Skip to main content

George Peabody Library_Matthew Petroff Matthew Petroff/Wikimedia Commons

Creating a Learning Society

For more than two centuries, innovation has been a critical driver of the global economy, with most of the productivity gains stemming not from major discoveries, but from small, incremental changes. This suggests that we should focus on how societies learn, and what can be done to promote learning – including learning how to learn.

NEW YORK – Citizens in the world’s richest countries have come to think of their economies as being based on innovation. But innovation has been part of the developed world’s economy for more than two centuries. Indeed, for thousands of years, until the Industrial Revolution, incomes stagnated. Then per capita income soared, increasing year after year, interrupted only by the occasional effects of cyclical fluctuations.

The Nobel laureate economist Robert Solow noted some 60 years ago that rising incomes should largely be attributed not to capital accumulation, but to technological progress – to learning how to do things better. While some of the productivity increase reflects the impact of dramatic discoveries, much of it has been due to small, incremental changes. And, if that is the case, it makes sense to focus attention on how societies learn, and what can be done to promote learning – including learning how to learn.

A century ago, the economist and political scientist Joseph Schumpeter argued that the central virtue of a market economy was its capacity to innovate. He contended that economists’ traditional focus on competitive markets was misplaced; what mattered was competition for the market, not competition in the market. Competition for the market drove innovation. A succession of monopolists would lead, in this view, to higher standards of living in the long run.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/1OlZRib;
  1. haass105_Gustavo BassoNurPhoto via Getty Images_amazon Gustavo Basso/NurPhoto via Getty Images

    The Amazon and You

    Richard N. Haass

    Sovereignty entails obligations as well as rights, and where compliance cannot be induced, pressure must be applied. And though positive incentives to encourage and enable compliance would be preferable, Brazil's government is showing that there must be sticks where carrots are not enough.

    1
  2. GettyImages-1151170958 ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images

    The Meritocracy Muddle

    Eric Posner

    Although populism in Western democracies is nothing new, resentment toward elites and experts has certainly been on the rise. Does this trend reflect a breakdown in the system, or a system that is actually working too well?

    7

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions