Thursday, January 27, 2011

Government “Innovation”

Government does not have a sterling reputation for innovation. Instead government is noted for its sprawling inefficiencies and expanding bureaucracies.

In his State of the Union speech, president Obama used the word “innovation” nine times. His theme was “can do collectivism,” i.e. central top-down control will direct and correct innovation, if only we can unleash the power of windmills, solar energy, high speed rails, and the Internet. His message was : the government will lead, the people will follow, and jobs will be created.

Here is a sampling of his innovation theme.

“The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation. None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from. Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution. What we can do — what America does better than anyone else — is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It is how we make our living.”

“Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That’s what planted the seeds for the Internet. That’s what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS. Just think of all the good jobs — from manufacturing to retail — that has come from these breakthroughs. “

Government is needed for such projects as building the atomic bomb, launching the moon shot, waging war, and printing currency. I’m not sure it makes sense to give government credit for expanding the Internet and for creating such companies as Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook.

Government may plant the seeds for innovation, but, by and large, government innovation is an oxymoron. This is likely to be case for health reform innovation demonstration projects - medical homes, accountable care organizations, and tort reform.

As Debra Saunders says in today’s San Francisco Chronicle,”Obama’s Oxymoron: Government Innovation, “

“The problem with left-leaning elites trying to run the U.S. economy from the top down is simple: They think the answer to America's economic woes is to create more jobs that replicate managers just like them.”

“They cannot comprehend that, to a good number of American voters, the theme of President Obama's State of the Union address -- government innovation -- is an oxymoron.”

“I understand that compared to tackling the growing deficit, it's a lot easier to hand out grants and underwrite subsidies to like-minded venture capitalists, who are happy to soak up taxpayer dollars as they credit you for creating private-sector jobs.”

“But please, don't call it innovation.”

Conclusion: Government innovation is an oxymoron, a phrase in which two words of contradictory meaning are used together for special effect.

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