as strong evidence to the contrary, especially as you later invite argument :/

Also, it is hypocritical to first claim invention as 'of democracy' for the conceptual invention, despite it being first (but later) operationalized by non-democracy, then turn around and defend an invention as 'of democracy' when it was invented in non-democracy, but first (and later) operationalized by democracy. You must pick one consistant standard for innovation.

@Nicholas - my definition re 'of democracy' and 'non-democracy' is consistent: the claim being, do we need innovation from non-democratic countries? The answer is no. Inevitable discovery also is a theme.

Didn't the Russians invent laser eye corrective surgery?

Let me know, i am too lazy to google it.

Yes, and with scalpels. You should google it. Fascinating.

Another possible channel is that democracies are much better at fighting wars because of superior troop morale and cohesion. This was recognized as early as the Ancient Greeks. Even in modern times, there are many examples of small democracies defeating larger non-democracies in war, but almost none of the converse. Thus, democracies were able to conquer and hold more land and natural resources than non-democracies.

The Falklands War. Also, the right-to-vote isn't the same as democracy, despite what's continuously implied.

The Falklands is ancient history. More recently Britain lost its war in Iraq and its war in Afghanistan, both to non-democracies.

Britain lost its war in Iraq? On what alternative universe are you living? In mine, Saddam Hussein is long dead, and Tony Blair is quite alive. Also when did the Afghanistan war ended in your universe? In mine, it sill goes on...

My dear chap, you seem to be the one in a different universe. The British Army left Basra with its tail between its legs, under a truce guaranteed by the force of arms of its opponent, leaving the USA to fill the gap it left. It had achieved none of its stated aims.

The British Army similarly failed to deliver any of its aims in Afghanistan and went on to betray its interpreters. Its logistics supply chain was controlled by its enemy, which plundered from it to attack the British.

But you can if you wish ignore my experience of being involved in those wars and instead read Sherard Cowper-Coles’ excellent book, which from memory is _Losing Small Wars Badly_. The title speaks for itself.

I attach no blame to British soldiers, except the General Staff. But it is a plain fact the the British Army was defeated. Any Briton who denies this is an impediment to doing better in the next war.

"democracies are much better at fighting wars because of superior troop morale and cohesion": the soldiers of the democracies were markedly inferior to the German soldiers in WWII, as was clear after the Normandy invasion. We had air supremacy, far more artillery, and far better strategy, so we won. That had nothing to do with "morale and cohesion".

War's a brutal business; it's best not to use sentimentality in place of analysis.

The kinds of people who tend to form non-rigid societies are better at collective fighting than the kinds of people who tend who tend to form rigid societies.

(That was supposed to be a reply to Zaua)

Non-rigid societies? Collective fighting? Gee, even in the celebrated US democracy soldiers are required to follow orders without question, undergo hours of onerous training, all wear the same clothes, eat the same grub, and so on. Nothing rigid about that.

Presumably many German soldiers also believed themselves to be defending “democracy”, not of course in the sense of voting — which the Nazis dispensed with — but in terms of fighting for a regime which THEY believed represented them.


But Fascist Italian soldiers were arguably inferior to any of the Allies. Although IIRC Rommel wrote that they were decent on an individual level but incompetently led.

Agree though, In the industrial era soldier quality did not win wars. Organizational skills and mass production proved to be the most important factor.

Although surely being able to read almost the entirety of German communications made a massive difference. Does the USSR survive without knowing the German plans in advance and preparing massive defenses in depth to absorb the assaults?

Democracies had radar and Britain cracked the Enigma codes.

@Hmmm - Fascist Germany also had radar, independently developed, and Enigma was inefficiently exploited (eg., Battle of Crete, and Germans had all of North African allied codes cracked due to an incompetent UK diplomat in Egypt, hence the "Desert Fox") and even Enigma supporters say Enigma merely shorted the war, did not win the war.

Fascist Germany? When I last checked, Germany at the time of the Battles of Crete and Alamein was National Socialist, not fascist.

I don't think it was noted that the Athenians had particularly high esprit de corps. What was noted is that they democratically decided to use a rich vein of silver to fund their navy, and from this navy became a major power in Greece.

This still was not significant enough to offset the significant advantages of more militaristic societies (Sparta, etc.), but I would not be surprised if this would turn out as a general democratic advantage - binding public decisions tend to get more public money into the military than in autocracies where the impulse among anyone with a chance to get some money is resist unaccountable figures confiscating resources, and an impulse among unchecked autocrats is generally to spend on monuments to their own glory and perhaps their own Praetorians. (This is actually part of theory about why bourgeois republics were able to sustain higher per capita military spending in early modern era, even relative to their higher per capita incomes, and hence were relatively more militarily powerful for their size; more proto-democratic institutions rather than mandarins or monarchs).

Possibly only for a given value of suffrage however - Athenian slaves would not likely have voted to use the silver thus.

@M - Sparta's military > Athens, true, pace: Battle of Sphacteria was a land battle of the Peloponnesian War, fought in 425 BC between Athens and Sparta. Following the Battle of Pylos and subsequent peace negotiations, which failed, a number of Spartans were stranded on the island of Sphacteria. An Athenian force under Cleon and Demosthenes attacked and forced them to surrender.

How many republics in ancient history can you name? Probably two big ones: Roman and Greek (many city-states). For those two, numerous Empires can be names. If history lessons are taught differently, you will see as many, if not more examples of successful and long-lived kingdoms, empires and so on. And they were fighting wars as well as republics did. The imperial form of Roman Empire existed for 1500 years vs 500 of Roman Republic. Did they suddenly decide that they needed less fighting? Btw, if you don't look at Greeco-Persian wars, where were the major examples of Republics faring better vs equal or stronger empire?

All empires and republics in ancient history lasted about 200 years (the Arnold Toynbee rule) with a few exceptions: Byzantium (330-1453), maybe Egypt if you don't distinguish between Old, Middle and New Kingdoms, ditto Assyria, and Babylonia.

This is innovative: Steve Schwarzman contributes $350 million to MIT to create a college for AI. "The goal of the college, said L. Rafael Reif, the president of M.I.T., is to “educate the bilinguals of the future.” He defines bilinguals as people in fields like biology, chemistry, politics, history and linguistics who are also skilled in the techniques of modern computing that can be applied to them. But, he said, “to educate bilinguals, we have to create a new structure.” Academic departments still tend to be silos, Mr. Reif explained, despite interdisciplinary programs that cross the departmental boundaries. Half the 50 faculty positions will focus on advancing computer science, and the other half will be jointly appointed by the college and by other departments across M.I.T."

Anecdotally, my personal experience with "crushing innovation" is in big corporate America. We can't even do small things that would decrease the need for about 10-15% of the staff. I'm not talking AI or cutting edge stuff - I am talking about late 1990s early 2000s IT stuff here.

I'd imagine at a similar firm, but much smaller and perhaps in consulting (in the same line of work as my dept but not necessarily the entire company) would be more open to adopting those 10-15% labor saving tasks. I'd also imagine the power structure is less... all about power and structure and more about getting things done.

I think that in authoritarian societies, the "authoritarianism" is more likely to filter down into management at even the line manager level. Since all real authority comes from a centralized state/figure/whatever, no one can really exercise independent authority without risking being seen as a trouble maker.

That is just what I would imagine. Because, I would say that is the normal every day feel of a Fortune 500 company (mine is one of the 200 largest companies in the world). At least there are laws to protect people from immediate firing, but I would tell any new hire into a company like mine to do the opposite of innovate. I'm not even talking big things, if there is a way of doing something that even a 12 year old could improve on - keep doing it that way. You will get managed out if you innovate. Its all about the org chart.

There's much to be said about whether large firms are remotely efficient, and about how their internal decision making systems look like as political systems. Whether one agrees with Elisabeth Anderson or not regarding equality, the insight of evaluating companies internal workings as they were states is sound.

"We can't even do small things that would decrease the need for about 10-15% of the staff. I'm not talking AI or cutting edge stuff - I am talking about late 1990s early 2000s IT stuff here."

I'm curious, what large American corporations have a larger domestic headcount per real dollar of revenue, than they did in the 1980's/1990's? Conventional wisdom is that modern American corporations are leaner than they used to be? Does anyone have a link to some stats?

Any system that allows innovators to innovate in peace will help with innovation. This means you've got to let them avoid the risks of war, and to ensure totalitarians that might not understand the bleeding edge of science stay away. Democracy is good at doing this, but any society prosperous enough to afford peace and resources and the luxury of failure to their innovators will reap its benefits.

"Stand away from my diagram!" - Archimedes

“A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it ... gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”
― Milton Friedman

I have yet to meet a free market advocate who even pretended to practice what they preach.

What would practicing free market principles look like to you?

Nontrolling , just curious.

Well, as a generalization, let's talk about bankers and banking. A coddled, protected, and subsidized industry - provided with a variety of tax preferences, sweetheart deals, captive markets, bailouts, regulatory forbearance, etc.. . Feasting on the public teat in amounts no masses of welfare queens could match in several generations.

Yet the amount of free market rhetoric that emanates from the bankers could build a bridge to the moon.

And I am not just referring to their press communications and public testimony, I am mainly referring to the ones I know personally. Many of whom made small fortunes laboring in the protective bosom of government created captive markets and subsidized arbitrage opportunities, while protected from their own errors and malfeasance by a taxpayer safety net. These same people, good and decent people generally, were prone to incessantly spew an endless stream self-justifying ignorant platitudes about free markets, and issue bitter complaints about the mildest forms of assistance for others less fortunate, and of course bristle at any suggestion that all that pubic largess might come with some strings or responsibilities.

So to answer your question, perhaps "practicing" isn't the correct word. Because it is generally impossible to practice that under our system, into which both government support and crony/monopolist gerrrymandering of the markets is far too intertwined to untangle.

So perhaps a better word would have something to do with unacknowledged hypocrisy.

Banking certainly is intertwined with government in an unsavory way, I agree. If you meant to say specifically banking you may have a point. Banking is a very specific and unusual Industry. That said:

Captive markets - not sure what you mean here
Tax preferences - this is debt financing vs equity financing? If so agreed, equity should be taxed the same as debt.
Bailouts - this is a problem downstream of the actual root cause. These were paid back btw.
Regulatory forebearance - not sure what you’re getting at here

A simple rule would be: if you have access to the discount window at the Fed, your leverage ratio cannot be larger than X, and only treasuries count as assets. A rule so simple that it has no constituency and thus no one to push for it.

If your larger point is that private sector companies lobby the government for special treatment/handouts/protection and thus no one “practices” free markets, then I disagree. You get what you incentivize.

This is a public choice economics problem, and we’re getting exactly the results of the incentive structure in place.

If you legislate buying and selling, the first thing to be bought and sold are the legislators.

Probably too much to reply too right now.

But the incentive structure you mention raises a chicken/egg problem. "Free market" advocates tend to claim this was forced upon business against their will. My analysis was this was put in place because that's what the beneficiaries pursued. Free marketeers seem to think there's some magic way to stop that from happening. Short of complete anarchy, I disagree. As long as there are pots of money and people signing the checks, or any rulemaking whatsoever about anything, there will be people trying to get their paws on it.

Captive markets refers to for example the rule that government beneficiaries must use debit cards. Or other rules that force people into certain markets without choice. (you name it: municipal bond markets came to mind, any privatized government service (ie parking meters or camping reservations), and auto insurance, and of course health insurance).

I suppose you will say that the government is forcing this sort of stuff on companies, and of course I will say is the opposite., couple with the fact that we need SOME rules to keep the wheels turning and people from each other's throats.

Yes, banks are over-regulated and over-protected. Innovation is stifled and excessive risks are encouraged to the detriment of society. The solution is not more regulation and more protection, it is free markets. You complain about the dangers of regulatory capture ....and then call for more regulation. Amazing.

I understand that it's complicated and difficult for some minds to hold both concepts at the same time, but the need for regulation on a 7 billion person planet can persist despite the risk of capture of those doing the regulating.

You sound like a high priest screaming about the evils of sin, then screaming that his flock needs to sin more so that he can stay in business. Actually, I find this strain of argument amusing, childish and silly, but amusing. Thank you

You sound like a troll

You remind me of the debates in the first year of high school. Brings a smile to my face as I remember the earnestness of those days. Most of them, but I guess not all, grow up. Seriously Thank You for reminding me of those days.

Why let him off the hook?

I asked what following free market principles would look like and he went on a non sequitur rant about how he hates bankers. Then he deflected to how bankers he knows don’t like redistribution schemes and thus are evil hypocrites.

It’s an appeal to emotion: banking system is crooked so the concept of adults consenting to transactions is immoral. It’s not ‘company x creates negative externalities and should be taxed to mitigate said externalities’ it’s ‘consensual individual interactions are immoral by nature and should be monitored and controlled by the federal government.’

The role of government in determining the entire scheme is whitewashed to ‘free markets is either Somalia or corruption.’

If he has anything constructive to say he’s willfully choosing not to say it.

Notice how he never proffers a solution. There’s no debate to be had because it’s all sarcasm. He refuses to even debate an idea or policy. It’s bullshit all the way down.

Bold prediction: if he comments it will be a bullshit remark, lacking substance. He will not offer a policy scheme he would endorse with specifics, because that defeats the purpose of his complaining.

You two should get a room

lol couldn't resist.

DanC is not debating, he's trolling, and you have too much of a crush on him to notice.

Hmm started off fair enough, but went off the rails too, and has resorted to demanding a policy counter proposal as proof of the bona fides of my critique. As if there's a single policy proposal that can be presented in a blog and solve one of the most difficult problems of civilization. Sorry, that unicorn is a libertarian fantasy.

I think your picture of what free market advocates believe is incorrect. I also disagree with your binary choice of ‘complete anarchy’ or cronyism.

I think we disagree because our framing is completely different.

I see an incentive problem (public choice economics) which turns into businesses advocating for market distorting regulations.

Businesses hate free markets because it destroys their economic rents. They want to restrict competition as much as possible.

By and large it isn’t government vs business, it’s government and established business against the consumer/potential market entrants.

One fix is to keep regulation simple and harder to game: a CO2 tax to protect the environment, capital requirements that restrict it to treasuries to prevent financial crises, etc.

But I don’t see any method of getting from A to B.

Easy yes. Ever wondered why smart people in the Arab countries all study Engineering? It's the only "non-political" subject you can study, other than, say, Economics where you'd have to fear the government moles in the lecture both as a student and as a professor.

What IS the relationship between contemporary science and applied technology on the one hand and democracy on the other?

As we dimly recall, Paul Feyerabend made much noise late in life that institutional science and applied technology have become wholly anti-democratic and foist their non-democratic and anti-democratic searches for "innovation" upon populations that never have and never had ANY say in any development or in any deployment of "innovative technologies" (e. g., television, atomic weaponry, Technogenic Climate Change, Twitter, Facebook).

Institutional science and applied technology have NO interest in submitting research programs to democratic oversight: ergo, science and technology remain anti-democratic forces intent on retaining all economic and social status privileges that come with being cognitive elites in service to military-industrial interests and machinations.

Feyerabend did issue the call (in the American context) to separate science as strictly from the operations of state as the traditional separation of church from state: probably far too late now, nevertheless, the appeal and significance of Feyerabend's idea persists almost a quarter century after his death.

"Our theory thus predicts that democracy holds a positive but indirect effect upon growth via the channel of liberty‐to‐innovation, conditioned by the level of economic development. "

I wonder how much "democracy" and "markets" are substitutable in this argument.

The massive scientific innovation in America from 1950 to 2000 was sometimes supported by government but ultimately powered by tremendous market cycles.

To give one example, the military needed GPS, and now it is what, a billions dollar market?

Non-market systems can only simulate that, poorly. Which is why even the commies have embraced real markets to the extent that they have.

The question for the future is whether quasi-commies can perform like democracies used to in this regard.

(It is also reason for us to repeat what works.)


I suspect the real linkage is between extractive and inclusive elites, and consequently functioning markets. Not political freedom or democracy, per se.

"The question for the future is whether quasi-commies can perform like democracies used to in this regard."

+1. Specifically the Chinese. The previous thinking was that a society had to become liberal in order to be productive. But the Chinese have managed to keep an authoritarian society while increasing productivity. Granted, they are less authoritative than they were and they aren't nearly as productive as the West is yet.

A ninety percent top federal income tax rate grants democracy a unique advantage. For example, a ninety percent top federal income tax rate helped put a man on the moon. For comparison, a recent tax cut advanced the number of presidential outings at a golf course.

The kind of tax and the rate are of secondary importance or less. Greece might have a top rate of 99% but it would still be a basket case of a country, because what really matters is the power to collect the tax, including the power over would-be evaders.

Really enjoyed my trip to the moon but it wasn't as much fun as a trip to Mexico.

A trip to Greece is great fun too, but one might not wish to become a citizen nor a resident.

I don't care how high you raise taxes, you aren't going to raise Wernher von Braun from the dead.

(Every time NASA has tried to build a manned space vehicle without Von Braun, it's failed. The Shuttle utterly missed all of its design goals beyond the bare ability to actually put people into space, and killed more people than all other spaceflight systems in the history of mankind combined in the process. No other NASA manned vehicle development program even managed to even launch.)

No theory, theory just noticed the relationship and named it.

Here is a clue. In proportional democracy, which we do not have, the voter gets the most immediate feedback on side effects of their votes. The voter becomes aware of the pitfalls of government action, or lack thereof.

If I'm following the logic correctly, democracy itself isn't a spur to innovation,it just produces more free societies. And in turn, that freedom is the precondition to innovation. It seems like Hong Kong and Singapore might provide counter-examples to the first premise, no?

Freedom and free markets work together like your heart and lungs. Working together they strengthen the capacity of the body to achieve great things. If either is damaged your potential is diminished.

Democracy, to the degree that it encourages competition for ideas and resources, is better than autocracy. Democracies that encourage greater liberty do see greater growth. But as Woodrow Wilson and George W Bush saw in foreign policy, Democracy does not always lead to prosperity because democracies do not always choose liberty. Sometimes they sacrifice liberty for other goals - security, fear of others, fear of uncertainty, the pursuit of some egalitarian ideal, or control over others, etc

According to Julian Simon, freedom, the rule of law and individual rights, especially property rights, have something to do with it.

@jorod - you're living a lie. "property rights" usually mean just land, not intellectual property, which is very biased against the IP holder. Yet Solow's equations for growth depend, on the long run, on just one factor: innovation. Essentially then, rule of law means the ability of business people to exploit nerds and steal their invention, so we can all prosper. That's your "rule of law". Now excuse me while I download the Wall Street Journal at Piratebay...

The majority of any polity is made up of sub-optimal people who anyone with a brain would not let near any decision making apparatus for anything. Yet those who believe in democracy with unquestioning devotion are letting literal morons, and even worse people who hate them have a say in how their country is governed. you are truly the dumbest people in the history of the world.

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