Government-Funded Innovation

One point leapt out at me in Michael Hanlon's piece for or Aeon about why so many scientific and technological innovations occurred during the period he calls the "Golden Quarter," between 1945 and 1971, and why the pace of innovation has slowed since. The surprising fact is just how many of those innovations came not from private enterprise but from publicly funded research.

The first electronic computers came not from the labs of IBM but from the universities of Manchester and Pennsylvania. (Even the 19th-century analytical engine of Charles Babbage was directly funded by the British government.) The early internet came out of the University of California, not Bell or Xerox. Later on, the world wide web arose not from Apple or Microsoft but from CERN, a wholly public institution. In short, the great advances in medicine, materials, aviation and spaceflight were nearly all pump-primed by public investment. But since the 1970s, an assumption has been made that the private sector is the best place to innovate.