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Inequality, education and innovation: U.S. higher on the first, slipping on the other two

Date Published: 07/16/2012


Sometimes the anti-tax, anti-government zealots will actually concede that the United States is an outlier in economic inequality and becoming more unequal all the time. But they hasten to insist that this is a function of a meritocracy, and that our weak economic security system and low taxes foster creativity, initiative and innovation, from which all boats will rise.

But during a period marked by historic tax cuts and federal-state disinvestment in education, the U.S. has slipped in average education attainment (largely provided by taxes and government) and there are signs it may be slipping in innovation too.

The U.S. has dropped to 10th on the Global Innovaton Index, behind nations such as Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the U.K. and the Netherlands, all with much superior economic security entitlement. The index is an annual analysis published by Insead, an international business school, and the World Intellectual Property Organization, a United Nations Agency. The index is comprehensive and takes into account dozens of factors, including business sophistication, human capital and research, and creative output.

I like the analysis on these rankings by Education Week blogger Jason Tomassini, who says this:

"So, if we didn't know already, in order to create innovators through education we need to increase rigor in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math instruction; teach students business acumen and entrepreneurship; and lower class sizes. Get to it!

Oh, and there's another factor we should watch out for: We are No. 2 in the world in video uploads to YouTube. According to the Global Innovation Index, this is a good thing, but I can't see the harm in dropping a few spots before next year." 

Let's allow that there might be a trade-off for public-sector size and private-sector growth rates, and in the extreme too much government and prohibitive tax rates might well stifle creativity and incentive.   I personally think people tend to be more creative and productive when they are relatively secure, and know they will have health care and enough to eat, even if they take a risk and fail. That's how a retired Swedish businessman explained it to me when I visited there three years ago, as I wrote in an op-ed column inspired by his creative analogy of economic efficiency to humane handling of hunting dogs.

--Dane Smith


Posted in:
Education · Public Investment · Taxes


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