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BREAKDOWN: Why Innovation Matters (and How Not to Screw It Up), Feat. Matt Ridley

The “Rational Optimist” author gives his take on the economic history and possible futures of prosperity’s most important driver: innovation

May 27, 2020

Twenty-one different people can reasonably claim to have invented the light bulb, but Thomas Edison is the one we know about. Was it just good PR? According to Matt Ridley, it was because Edison was the progenitor of an “innovation factory” that didn’t just create things but brought them to market in a way no one else did.

Innovation is one of the most important forces in the economy, and arguably the most important driver of human prosperity over the last century. Yet, for most of its life, it has been viewed as some strange exogenous force, rather than as a discipline that could be understood.

In this conversation with NLW and Ridley discuss:

  • Why it took so long for economists to take the study of innovation seriously
  • Why invention is different from innovation
  • Why innovation has tended to concentrate in geographically proximate areas
  • Why free societies produce more innovation than closed societies (including empires)
  • Why China’s innovation production over the last decade may be an exception that proves the rule of innovation thriving in freedom
  • Why government winner picking is a terrible way to inspire innovation
  • Why innovation policy led Matt to support Brexit
  • The rational, optimistic take on the future