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Is America Falling Off the Flat Earth?
never ends. A few companies are now beginning to leave Ireland for greener pastures, such as Poland and Hungary, and Ireland is already taking steps to strengthen its competitiveness and attract them back.
How did Ireland do it? The answer is straightforward. They did it the old-fashioned way, the way America must do it and used to do it: “Get out and compete.” The choice is straightforward: in the 21st century, a developed nation can either innovate or evaporate. It can invest in the future, or it can enjoy the present until the present becomes the past.
In fact, it is already widely agreed that the key to survival for countries suffering severe labor-cost burdens is innovation: being first to acquire new knowledge, being first to create new products and services derived from that knowledge, and being first to market new products and services. (As used here, innovation includes entrepreneurship.) With regard to the latter activity, even a few weeks can make an immense difference between success and failure, so it is all the more important that we not handicap ourselves further with unneeded bureaucracy, regulation, and oversight. In some respects, America is doing well in that regard, being one of the fastest and least expensive places in the world to start a new business. In others—such as visa processing, product licensing, resolution of judicial matters, and export approval—it lags behind much of the world.
How does a nation achieve success in innovation in science and technology? There are at least four prominent ingredients in the process. The first is to generate a supply of brilliant scientists capable of producing new knowledge. The second is to invest sufficient funds to support the research of those scientists. The third is to provide a cadre of engineers who have a solid understanding of the fundamental laws of the universe yet are capable of the unconstrained, imaginative, creative thought that translates newly discovered scientific knowledge into products and services. And the fourth is to create an environment that is highly conducive to innovation. The latter, as already noted, includes the availability of risk capital, a sound patent policy, a constructive tax policy, and reasonable liability laws. It also includes a number of less tangible factors. Seven of the latter are briefly described below:
The first is an environment that provides researchers and inventors the freedom toexplore—an environment that offers creative, inquisitive people the opportunity to pursue promising new avenues that may appear unexpectedly in their research and to be rewarded for their successes. The classic example at least of the former would be Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin. It is said that this enormous contribution to humankind was brought about when Fleming, studying bacteria with his microscope, found that one of his slides had accidentally become contaminated with mold. He also noticed that