Common Innovation

Common Innovation

How We Create the Wealth of Nations

G. M.P. Swann

Common innovation is the contribution of ordinary people to innovation and the wealth of nations. Innovation and wealth creation are not merely the monopoly of business. While Schumpeter described business innovation as a, ‘perennial gale of creative destruction’, common innovation is more a, ‘gentle and benign breeze’. This book analyses some illustrations of the destructive side of business innovation, and provides numerous examples of the ‘benign breeze’ of common innovation. It builds on the pioneering work of von Hippel, but takes that a step further. In common innovation, the ordinary citizen is centre stage and business can be quite peripheral

Chapter 2: M-Wealth and R-Wealth

G. M.P. Swann

Subjects: business and management, organisational innovation, economics and finance, economics of innovation, innovation and technology, economics of innovation, organisational innovation


The sub-title of this book is ‘how we create the wealth of nations’. We are concerned, above all, with how innovation creates wealth for the nation. To understand the arguments in this book, the reader needs to understand the distinction between two concepts of wealth. For the sake of brevity, we shall refer to these as M-wealth and R-wealth. Some of the ideas that follow were developed in a very introductory way in Swann (2009a, Chapter 19), and some readers may find it helpful to read that before embarking on this book. ETYMOLOGY OF WEALTH The reader may be surprised that we start with a brief excursion into etymology. But this is very helpful to understand the distinction we make in this chapter. The modern English word, wealth, derives from the Old English words weal or wela.1 But today, there is a difference between wealth and weal. The older words were most commonly used to describe welfare, well-being, happiness and prosperity, rather than material wealth – although the expression, worldly weal,2 was sometimes used to describe an abundance of riches and possessions. The new word grew out of the Middle English words welth or welthe.3 Originally it was used in both senses: welfare and riches. But gradually, the new word wealth was used to mean the second sense: material wealth, an abundance of possessions, ‘worldly goods’, riches and affluence. The use of the word wealth to describe welfare became less common. Indeed, in literature, some authors revived the word weal to describe welfare, wellbeing, happiness and prosperity. In what follows, M-wealth refers to the modern sense of wealth, while Rwealth refers to the old sense of weal.

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