Essays on Microfoundations, Macroeconomic Applications and Economic History in Honor of Axel Leijonhufvud
Edited by Roger E.A. Farmer
Chapter 8: A Tale of Two Countries: Innovation and Incentives Among Great Inventors in Britain and the United States, 1750–1930
8. A tale of two countries: innovation and incentives among great inventors in Britain and the United States, 1750–1930 B. Zorina Khan and Kenneth L. Sokoloﬀ Technological change comprises an integral input into economic growth. Contemporary debates about the advance and diﬀusion of technological knowledge echo historical concerns about the speciﬁc rules and standards that might encourage would-be inventors, innovators and investors. As in the nineteenth century, skepticism about patent institutions has increased of late. A number of economists have been persuaded by the results from theoretical models of prizes and subsidies and have begun to lobby for these policies as superior alternatives. Although the topic is of great concern, systematic empirical investigation has been limited and many of the key issues about the eﬀects of diﬀerent features of patent systems and prizes remain poorly understood. Fortunately, the variation in intellectual property regimes and non-patent awards that existed over the nineteenth century can be studied to evaluate the sources, consequences and evolution of knowledge-generating institutions. At the core of nineteenth-century controversies over knowledgegenerating institutions were questions about which segments of the population were capable of producing signiﬁcant inventions, and whether patents or other types of incentives such as prizes, grants or subsidies could be eﬀective in increasing the rate at which they made discoveries. In the leading countries of Europe the dominant view held that only a very narrow group of the population was capable of truly important contributions to technological knowledge. In...
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