Sunday, February 13, 2011

Saving Private Innovation

Usually, books by policy wonks aren't my thing.  

But I just had to read The Comeback: How Innovation Will Rescue the American Dream, because I know the author, Gary Shapiro.

I urge you to read it, too.

The Comeback will help you sort the smart from the stupid as you try to make sense of the national debate that surrounds us all the time.

Shapiro paints a grim picture of America's near-term future, in plain and powerful language we need to hear.

“America is faltering” he writes.  Within a few years, “the United States could find itself a second-rate economic power.”

We're faltering because ill-conceived government policies and wreckless spending have put a deadly grip on private-sector innovationthe very thing that's made America "exceptional."

The latter, in my view, is The Comeback's "big idea."

Lots of people claim the US is “exceptional,” but few can define why. 

Shapiro does.

He ties America's exceptionalism to its history as a nation of innovators; and links that history to America's unique status as an immigrant nation.

Innovation is all.

"If we want to guarantee our children the chance to live the American Dream," Shapiro writes, "then we have to protect what is best about our nation: We have to save American innovation."

The bulk of the book comprises his complex prescription for saving innovation.

Some recommendations are familiar.  Reform immigration.  Cut corporate taxes.  Curb entitlements.  Embrace free trade.  Fix the schools.  Quit regulating businesses.  Kill all the trial lawyers.

Some recommendations are novel.  Take spectrum away from broadcasters and give it to other companies.  Let independent commissions select our infrastructure projects.  Ban the passage of any new regulations for the next three years.  And collect income tax from the working poor on their tips; from small business people "living out of the business;" and from corporate fat cats who abuse their expense accounts.

Unions don't come off well in book.  They're blamed for federal, state and local government deficits; the failure of our schools; and trade imbalances.  Shapiro recommends that the protections unionized workers enjoy be removed and that governments rescind their unionized workers’ pensions.

Strong medicine.  All in the interest of protecting innovation.

"Innovation is America," Shapiro writes.  It is our special sauce, our destiny, and our best and only hope for escaping the economic malaise, which decades of excessive government spending and intrusion have created."

It's hard to argue against innovation. 

But, if after ingesting The Comeback, you want an equally well-written antidote, I suggest Robert Reich's Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future.
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