Harold Evans (the author of “They Made America”) wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal:
There is actually so much more to celebrate than prosecute since the U.S. has been — and remains — the source of most of the innovations that created our modern world, and many of them have sprung from a desire to serve rather than steal.
So much might be obvious, as obvious as the American innovations of the airplane and the PC, jeans and the cellphone, bio-tech and the sewing machine, TV (and 24-hour news) and the search engine, but we forget the invisible innovations. A day without rubber would be a day where nothing works. No shower, light, clean clothes; nothing unspoiled in the fridge; no shoes, cars, trains, planes; no TV, no radio, no computer, no phones; yet we owe this material not to a research lab, still less government, but to a Yankee tinkerer who hadn’t the faintest idea of the organic chemistry he was meddling with to convert useless raw rubber to practical use.
Here is a curious fact of American culture, supposedly so obsessed with business. The Founding Fathers promised life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and there have been thousands of presidential biographies and histories tracing the political struggles to honor those ideals. But none of the promises could have been honored without the business innovators who have had nothing like the same attention. You cannot much pursue happiness if you are starving, or unable to move your family to a better place, or protect it along the way, or communicate.
Innovation will continue in America. It is in the nation’s DNA. But if the scope of it is not to ebb in the face of global competition — in large part the consequence of Malcom Maclean’s innovation of container shipping — we must honor more the risk-takers who really get things done.