Is America Falling Behind With Innovation?

“The first step to winning the future is encouraging American innovation.” That was Barack Obama in his State of the Union address last January, when he hit the theme repeatedly, using the word innovation or innovate 11 times.

So begins Fareed Zakaria in a fascinating piece in Time this week, discussing the notion of innovation, and whether America can keep pace with a fast-changing world.

Can The United States Keep Up?

Analyzing what innovation is, Zakaria proposes the idea that the United States no longer has the commanding lead it once did:

Two reports from the Boston Consulting Group and the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) that use hard measures such as spending on research, patents and venture funding as opposed to surveys find that the U.S. ranks not No. 1 but No. 8 and No. 6, respectively. In fact, the ITIF rankings have a category that measures how much a country has improved its innovation capacity from 1999 to 2009, factoring in measures like government funding for basic research, education and corporate-tax policies. Of the 40 countries analyzed, the U.S. came in dead last.

Bad News Indeed

So where do we look for inspiration? According to Zakaria, who is the editor-at-large of Time magazine, when tackling innovation, one company, Apple, utterly dominates the lists, whoever puts them together.

We Need Government Funding

Zakaria then goes on to discuss the importance of government funding:

The ecosystem that encourages technological breakthroughs and their application does not develop in a vacuum. It requires great universities, vibrant companies that devote time and energy to research and — yes — large amounts of government funding. The latter may be a controversial topic in theory, but in practice, the rise of technology was clearly fueled by government. A multitude of technological innovations have been associated with the government, often with the military. Forget the steam engine (developed using cannon designs and technology) and take something as modern as the microchip. After it was invented in 1958 by Texas Instruments, the federal government bought virtually every microchip that firms could produce.

And finally he touches on the need to rebuild American education. And here is where I believe changes need to begin.

And We Need Drastic Changes In Education Reform

A report released last week by the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) concludes that the United States’ education system is neither coherent nor likely to see great improvements based on its current attempts at reform.

From Education Week:

The NCEE report is the latest salvo in a flurry of national interest in what can be gleaned from education systems in top-performing or rapidly improving countries. It pushes further than other recent reports on the topic by laying out an ambitious agenda for the United States it says reflects the education practices in countries that are among the highest-performing on international assessments.

Among other measures, the report outlines a less-frequent system of standardized student testing; a statewide funding-equity model that prioritizes the neediest students, rather than local distribution of resources; and greater emphasis on the professionalization of teaching that would overhaul most elements of the current model of training, professional development, and compensation.

How many more times does the Obama administration have to hear this before it gets the message?

Education reform is the key to future innovation. Let’s look at what other, better-performing, countries are doing in their education systems and follow their example.


Photo Credit: plasticpeople via Creative Commons


Danuta W.
Danuta W6 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Geraldine H.
Gerri Hennessy6 years ago

Education is so important. It wld help us all to understand each other and may even lead to more peace in the world....

Lindsey M.
Lindsey M6 years ago

Of course the U.S. is falling behind. If more people had just tried and worked harder, I'm sure everyone could have had hover boards and other technologically advanced things by now.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G6 years ago


Marilyn L.
Marilyn L6 years ago

If people aren't willing for us to raise taxes then we will continue our slippery slide down.

Yes we need the government to fund innovation projects, and green energy and keep our infrastructure maintained and up to date as a few examples. There are things the government has no business in whatsoever(just watch the Republicans), but there are things the government should be involved with and can not until we get realistic about taxes.

Lynda H.
Lynda Harrison6 years ago

Amen to Bernadette P. Add a few more maybe's , like maybe we don't have teachers teaching students, but dummies dumbing down dummies, like maybe society has degenerated to the point where laziness is the norm rather than self-reliance and making a contribution, maybe this country rewards those who contribute the least rather than the most. The maybe's could go on and on!

Claire M.
Claire M6 years ago

Education is important but jobs after schooling that are relevant to the training are key to people taking what they have learned and going further using their own innovation and creativity. A person may have been an outstanding engineering student but if they do nothing but work busing tables after college its not likely they are going to discover the next great source of energy. The money from all our hard work is mostly shipped over seas now in the form of jobs that are enhancing countries that we used to feel sorry for. All you have to do is look around you to see the decay, the missing items that are starting to disappear from the shelves, the empty office space, for rent signs on shops, lower hours on libraries, not to mention the half built multi family structures waiting for someone to work out who is going to pay for what was already done.

The result of our hard work and investments is being invested somewhere else with little regard for what happens to us. In other words stolen. So yes education is important but then what?

Paula Hurley
.6 years ago

And we keep falling further and further behind, noted with thanks

Hege Torset
Hege Torset6 years ago


Bernadette P.
Berny p6 years ago

Blaming China for it a bit simplistic!

MAY BE the difference is that in china students realise the chance that they have to be able to go to school and to help their family out of poverty!

May be it is because they have sometime to walk 1 h to school in muddy fields to get there!

May be it is because students appreciate and respect their teachers!

May be it is because their family work like crazy to give them and education as governement pay little IF anything!

May be it is because they work on building site or any other very hard job to pay for their study that they realise the price of education!

May be it is because they want to help their communities....every time I visited a school and talk to students they wanted to be a teacher ,doctor etc SOOO they could help their village!

May be it is because they are patriotic and want to do go for their country!

May be it is because they respect their parents and want to please them!

MAY be it is because MOST of them do not have the chance that the USA give their youth...

MAY BE something to think about!