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Neal Stephenson On 'Innovation Starvation'

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the hitler-did-a-lot-of-stuff dept.

NASA 437

Geoffrey.landis writes "In an essay discussing the space program, author Neal Stephenson suggests that the decline of the space program 'might be symptomatic of a general failure of our society to get big things done.' He suggests that we may be suffering from innovation starvation: 'Innovation can't happen without accepting the risk that it might fail. The vast and radical innovations of the mid-20th century took place in a world that, in retrospect, looks insanely dangerous and unstable.'" Though the context is different, this reminds me of economist Tyler Cowen's premise that the U.S. has for decades been in a Great Stagnation.

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437 comments

Patents aren't helping (5, Interesting)

pieterh (196118) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613862)

Actually I'd conclude that patents are a main cause that innovation has stagnated in the last 20 years. Innovation depends on sharing knowledge.

What I really wonder is whether the strangulation of research will put our survival at risk at a time in history when we need to be smarter than ever about how we use energy, land, water, and raw materials? Why patents are evil. [ipocracy.org]

Re:Patents aren't helping (3, Interesting)

Anrego (830717) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613946)

So what is the solution?

Not snarky, I'm serious. I totally agree, patents have created a world where unless you are a huge company, it's pretty damn hard to invent something new. All the patent nonsense has raised the bar way above the head of the garage tinkerer, and given that this is where a lot of earlier innovation came from, that seems like a really bad thing.

But at the same time, I don't like the idea that if I spend a year of my time developing something, someone else can spend 2 weeks making a slight improvement and start selling it.

How do we let people invent stuff while at the same time preventing blatant rip-offs and ensuring inventors get paid for their work.

Re:Patents aren't helping (5, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614250)

But at the same time, I don't like the idea that if I spend a year of my time developing something, someone else can spend 2 weeks making a slight improvement and start selling it.

If your idea is so simple that someone else can copy it and improve it in two weeks, why should you have the armed might of the state preventing them from doing so?

If I also spend a year of my time developing the same idea, but complete my work a week after yours, why shouldn't I have the same rights you do? I spent all that time and now you're saying I can't use my own invention just because you finished a few days earlier?

Re:Patents aren't helping (3, Interesting)

Anrego (830717) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614434)

I spent all that time and now you're saying I can't use my own invention just because you finished a few days earlier?

Hold on there, I didn't say that anywhere. In fact, I agree that this is a big problem with the current system. The whole point of my post was that the current system is flawed (but that simply having no system wouldn't work either).

If your idea is so simple that someone else can copy it and improve it in two weeks, why should you have the armed might of the state preventing them from doing so?

Both time figures were somewhat unrealistic, but the point is copying something is usually a lot cheaper and quicker than developing something from scratch. Certainly I think something could be ripped off after release long before an inventor would see his profit.

That, and some "simple" things come out of long periods of trying to solve a problem. The end solution might be a simple widget, but coming up with that widget as a solution to the problem may have involved significant resources. If someone can then just start producting that widget with no money going to the people who came up with it, you'll see people a lot less willing to spend money inventing.

Re:Patents aren't helping (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614256)

> Not snarky, I'm serious.

Ok, I am, too, because I'm old and really have no time to troll. Don't be misled by my anonymous post.

> patents have created a world where unless you are a huge company, it's pretty damn hard to invent something new.

That and more: if you're a huge guy, you don't need to invent anything, just snatch a innovation from a small dude and tell the world it's yours.

> So what is the solution?

Openness.

Absolute Open like FLOSS would be ideal, but even semi-open could work in certain areas.

A certain amount of copying is needed, for it acts as education and fertilization to make certain grounds adequate for idea germination and development (just see the Free Software landscape which certainly is not short of ideas).

> But at the same time, I don't like the idea that if I spend a year of my time developing something, someone else can spend 2 weeks making a slight improvement and start selling it.

Are you sure? Really? Careful with what you ask, because you might get it. Don't forget we evolved to share and restricting idea communication is bound to have consequences, some good, but some possibly bad.

We've been living for centuries, even millenia without patents. People had other means of control. You can use only reputation, adopt a more numeric approach (like the karma system used here -- flawed IMHO) or create guilds (now called sites with "registered" users).

We may be in the middle of another economic model shift, just like when we abandoned Mercantilism. Nowadays, countries unite to prevent another country from sinking. This is very emblematic IMHO. It's like community thinking on a grand scale.

Just MHO, unrelated to anyone or any organization.

Re:Patents aren't helping (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614296)

Not trying to steal the thread, and these are not perfect solutions but I suspect they would have a huge impact on bogus litigation and create an ongoing boom innovation investment...

* 5 year legal monopoly beginning the day you file the patent.
This will force patent holders to put up or shut up. You invest in your patent now or forfeit your monopoly.

* A producer requirement rule, you automatically lose in infringement litigation if you do not produce a product or service based on your patent.
I witnessed first hand an engineer who was paid per technical drawing to develop "innovative" patentable designs based on the work of others he found on the internet. He and the patent troll that paid him never invested time, money or effort into creating prototypes or marketable products. The product was a stream of patents that the troll marketed to patent holding ventures to use in future lawsuits against actual producers which may even include the original developers who posted pictures and video of their work online.

A producer rule would not stop lone engineers developing ideas and selling them but they would end up in the hands of producers who would have a limited amount of time (see the 5 year rule) to invest in actually producing the product or service based on the patent.

Re:Patents aren't helping (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614366)

Shorten the term and jack up the fees for older patents?

Change part of the term from exclusive rights to licensing revenues rights, with a requirement to take all comers?

(compulsory licensing isn't the right term, the exclusive rights are a grant, there is nothing compulsory about making that grant less generous)

Re:Patents aren't helping (2)

pieterh (196118) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614426)

The solution is legally enforced sharing of knowledge. That is, you can steal anyone's ideas and they can steal yours right back. This is how the fashion industry works and the notion that "big guys will steal your precious ideas" is shown to be bogus. The state should enforce mandatory share-alike on every aspect of technology. The large firms will complain they have no motive to invest. Fine, allow the small ones to.

Re:Patents aren't helping (1)

RazzleFrog (537054) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614048)

Patents aren't evil. Only in a perfect utopian world could somebody develop an idea and not have to fear it being ripped off for the profit of others. Intellectual property laws protect innovation - not deter it. There is so much ignorance in that link you have there that I wouldn't even know where to start to tear it apart.

And you make it seem like patents are something new but it existed during America's greatest years of innovation.

Re:Patents aren't helping (4, Interesting)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614152)

Patents aren't evil. Only in a perfect utopian world could somebody develop an idea and not have to fear it being ripped off for the profit of others.

I've worked in a patent-heavy industry. There was no 'innovation' being protected, because every company had to cross-license their patents with every other company in order to remain in business. The only things the patents did were keep more efficient competitors out of the market and keep patent lawyers well paid.

Re:Patents aren't helping (1)

Anrego (830717) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614208)

I said this in an earlier post, but I think we need a better system. We need to protect people from getting ripped off, but we need to allow people to innovate and invent without needing a huge team of lawyers.

I haven't got any ideas.. does anyone?

Re:Patents aren't helping (3, Interesting)

pieterh (196118) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614486)

Yes, it's quite simple. Take existing models that work, copy those. Use science, not philosophy. Fashion, food, open source. Industries that are incredibly innovative and where ideas are properly treated as worthless. It's execution that counts, not ideas. Here's an idea: "send a man to the moon". Now execute that.

To suggest that innovation needs patents is like suggesting reproduction needs divorce lawyers.

Re:Patents aren't helping (2)

spire3661 (1038968) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614398)

Developing an idea does not mean you can claim whole ownership of it. You OWE for what our forebears wrought. All inventions draw on millions of years of human existence and progress. Intellectual Property laws draw a line in the sand, only perspective dictates if that line provides net good or ill. As it stands now, from my perspective, if you stripped away all IP protections, people would still invent shit.

Re:Patents aren't helping (1)

pieterh (196118) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614458)

So kindly point to any argument in my blog on patents that you consider "ignorant" rather than making blanket dismissals. If you don't know "where to start to tear it apart", you're showing the emptiness of your position. Patent (not "intellectual property") laws protect big business, which is why the only ones lobbying for them are big business.

Re:Patents aren't helping (2)

ArhcAngel (247594) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614230)

The submission has the main cause in it. Fear of losing. Our society has come to treasure the status quo so much they aren't willing to risk what they have to make something else. The use of Patents is just one of the ways we are using to keep what's ours. Take all our toys away and watch how creative we become.

Re:Patents aren't helping (1)

sosume (680416) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614428)

Dude, all these 'evil' patents will expire within the next 20 years. If these 20 years are crucial for the existence of mankind, we made some booboos in the past and we're beyond repair already. Just sayin'.

Re:Patents aren't helping (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614516)

It's not patents. They don't help but they aren't the main problem.

I was watching Monday's "The Daily Show" and the guest was an author talking about how America used to be the place where people came to get things done, now they don't. This dovetails nicely with Stephenson's essay, Putting it all together the solution is to kill the lawyers. Not all of them, say 90% need to die -- or at least change professions.

Nothing gets done anymore because you get sued whenever you try to change anything.

  Around where I live (like most places) the landfills are filling up. The government tries to expand the landfill, they get sued by environmentalists. OK, they get a new plan to cart the waste to another landfill instead. They get sued by a different group for causing excess pollution and noise. OK, they try getting a high temperature incinerator built to generate electricity as well as easing the load on the landfill. They get sued by the first set of environmentalists AND a NIMBY group. WTF people! You've got to change something. The garbage isn't going to magically disappear.

This is just a small sample of the crap going on here.

People suck.

Need another cold war (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37613864)

The cold war was great for this. Massive amounts of money were dumped into stuff with the only goal being "get it done before the other guys". Some stuff needs a tonne of money and time sunk into basic research with only a thin vision of the end goal to happen.

These days, we are very good at the standard cycle of:
a) release product
b) collect feedback
c) update product based on feedback
d) release updated product

A business man can understand "if we spend 2 years an $xx researching hard drive technology, it will probably give us something that we can sell in the end". This is why we see continuous advances in the stuff we already have.

We are less good at "hey you smart guys! here's a few billion dollars and a huge lab... give us something cool".

Re:Need another cold war (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613932)

The cold war was great for this. Massive amounts of money were dumped into stuff with the only goal being "get it done before the other guys".

And mostly it was a collossal waste of money. Trillions of dollars spent and nothing much of use at the end of it which wouldn't have been created anyway for far less.

Re:Need another cold war (1)

marnues (906739) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614206)

You can back up that statement how? Your dogma is showing. Might be best to understand why it's uninspiring and certainly doesn't add anything to this conversation.

Re:Need another cold war (1)

Smallpond (221300) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614498)

Nuclear weapons research, ICBMs, Trident missile submarines - many trillions of dollars. None of it contributes to civilian uses, all innovations since the 40's are still classified.

Re:Need another cold war (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613942)

We are less good at "hey you smart guys! here's a few billion dollars and a huge lab... give us something cool".

It's worse than that. Especially here in the US, it's more like "hey you smart guys! We hate and resent you, and our twisted religion says that you're all blasphemers."

Re:Need another cold war (1)

jamiesan (715069) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614174)

The flying Spaghetti monster disagrees with you! You will be smote... smited....something by his noodly appendage.

Its the war (1, Insightful)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613868)

The space program was killed in the 70's because of the Vietnam war. Carter tried to return the U.S. to a space and science society but got caught up in the beginning of the newest form of war.

dotcom (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613872)

Did he hibernate thru the dotcom era?

Re:dotcom (1, Insightful)

marnues (906739) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614286)

The dotcom world is a service sector based on solid technology. It is not a manufacturing sector and the hardware necessary is not manufactured here, let alone requires anything like a big R&D project. The Internet/WWW are another conclusion of refining technologies developed in the 40s and 50s. Very big and important in a social context, but it is not itself a moon landing or a smallpox vaccine. Cowen's belief is the Internet will enable us to create a new big thing. The new big thing must be real innovation, something novel, not just an improvement of communications systems.

You bet. (-1, Redundant)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613880)

We protest the success of the top 1% richest people... But if you check their lives you will see they got that way by taking a lot of risks, and had made some big mistakes that they didn't repeat.

Same with innovation. In order to come up with something new you need to risk the expense and the risk of failure to try it.

Re:You bet. (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37613964)

But if you check their lives you will see they got that way by taking a lot of risks

You obviously haven't. There are a few poster examples but most of them were born rich.

Re:You bet. (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613988)

Sure there are some born rich... However you could argue they grew up in a culture that encouraged them to take risks growing up in their lives too.

Go Back To Jerking Off To Ayn Rand (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614218)

You've embarrassed yourself enough for this story.

Re:You bet. (0, Flamebait)

damburger (981828) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613978)

Bollocks and more bollocks. You do not get in the top 1% by inventing something. You get in the top 1% by inventing absurd financial ponzi schemes with other peoples money. Yes, there are exceptions. Fantastically rare exceptions, that do not disprove the rule

Re:You bet. (1, Insightful)

stdarg (456557) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614528)

Keep in mind the top 1% is over 3 million people in America alone. You honestly think many of those 3 million people invented "absurd financial ponzi schemes with other peoples money" ??

More realistic reasons:
- their families sacrificed a lot to send them to medical school or law school
- they sacrificed a lot to start a new business that became successful
- they got lucky

Re:You bet. (2)

ideonexus (1257332) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614026)

Yes. And we know they got rich by hard work and risk-taking because they spend billions of dollars on advertising to convince us of this.

Re:You bet. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614094)

Mistake to avoid: Don't invest in projects with a lot of research, instead go with the one guaranteed to make money especially the monopolies. Corporations have a lot to do with stifled innovation. Even patent wars stifle things.

Re:You bet. (3, Informative)

RazzleFrog (537054) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614252)

If you read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers you'll find that the rich got rich by being at the right place at the right time and having important friends to help them.

Re:You bet. (1)

Anrego (830717) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614260)

Problem with this is that we only really see those who succeeded because of huge risk. Behind everyone one of them are probably several thousand who ended up living in a cardboard box for the rest of their lives.

On an individual level, all or nothing risk is viable.. at a country level, it seems like less of a good idea.

Recommended reading & watching (2)

toxygen01 (901511) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613908)

Even though I'm not a big fan of cutting the NASA budget, here is some (reasonable) reading about why is it good:
http://tech.mit.edu/V130/N18/nasap.html [mit.edu]

For fans of Neal, there was recently interview on goodreads with him (however, interviewer was, nicely said, boring):
http://www.goodreads.com/topic/video_chat/14 [goodreads.com]

and the evergreen of Neal @google (a lot of interesting ideas - e.g., about wikipedia):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnq-2BJwatE [youtube.com]

Re:Recommended reading & watching (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614110)

From what I'm seeing there, the old saw of "The money could be spent on the poor" is being trotted out.

Guess what? EVERYTHING could be stopped, we could give them all our money, and it would STILL not be used for those purposes and siphoned off because you cannot fix the problems of malarial infection with money. You have to fix the people in the country with the issues first, because that's why the aid already sent is wasted.

Of course it looked dangerous (1, Insightful)

IWantMoreSpamPlease (571972) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613924)

Back then, we didn't molly-coddle everyone and give medals to everyone for participation. We rewarded only the winners, the brave, and left the rest in the dust.

Then liberals (note the lower case useage please) took over the schooling systems and have been doing their damnedest to make everything "fair", and as such, we have a generation afraid to take risks, expect to be rewarded for being mediocre, and generally a failure, yet have a massive ego issue. It's not wonder we are where we are these days.

Re:Of course it looked dangerous (-1, Troll)

damburger (981828) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614046)

Cite your fucking evidence.

Do you have any evidence, outside the 'truthiness' of your deranged, tea party inspired brain farts, that changes to the education system (supposedly instituted by 'liberals') such as you describe a) ever took place and b) if they did had an effect.

I expect you to cite peer-reviewed work, thankyou.

Re:Of course it looked dangerous (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614112)

Troll-rating: 2/10.

Re:Of course it looked dangerous (0)

damburger (981828) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614172)

Lack of evidence means you concede the argument. Thankyou for admitting defeat so readily. Your implied apology is accepted :)

Re:Of course it looked dangerous (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614346)

It's honestly strange that you deny these changes. It's like having somebody demand a citation that we use more computers than in the 80s.

Re:Of course it looked dangerous (1, Insightful)

damburger (981828) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614368)

If they are so obvious, the evidence should abound, and you would be able to cough some up. You can't, so I'm calling bullshit on your paranoid ignorance. I'm also going to take a wild guess, and say that you've never worked in a school?

Who the hell do you think you are? (1)

mosb1000 (710161) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614164)

Is this the way you normally talk to people? If you think he's wrong, you can say why, but do you honestly expect him to come up with sources for you? Especially if you're talking to him like he's a child and you're the teacher or some shit? If people don't respond to you, it not because you've won, it's because you aren't worth it.

Re:Who the hell do you think you are? (1, Insightful)

damburger (981828) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614190)

He just accused the educational establishment (and the supposed 'liberal' forces behind it) for stifling human innovation. Its an extraordinary claim, not only lacking extraordinary evidence but lacking any evidence at all. Why shouldn't I talk to such a cretin like he is a child? There is no onus on me to disprove something he hasn't proved in the first place!

Re:Who the hell do you think you are? (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614464)

He just accused the educational establishment (and the supposed 'liberal' forces behind it) for stifling human innovation.

No-one who's actually been through the 'education system' and survived should find that claim at all extraordinary. If you think you create innovative adults by having them sit silently in a boring classroom for twenty years while a teacher tells them what to do, then I have a bridge you might want to buy.

Re:Who the hell do you think you are? (-1, Redundant)

damburger (981828) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614482)

If it is so obvious, the proof should be everywhere. If the proof isn't there, you should recant your position. Choose.

Re:Of course it looked dangerous (1)

Thunderstruck (210399) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614242)

Actually, if you do have evidence, don't bother citing it.

In my own meandering experience, it seems to be a waste of one's time to try and argue with anyone who:

1. Starts their comments by throwing profanity at you,
2. Makes assumptions about your affiliation with a specific political group,
3. Calls you deranged, or
4. Apparently thinks they're your teacher or college professor, such that they can place expectations and demands on you regarding the nature of any response you post.

Re:Of course it looked dangerous (-1)

damburger (981828) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614306)

In other words, Mr. Passive Aggressive, you agree with him, but know you don't have a leg to stand on factually, so aren't actually going to get into the argument. LMAO

Re:Of course it looked dangerous (1)

Anrego (830717) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614162)

and left the rest in the dust

Not necessarily. Failing is character building, and I think helped a lot of people crawl out of that dust. Failure in school shows you the important "if you half ass it, this is what happens". To my generation this seems intuitive, because if we half assed it, we got a big F in scary red pen (not a G or Q or R or whatever the hell non-threatening grade they give out now). We then had to go take it home to our parents, who would be somewhat displeased with us.

Now days everyone is, as you said, told they are a winner. No one gets told "you failed, you are a loser" until it's way too late for it to do much good.

George Carlin actually had a really good piece on this (a lot of his stuff is hit or miss, but this was a big hit imo).

Kids should have the right to fail!

this is why China will win (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37613930)

They aren't terrified and risk averse like the USA is. Shit goes wrong, they pick up, bandage the wounds, and keep trucking. The USA, it spends the next decades dismantling itself and trying to reform its entire society so that some highly publicized 0.000001% chance that somebody might die can be eliminated, at the cost of actually getting anything done.

Re:this is why China will win (1)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614244)

Lets not get too excited about China and manned space flight.

They started trying to get a human in orbit in 1967, they canceled two other programs and this successful program took 11 years to get a human in orbit. They haven't had a human spaceflight since September 2008.

Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37613952)

It's corporate culture to cut R&D. No one wants to develop new products; they just want to charge more and sue anyone who tries to compete or use their IP. That's how it is now. It won't get better until there's a big event to change things. Apparently, it's not recession.

Re:Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614496)

Time was that the government was a big spender in the research department, but it turns out we would rather have ultra rich people than advancement and innovation.

Markets do not work (4, Interesting)

damburger (981828) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613956)

The period that Stephenson identifies with a decline in the ability to get 'big' things done coincidence near perfectly with the rise of neoliberalism in the west. The more markets are deregulated, the less ability we have to actually get things done, because corporations will break up anything large scale for profit - with the full cooperation of sleazy, dishonest politicians who are in their pockets.

But a whole bunch of us are ingrained with a kind of market fundamentalism, that the 'invisible hand' will make things right if you just deregulate some more, that you simply cannot see any way to stave off this decline.

It isn't just technology. This deregulated, global market lets 25,000 people starve to death each year, despite global agriculture producing enough food for each person get 3000 calories per day.

Now cue the stream of /.ers defending their dead ideology because they can't face up to the fact that something they support, both with their ideas and their everyday activities, is so corrosive and destructive to our prospects for survival, happiness, and development.

Re:Markets do not work (3, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613970)

The period that Stephenson identifies with a decline in the ability to get 'big' things done coincidence near perfectly with the rise of neoliberalism in the west

I believe you mispelt 'big government welfare statism'.

Re:Markets do not work (0)

damburger (981828) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614014)

Really? Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were proponents of "big government welfare statism" were they?

Facts do not agree with your Tea Party lunacy. Please wipe the dribble from your chin and have another try.

Re:Markets do not work (4, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614070)

Really? Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were proponents of "big government welfare statism" were they?

Yes. Reagan called it 'military spending', while Thatcher increased welfare spending during her time as Prime Minister; and, even if they hadn't been welfare statists, they were only in power for a few years of the last forty.

But don't let reality spoil a good rant.

It is your recollection that needs work (1)

Scareduck (177470) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614074)

Aside from the Civil Aeronautics Board, which programs or departments did Reagan end? You can't name any because he didn't.

NASA is a big-government boondoggle. To blame "the market" or "neoliberalism" for its failures is absurd.

Re:It is your recollection that needs work (1)

damburger (981828) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614130)

Idiot. You do understand what the word 'deregulation' means don't you? Reagan and Thatcher got rid of government regulation of the economy, for ideological reasons.

Re:Markets do not work (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614200)

No he didn't, what you call 'big government welfare' started in the 1930s to avoid people starving to death in the wake of deregulation last blunder in the 1920s, and only WWII got the US back on its feet.

After WWII, the economy had recovered enough to support most people (at least in the west, I'm not getting into the colonial question here), and as such, we have the 1950s-1970s where are considered by many as the Golden Years.

What the OP is pointing out is that this golden age ended precisely when Regan (who by modern standards is a raving commie) came to power and started applying neo-liberal economics to a perfectly good system. The result is the blooming debt, equality gap and boom to bust cycles that we've seen since, and also the stagnation in terms of radical innovation (and please don't try to tell me that everything has been invented).

Re:Markets do not work (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614316)

No he didn't, what you call 'big government welfare' started in the 1930s to avoid people starving to death in the wake of deregulation last blunder in the 1920s, and only WWII got the US back on its feet.

LOL. The only way that WWII 'got the US back on its feet' was because the war required the removal of many of the regulations which caused the last Depression and the post-WWII government managed to avoid reimposing those regulations afterwards.

Britain went the other way, building a massive welfare state immediately after WWII. You can see how well that worked.

Re:Markets do not work (4, Insightful)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614234)

I don't see the evidence. I see plenty of cases where we can't get things done because the "rules" don't allow it. All they way down to the girl down the street can't open a Day Care or a Hair Salon because compiling with Government requirements written in by existing rent seeking industry or liberals who put risk avoidance ahead of basic pragmatism always seeking to eliminate any personal responsibility from everyone.

We have never ever "deregulated" anything! Financial deregulation did not make it any more possible for me and few neighbors to get together and open bank! What it did was simply remove oversight from a group "winners" government had already picked, and continued to preserve them with barriers to entry.

Real deregulation would be just that it would be repealing laws, WITHOUT writing new ones. Its never been tried, on any kind of scale. Still everyone points at "deregulation" as some failure of libertarian policy ideas when what the "deregulation" that has actually occurred does not even remotely resemble what and real libertarian would call deregulation!

Re:Markets do not work (3, Insightful)

damburger (981828) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614282)

My entire life (born 1981) has been a history of market deregulation, so don't come at me with all that 'government gets in the way' horseshit. Deregulation has not protected pre-appointed 'winners', otherwise the dot com bubble would never have happened. Government has been rapidly getting out of the way for 3 decades plus, and the result has been a market running out of control with greed and bad information (which, according to the prophets of neoliberalism, shouldn't happen)

Libertarians have their ideal, utopian state - its called Somalia. Kindly go live there.

Re:Markets do not work (1)

Toonol (1057698) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614378)

It isn't just technology. This deregulated, global market lets 25,000 people starve to death each year, despite global agriculture producing enough food for each person get 3000 calories per day.

No. Market forces allowed billions of people to be fed. Political forces starved 25,000 people. Plenty of people and businesses would have been glad to get food to them.

Re:Markets do not work (1)

damburger (981828) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614520)

Wrong

People are starving, primarily, because they can't afford food (The journal Nature did a good, sourced, infographic on this a few months back.) The idea that its Big Bad Government stopping the magic invisible hand supplying us with a utopia is not supported by the fact that the massive global deregulation of the last few decades has failed to make a significant dent on hunger. Furthermore, consider that the last time Russia got anywhere close to famine was not under the nasty old commies, but immediately after their fall during the libertarian program of 'shock therapy' - in an episode of disastrous free-market policy that was described by one of Russia's own lawmakers as 'Economic genocide'

Education (2)

RazzleFrog (537054) | more than 2 years ago | (#37613972)

The problem is that the education system teaches children only how to work towards passing an exam. There is no incentive to learn just for the sake of learning.

Re:Education (1)

toxygen01 (901511) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614092)

This was actually basis for one of the questions asked in the interview with him which took place recently on goodreads (I pasted link to the video few posts above). I believe the question is asked somewhere between 0h:50m and 0h:51m

Re:Education (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614220)

Why is it the educations systems responsibility to provide incentive to learn for the sake of learning?

Re:Education (2)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614288)

Why is it the educations systems responsibility to provide incentive to learn for the sake of learning?

Kids go into the 'education system' wanting to learn. The 'education system' is what destroys that natural desire.

I'm still amazed at the level of skill required for my teachers to take subjects that are naturally interesting and make them boring.

Re:Education (1)

RazzleFrog (537054) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614318)

What other purpose does the education system serve if not to promote learning? Is it just to train another generation of unskilled laborers? I hate to tell you but those unskilled jobs are in other countries now. We better start teaching our kids how to embrace knowledge.

Project management and failure? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614016)

Another good read is:
https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol50no2/html_files/Program_Management_4.htm

Talking about big projects, project management and the removal of risk by bureaucracy.

treating our kids like snowflakes (1)

gblfxt (931709) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614018)

Back in those days, child labor and beating your children was acceptable, this allowed them to be more creative and have more drive to change their situation.

Now we mostly hand kids anything they want, and they have no drive to do anything, we protect them from everything, they have no ability to be more creative to protect themselves.

While I am not advocating selling your children to slavery and beating them, I would certainly push to find ways to enhance their ambition and creativity, and not protecting them from EVERYTHING, this is not helping them.

Cowen's agitprop (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614030)

Cowen is good agitprop. Take some meaningless facts and irrelevant contradictory statistics, and suggest some absurb policy choices that are internally inconsistent with his own wrong data. Its good agitprop because on the agit side, read on an extremely small scale and out of context, some quotes are pretty rabble rousing, and on the prop side it does a good job of muddled thinking to maintain the status quo. Other than that, its just great.

Re:Cowen's agitprop (1)

damburger (981828) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614086)

Perhaps, but stagnation is definitely real. Here is a more scientific account of the exact problem:

http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/

(Those blog posts are best read in order, there aren't many.)

Re:Cowen's agitprop (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614350)

I like what you have to say. How can I subscribe to your newsletter?

To the Moon (2)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614060)

Kennedy's Moon Speech [youtube.com]

"We go to the Moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard."

There's lots of innovation, but it's based around CEO income and stockholder investments. When we went to the Moon, we were threatened with the possibility of becoming #2 on a public stage. We may see this again with China, and redirect our public funds accordingly back to the space program. Or America may just roll over this time, financially broken after fighting multiple wars over the past 8 years. Or it may be that private industry, not public industry, gets the backing of huge investors and the Industrial Revolution begins again, this time to construct space-based mining platforms.

I realize that most great achievements come from either survival instinct or financial gain (which are related). "What's in it for me?" seems to be how things generally work. I'd like to see more basic research funded so we can have better nanotubes, more efficient RAM, and light sabers. Oh, and teleportation.

It's not just flashy things like the space program (1)

jfruhlinger (470035) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614080)

Did you know that the vast bulk of New York's complex subway system, without which the city wouldn't function today, was built in about 25 years? Hundreds of miles of tunnels and bridges and stations. Meanwhile, today the city is struggling to build a couple miles of the 2nd Avenue Subway in less than a decade.

Ditto Interstates and improved intercity rail. Our society's ability to do big projects just seems to be on the decline.

risks and incentives (1)

craftycoder (1851452) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614132)

The risks of trying something hard (and expensive) and failing are too high. The media has convinced us that any failure must be followed by a blood-letting of the offenders rather than applauding their best efforts even if they failed. Until we can become a society that celebrates trying instead of only celebrating success we won't be doing hard stuff. Oddly, we give kids medals for getting last place in a banality contest and then when they become grown ups we accept no failure regardless of the original odds of success.

Bull crap (1)

gurps_npc (621217) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614168)

We have lots of innovation - where we allow it.

We do have several problems, as I see it: Science is being denigrated:

1. By the leftish 'safety for all' crowd. The day we let some shmuck say our kids can't play with model rockets because they count as fireworks was the day we lost the space race. Truthfully, we half lost that war the day they said we couldn't buy fireworks. Scientists do experiments. Sometimes they blow things up. That is why the DOD hires them. If we want adult scientists we have to let kids do the fun parts of science. That means blowing things up. Yes, the stupid ones will lose a finger or two. That is the price we pay to get the smart ones to pay attention.

2. By the far right's religious majority. The day we let some shmuck denigrate environmentalism and evolution, was the day scientists stopped doing science and started getting in a PR war.

3. By the media's "Everyone's opinion matters". The day let JENNY McCARTHY say that vaccines caused any thing was the day we lost science.

We still innovate - but the problem is we let morons innovate against science - with crackpot model rocket laws designed by morons to protect morons, crackpot policies on the environment and evolution designed to force other peoples' extreme religious views on moderates, and crackpot on TV because they get more viewers.

Americans have become pussies (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614176)

The U.S. was founded by people with brave and adventurous spirits who were willing to take on unknown risks and leave the old world to try and make a better life in a new and unknown land. They took care of themselves and didn't look for the government to be their nanny.

Sadly, that's been lost. We're now a nation of pussies who want the government to grope our genitals so we'll feel safe getting on a plane. It makes me sad.

I don't know what caused this. Perhaps we were too successful and became complacent. Now, instead of embarking on new and dangerous adventures we're just trying to hold on to what we have. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. You cannot live in a holding pattern. You're either growing or you're dying.

As Heinlein put it... (3, Insightful)

medcalf (68293) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614186)

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as "bad luck."

Big, risky, innovative projects have shifted (2)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614194)

All the big unknowns appear to have shifted from physical to intellectual projects, like Finance. Credit default swaps were amazingly new, and amazingly risky on the down side, but we built that manned rocket to Jupiter and then watched it explode before our eyes as it tried to pick up too much speed around Mars and went careening into the planet, packed from stern to stem with all of our retirement money.

And who would have thought that spending money on all sorts of interesting things, and deciding that nobody had to pay for it because we could borrow the money for just a couple cents on the dollar (and the people who could pay for it found ways not to pay), would end in tears. And yet, here we are in the US, desperately trying to figure out how to lock in that pennies rate to long term debt, 'cause if we see bond rates like we did under Reagan we're going to look like the dumb, ugly sibling compared to Greece.

If you think big risks aren't being taken, you're wrong - they're just in different places.

Big projects mean (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614216)

big money. And right now there are a bunch of luddites coming to power who are economically clueless.

We should have a program for solar power as large as the highway system
We should be building new technology nuclear plants
We should be poring money into energy storage research.
We should be revamping the whole grid
we should be building schools, and getting more educators.
we should be improving public health.
We should also tarif any country whose minimum work environment doesn't meat are federal guidelines.

Every one of those will drive more innovation; which means more products, more jobs, and more money.

but, all that costs money. SO instead we will just rot and loose all the thing that made america great.

Innovation can't happen without accepting risk (1)

Layzej (1976930) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614272)

Innovation can't happen without accepting the risk that it might fail.

The political reaction to a failed investment in Solyndra is a prime example. The company had some interesting solar cell technology that looked very promising. It has been argued that by increasing our investment in alternative energy we can kick oil and coal and become leaders of the new energy economy. Unfortunately we don't have the stomach for high risk/reward investments like we used to.

Re:Innovation can't happen without accepting risk (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614314)

"We" don't need to lead to benefit. Just as the US carried the ball for the rest of the world for decades, now the world can innovate and WE can get the benefits without risk.

The Low-Hanging Fruit is Gone (3, Interesting)

ideonexus (1257332) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614328)

I appreciate the second link's take on things, with the "Low-Hanging Fruit" metaphor, but I think the author misses some key elements in how it applies to modern society. Fifty years ago, discovery and innovation was much easier and the things invented were just lying around (like oil) to be simply picked up and applied. Just as the Enlightenment 200 years ago resulted in an explosion of discoveries about the natural world because the realm of scientific knowledge was so small at the time... You couldn't investigate any natural phenomena without discovering a new element or species.

It's getting harder and harder to push the frontiers of knowledge, and nearly impossible for and individual acting alone to do. In America we have this mythos of the "Great Man" a single inventor like Zuckerberg, Jobs, or Edison, but in reality these people are the exception while the rule is that it takes large teams and incredible financial investment to innovate today, but our mythos of innovation downplays the collaborative side of invention.

Space Exploration is an important example of this. We emphasize Capitalism as the best engine for innovation, but it was Socialism that took man to the Moon. Capitalism is only just now reaching space, 40 years later. Teamwork accomplishes great things, but in America we emphasize individualism and personal profit, which are great motivators, but create silos of productivity that are disadvantaged for lacking the cross-pollination of ideas that comes with collaboration.

Queue the "Marxist" ad hominem attack in 3... 2... 1...

Re:The Low-Hanging Fruit is Gone (1)

damburger (981828) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614442)

I actually think Zuckerberg, Jobs, and Edison are examples of why the "Great Man" myth is bullshit, rather than counterexamples. Zuckerberg built a single application, that relied on billions of dollars worth of labour being invested in free software, and billions of dollars of R&D being done to develop the Internet in the first place. Jobs just gave a stylistic flair to some fairly ordinary hardware (which, again, drew heavily on expensive research someone else paid for). Edison basically stole a bunch of shit, and tried to FUD the competition out of the market by murdering an elephant.

The idea that innovation would not have proceeded without these individuals is unfounded. The 'Great Man' idea has never been true, the truth has always been 'Standing on the Shoulders of Giants'

Oh, yes, I nearly forgot. Fucking Marxist Idiot! Go back to North Korea!!!!11

The Cold War (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614340)

I think it probably has something to do with the waning of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. This caused the US government to stop investing so heavily in basic research. Back then, the idea was to make big projects actually work -- because if you didn't, the Soviets certainly would. Nowadays, big projects become politically distasteful very early on, and immediately become targets for cuts.

Dune (1)

Fishbulb (32296) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614392)

Reminds me of the premise behind the entire Dune series: humans won't do jack until they're oppressed (or feel that way).

That's silly, we got Facebook! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614402)

Zuckerberg one day just INVENTEND the wall, and relationship information and that guy tells me there's nobody left taking risks anymore...

not only that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37614452)

He invented relational databases and depth-first search single-handedly!

The era of mega projects is in danger (1)

backslashdot (95548) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614404)

It took like 50 years to build the pyramids.. they are a huge achievement not just from an engineering standpoint but a political view. Today, it's basically impossible for any long term project to survive multiple administrations/congresses without some politician cancelling it at the slightest excuse. That's what killed a long of scientific research projects.

Neal Stephenson is a moron, just like Gibson (1)

sgt_doom (655561) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614450)

While I agree with other comments about the downward trend of patents, and the lack of knowledge sharing, patents trend downwards in direct correlation to the increased concentration in wealth --- the US Chamber of Commerce, and other droids who repeat their talking points: "We must innovate our way out of this..." --- obviously ignore the fact as more and more people are heavily involved in day-to-day survivial (and Dumpster-diving for food, etc.) --- there is shrinking time and access to requisite resources.

Now, of course Stephenson, who unfortunately can't locate his butt even when he's sitting on his hands, like that moron William Gibson who went public on the Op-Ed page of the New Whore Times (known to the droids as NY Times) ignorantly claiming that Stuxnet was nothing more than street coding (anyone bother to read the code on the ultra-mofo?????????), knows absolutely nothing about economics, forensic economics, the causes of the meltdown, the absolute inequality today, the offshoring of American jobs in all categories over the past 50 years, dramatically increasing with each new decade, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

These clowns are othing more than abject fools, much the same as spin meisters like Michael Lewis, who mixes 20% truth with 80% BS to misdirect and redirect with his pathetic Wall Street-financed books --- an exercise in absolute and abject fraud.

Completely abolish patents (1)

Oswald McWeany (2428506) | more than 2 years ago | (#37614468)

Completely abolish patents. Then what?
If someone sees a good idea- they can use it. Nothing wrong with that?

Do you think people will stop innovatiting? I doubt it- let's pretend I have a company called Pear.

I invent something new... the jClock. It's a device that tells time AND you can strap it to your wrist. OK - with patents I can maybe make a bazillion dollars being the only one making it.

Now - imagine there are no patents.. if I make the jClock I may only make half a bazillion dollars instead of a bazillion dollars. Will I therefore not make the jClock because others will try and steal my idea? No- I still make the product- but get less rich off it.

Patents secure a monopoly based upon who gets an idea to their lawyer first. Monopolies are bad for the economy and patents are bad for the economy.

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