Entrepreneurship and innovation are the keys to economic growth and higher standards of living. The USA has long enjoyed leadership status on these dimensions — people see the USA as the land of entrepreneurs and the source of new ideas and advances in business. Is the reputation still deserved? Or is it being eclipsed as part of the general decline in standards and capabilities that we observe? Lipton Matthews is a global economic and geo-political analyst who brings deep knowledge and expertise to address our concerns.
Borrowing a framework from the Global Innovation Index published by the World Intellectual Property Organization, we can examine the state of entrepreneurship and innovation in the US relative to both other countries and its own history, under the headings of institutions, human capital and research, infrastructure, market sophistication and business sophistication.
Institutions: The private sector institutions of the USA continue to excel for entrepreneurship and innovation.
When we think of American institutions for the encouragement of entrepreneurship and innovation, we must examine private sector institutions, not those of government. Ordinary people in civil society build the institutions that promote innovation. Private scientific research is robust in responding to market signals of consumer and business needs. Financial institutions such as venture capital and angel investors support innovative development. Policymakers mistakenly believe they can conjure up a creative economy by fiat, but they’re wrong. It’s private institutions that support and cultivate innovation. Even if the public sector tries to encroach, the private sector maintains its innovative edge.
Professor Sam Gregg warned us recently that the United States of today more closely resembles a European social democracy than many Americans are willing to admit, but Lipton Matthews is confident that America is still winning the entrepreneurship contests because the forces of democratic socialism can’t overpower the higher-energy force of the private sector drive for creative innovation in return for market reward.
Human capital and research: The ability to execute overcomes any shortcomings in education.
If we look through the declinist lens, it’s easy to become gravely concerned about the state of education at all levels in the US, which directly impacts the development and deployment of what economists refer to as human capital. Do we under-allocate resources to teaching schoolkids business and entrepreneurship skills and tools, and at the college level, do we turn out too many English and philosophy grads compared to market needs, and not enough engineers and STEM grads?
Lipton Matthews cautions us against worrying about the wrong things. The educational qualifications of the products of American schools and universities matters less than their executional and implementational capabilities. America is a nation of do-ers, and that type of expertise is embedded and innate, from the time of the founding fathers and early immigrants who built the America economy. We prize innovators more than inventors — the ones who successfully turn ideas into marketable products and services. Entrepreneurship is action, and American business capitalizes the talent for execution, combining scientific learning with creative action to generate innovation. Executional capacity comes more from a market orientation than from formal learning.
A concern about the research component of the Global Innovation Index’s “human capital and research” classification is, perhaps, more justified. Government-directed research dominates formal research budgets — directed to fields such as climate change — for universities in the US, and the historical evidence is clear that this pool of research is inappropriate for the support of entrepreneurship, despite European aspirations to an entrepreneurial state. Brilliant scholars and researchers who could be entrepreneurs and innovators are diverted into unproductive activities.
It’s difficult to quantify private sector R&D; we must hope that it is sufficient to counter-balance the state’s diversion of research funds. In fact, Lipton Matthews points out, we must expect the state and innovators to be in competition. The former prefers control and stability versus the latter’s pursuit of disruption and change.
Infrastructure: Think local and regional, not national.
We are frequently presented with stories about the crumbling of US infrastructure. That’s the wrong level of focus, according to Lipton Matthews. First we should compare US infrastructure to other countries, where the quality of engineers and engineering may be lower, and so roads, bridges and communications networks are inherently superior in the US. Second, we should focus on infrastructure in our localities and regions. Local communities can manage infrastructure well in support of local businesses. Some towns and cities will have better-managed and better-maintained infrastructure than other parts of their state, and businesses will be attracted there.
Market sophistication: capital flowing to best entrepreneurial uses.
Lipton Matthews interprets the Global Innovation Index’s category of market sophistication to refer to the financing of startups, scale-ups and innovative entrepreneurial businesses. American deployment of venture capital and the widespread networked access to investment funds are examples of market sophistication in practice. Ordinary people can invest in startups and innovation, and entrepreneurs at every stage of their journey can arrange access to investors.
While these investment funding networks may not be perfect, and while we may encounter some challenges in moving capital to the bottom of the pyramid, nevertheless, the private financial sector in the US is effective in directing funds towards innovation. While there may be some erosion of purpose, from long term funding of innovation to making money via short term trading in-and-out of markets, this does not detract from America’s lead in market sophistication.
Business sophistication: The ability of business to absorb new knowledge and use it to innovate.
Bart Madden called knowledge-building proficiency the central differentiating function of the successful firm. Our businesses are learning machines, continuously generating new knowledge via R&D, marketplace experiments, interactions with customers and feedback from all business activities. While it’s possible that Americans might be eclipsed by some other countries in the race to produce patents, this is not a relevant measure. Marketplace innovation is the test of business sophistication, not patent registration. Knowledge accumulation must be accompanied by knowledge application.
America’s entrepreneurial nation of doers not only engages in eternal learning but in the adaptive entrepreneurial method of act-learn-improve. The rest of the world has not fully caught up.
In Lipton’s eyes, America was oriented for entrepreneurial success by the founding fathers and early immigrants, and will continue to innovate and grow as a result of entrepreneurship. Only if we get in our own way through excessive statism, regulation and government intervention that misdirects our energy and resources will we break the well-established historical track record.
Global Innovation Index: Mises.org/E4B_209_Index
“For Now, Entrepreneurship And Innovation Still Hold A High Place In The USA” by Lipton Matthews: Mises.org/E4B_209_Article