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Hints for Using the Teachers' Guide: Innovation
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Economics

  1. Government intervention can be viewed as both promotional and preventative.

  2. Promotional activities can include funding innovators directly (through grants or competitions like the DARPA challenge); indirectly (through tax credits); consequently (the government may finance public works projects, like the Hoover Dam or Boston's Big Dig, that require innovation to complete); or legally (through protection for patents).

  3. Preventative measures may aim to protect innovators from foreign competition (through tariffs on foreign products, or by forbidding the spread of certain technology to other countries) or may try to stop monopolistic practices that might discourage future innovation (limiting the length of legal protection for an innovation, specifying certain things that cannot be trademarked, etc.).

  4. One issue that the group trying to show problems with government intervention might look at is the issue of high prescription drug prices. Drug manufacturers have long defended their prices by claiming that they must spend large sums on research and development for new drugs. The government already limits the amount of time a drug maker can exclusively profit from its product before cheaper generic versions of the drug are allowed. Now many citizens and even local governments are trying to buy their drugs more cheaply from Canada, despite federal laws making this practice illegal. Prescription drugs are one area where the government has been willing to pass laws that may arguably stifle future innovation in the name of a competing social good (lower drug prices, particularly for senior citizens who typically require more prescriptions and who also tend to vote at higher rates than other groups).

Geography

  1. Factors influencing the distribution of innovators might include both physical/topographical (it's unlikely the steamboat would have been invented in a place without rivers) as well as population-related (with so many immigrants linked to innovations, it's natural to think that innovations would occur more frequently in places where immigrants lived).

Civics

  1. In analyzing the impact of a particular innovation, it may be helpful for the class to list the groups of people that are affected (e.g., business owners, workers, the government, consumers, investors, society as a whole). What may be beneficial for certain social groups may also have sharply negative consequences for other Americans. For example, the cargo container helped business owners lower shipping costs but also reduced the number of workers necessary to load shipments. And Samuel Insull's power plants were a great boon to society at large but proved disastrous for his company's investors when the Great Depression hit.

History

  1. Encourage your class to move beyond the obvious choices for a good innovator's personality traits (persistent, idealistic, daring) and include others that might not seem as favorable (egotistical, brash, manipulative) but may be just as integral to an innovator's success. Note that the qualities one would want in an innovator might not be the same as one would seek in an classmate, a co-worker, an employee, or a friend. As a way of illustrating this point, you could ask your class to create the resume for one of the profiled innovators at a point before he or she has enjoyed commercial success -- and then pretend they are a manager at a mid-sized manufacturing company. Would they hire the innovator?

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page created on 6.30.2004
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