From 1912 to 2012

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal featured a four-column, above-the-fold editorial titled “The Coming Tech-led Boom.”

As you would guess, I grabbed it up. A headline like that is like manna from heaven to a person in our line of work.

The authors, one a physicist and the other the dean of engineering and applied science at Northwestern, drew an interesting parallel between 1912 and 2012.

They point out that in 1912 the U.S. was coming out of a two-year recession — and that 19 more were to follow over the next hundred years — 100 years of monumental economic growth after which “Americans in real terms are 700 percent wealthier today.

And how did that happen? Innovative technologies — on the front end of the century, electricity, telephony, the automobile and radio; on the back end, the microchip, the World Wide Web, nearly ubiquitous wireless communication and connectivity, and advances in materials and manufacturing — for example direct digital manufacturing (3D printing) that can literally “print” parts.

But technology alone doesn’t do the trick. Humans are the engine of innovation. And in spite of everything that needs improving today, America has some great things going for us in that regard.

We are inventive risk-takers. We excel in times of challenge and change. We are diverse and becoming more diverse. We have amazing colleges and universities. And, as the authors of this editorial wryly point out, there is a “healthy dose of anti-establishment” thinking that runs through or culture — think Apple and Steve Jobs.

Does this mean that exponential growth over the next 10 decades is a slam dunk? We all know the answer to that.

We need policies that support ready access to investment capital, intelligent regulations and taxes, appropriate protection for intellectual property and retention of STEM graduates whether they are native born, from China, India, or somewhere else.



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