The pandemic has made clear this festering problem: the US is no longer very good at coming up with new ideas and technologies relevant to our most basic needs. We’re great at devising shiny, mainly software-driven bling that makes our lives more convenient in many ways. But we’re far less accomplished at reinventing health care, rethinking education, making food production and distribution more efficient, and, in general, turning our technical know-how loose on the largest sectors of the economy.
Economists like to measure technological innovation as productivity growth—the impact of new stuff and new ideas on expanding the economy and making us richer. Over the last two decades, those numbers for the US have been dismal. Even as Silicon Valley and the high-tech industries boomed, productivity growth slowed.
…There’s plenty of debate over the reasons behind sluggish productivity growth—but, Van Reenen says, there’s also ample evidence that a lack of business- and government-funded R&D is a big factor.