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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Innovation: The Key to Prosperity

BOOK REVIEW: The very recently published book INNOVATION: The key to prosperity by Aris Melissaratos and N.L. Slabbert is quite the interesting and nugget packed book. Taken aback, this Blogger was, by the advocacy of MagLev train technology as a means to spark a transport revolution in America at the start of the book.

Maybe it was from the experience riding the Shanghi MagLev the past July; or, perhaps, it is my SiFi-thing of utilization of MagLev trains on the Moon to boost payload to orbit, I don't know. But this Blogger was impressed by the notion that MagLev technology should be pushed by the nation as a new alternative for rapid transport.

At one point the book caused me to have some anxiety from the realization that we are mindfully neglecting innovation in this nation and living largely upon the innovations of the World War II generation. Nothing is new only modern forms of prior inventions. It made me uncomfortable while reading those passages.

Aris Melissaratos is an interesting fellow within the Mid-Atlantic Region and appears to have been a major contributor to innovation-thought. But American East-West and North-South MagLev trains, such as those in Japan is advocated. This blogger accepted the premise proposed by the authors that now is the time for America to take the lead in this technology - among others. A MagLev train could go from New York City to Atlanta in 4 hrs. FOUR HOURS!

The author impressed me right from the start with his historic discussion of Abe Lincoln. In Lincoln's day "the transcontinental railroad, which in those days was as new-fangled an idea as you could get." But "Lincoln was a railroad lawyer, representing and supporting the leaders of technological change. Putting a railroad advocate in the mid-19th Century White House was like electing an ardent magnetic levitation, artificial intelliegnce, nanotechnology, or Mars colonization proponent today." WOW! Changed my view and historic outlook of Old Abe indeed.

This book is much more than advocacy of MagLev, it attempts to reach the essence of why America needs to be an innovation nation again.


Michael Turner said...

The idea that ever-rising prosperity owes more to innovation than to simple price competition is hardly new -- Joseph Schumpeter was very emphatic on this point, and even he was mainly citing the work of earlier economists.

I must say, I have to wonder about an author who would glibly equate the railroading of Lincoln's day (relatively mature) to maglev, AI, nanotech (decidedly embryonic) or Mars colonization (don't hold your breath( of our time. Lincoln was, to be sure, a technophile (the only U.S. president with a patent to his name), but railroading was well-established in the U.S. by the time he was president -- in fact, Lincoln had gotten rich as a lawyer by defending railroad companies. A transcontinental railroad would have trade-linked America's eastern seaboard with Japan's and China's -- and it did, thus contributing far more to the U.S. economy than the 1949 gold rush. Lincoln was no pure techno-geek--he was smart enough to see how the world really worked, and how railroading fit into it all.

Maglev? It hasn't really taken off anywhere (not even in Japan, where it's been researched for decades); nanotech is coming along, but still mainly thrives in small niches; AI similarly; and Mars colonization is not exactly on the horizon.

Space travel is an area of technological endeavor in which innovation is *naturally* slower than in other areas, and *naturally* leads to fewer significant spillovers to the rest of the economy. As such, if you mainly care about space travel developing more quickly, it probably makes more sense to invest in the countries that can do it more cheaply, and reserve most of your funding for arenas of innovation where you can really hope for significant economic spillover benefit, significant IP returns, which probably *won't* be space-related. If the people who get rich in America investing that way then go and pay the Russians for trips into space, so much the better. After all, no matter what the U.S. do, the Russians will be able to do it cheaper anyway, for the foreseeable future. It's also a much more market-driven approach. And what's wrong with that? I think it's called "globalization", nyet?

JackKennedy said...

Dah. The French appear to be doing just that in South America. We Americans shall also even more with the retirement of the space shuttle. Yet I do believe America needs both commercial and civil human-rated launch boosters for many reasons.

I question why space travel innovation is deemed *naturally* slower than in other areas. I do not accept that specific premise. There are *revolutionary* designs for propulsion systems that will spill into energy production with proper national innovation investment.

Today there is very significant spillover impact in the economy from investment in space-related hardware in every aspect of life, GPS, satellite telecommunications, weather and remote sensing, not to mention the value of discovery, exploration and subsequent commercialization more generally.

Please do know that I enjoyed reading your comments. It is my hope that you will continue to share them with me and other readers. They are thought provoking.