The Canadian Liberal government (similar to the Democrats, but further to the Left) announced its first budget last week, filled with bold promises—and lots of spending of tax payers’ hard-earned money. The government will revive the Canadian economy by “investing” in long-term growth. Besides infrastructure, a particular target of government investment (i.e., spending tax money) is technological innovation, the creation of new products and processes that will enhance productivity and standard of living. So how is the government going to boost innovation?
There is nothing innovative about this government’s approach; its methods are the same as every other statist government’s in the world. It will allocate more tax money to scientific research at the Canadian publically funded universities in the hope that eventually research findings will be translated into innovative products. (This where Canadian companies haven’t performed particularly well). And the government will also channel taxes to support “innovation clusters:” networks in different regions of the country where universities, industry and governments will work together to innovate. How this will happen, other than the $800 million spending commitment, is less than clear.
Are we going to see any return on this “investment,” in terms of increased innovation by Canadian companies and long-term economic growth? The answer, of course, is no—because innovation, and economic growth, cannot be stimulated by government spending.
There are just two fundamental requirements of innovation—neither of which requires taxation: reason and freedom. It is the human mind, adhering to reality, that is needed to find innovative solutions to any problem, from learning to build and use simple tools such as sling-shots and plows, to splitting the atom to harness energy to creating wireless communication devices. What the human mind requires to be able to adhere to reality and to solve problems—to create innovations—is freedom.
Freedom is achieved, not by government spending and involvement in the economy, but by government removing itself from the markets and leaving them free to compete.
Government should remove itself from the education market and leave it to private companies (schools and universities), so that the best, most innovative research institutes and education offerings will win and private education will become affordable to all. The curriculum and research winners should not be determined by government bureaucrats (who have no responsibility or accountability for their choices) but by the markets (companies wanting to hire competent employees and to develop products based on basic research).
Government should remove itself also from the market for other innovations. Again, the government bureaucrats, no matter what their training and credentials, cannot determine what the winners will be in the marketplace of new products and processes. If objective, the bureaucrats may be able to determine what innovations best meet the requirements of human survival and flourishing. However, they cannot pre-judge how hundreds of thousands or millions of buyers will assess new innovations—and it is the buyers’ (other companies’ and consumers’) assessment that determines an innovation success.
All government efforts and spending of our money to boost innovation will end up deterring innovation instead. By funding public education and public research, government enables bad ideas (from the “look-say” method of spelling and “new” math to all other forms of irrationality) to dominate in the public education system. Moreover, such funding diminishes our ability to choose where to spend out educational dollars or which research to support through our investment and spending.
Similarly, all tax money spent by governments on “picking winners”—subsidizing some companies’ innovation efforts (the Canadian aerospace manufacturer Bombardier is a prime example of such largesse) as opposed to those of others—limits companies’ and consumers’ ability choose which innovations to pursue and how much resources to allocate to them.
The only thing the government can do to “stimulate” the economy and to boost innovation is to ensure freedom by protecting our individual rights against the initiation of physical force or fraud by others. Fortunately, such protection—through the police, the armed services, and the law courts—requires much smaller government and no taxation and encourages competition and innovation. For evidence, we only need to recall history. The most innovative period in history was also the freest: the 19th century, when an abundance of significant inventions (such as the steam engine, the light bulb, the internal combustion engine, the telephone, the radio) was brought to market and governments were much more limited.
The best we can do encourage innovation and long-term economic growth is to advocate freedom by speaking against government’s bad policies and spending through any channels open to us.