Does the West innovate more?

So I’ve been unwell for the past 3-4 days, and it feels like I’m under house arrest. There’s the Twenty20 Cricket World Cup (which btw is becoming more like baseball in terms of ambience) on TV, but besides that I’ve also been reading (and writing) quite a bit while I hibernate and take a break from work.

Yesterday, I was reading an article by Fred Reed in The American Conservative magazine, about the West’s dominance in scientific and technological advancement. Overall the theme of this article was interesting, but in my sight it was poorly written (seems like it was written in a hurry). It’s full of statements fabricated as opinions, but without any facts or figures backing the statements.

The important thing while writing is to differentiate between an opinion and a statement, which also makes it clearer for the reader. An opinion is an expressed individualistic viewpoint, but a statement should always be supported with a reference (not to say that its a research paper). If you tell me that “most men are happiest with smart wives”, I might pay little attention to it because its your own viewpoint and hardly a wider notion. But if you tell me that “most men are happiest with smart wives, because an XYZ survey also says so” then I might be more inclined to dwell further.

Anyways, obscurity aside, the article does draw attention to an interesting question: does the West innovate more (than other nations)? Well, I can go on and on about the Indian and Persian origins of mathematics which I consider as the building block for any modern scientific and technological inventions, or how the Chinese and Germans invented the printing press without which you would have had no books to spread that knowledge, or how the earliest school of medicine known to humans came from India. And on a lighter note how even today America views the rest of the World.

These are civilizations dating thousands of years back, who made the real innovations that drive scientific and technological advancement even in the 21st century. So if we talk about innovation, the major chunk of contribution was made at a time when there were no compass points. Having said that, the West does dominate something else, something closely binded to innovation — investment.

Invest, is invent with a $. If a country has money to invest in research, above an beyond their grassroot allocation, they will innovate and progress. Back in early 90’s, India was striving to launch their first satellite launch vehicle but received no technological support from the US. Talk about the West’s friendly global partnerships, with one exception, “the war” against terrorism, because of its geographical repercussion. Moving ahead, as part of an indigenous effort, a 360 degree strategy was planned by Indian scientific research community. And PSLV, India’s first indigenous launch system, was successfully operated in 1993.

The West majorly relies on foreign students and foreign skilled-workers to meet the demand for most scientific and technological advancement in the first place. So many US technology businesses like Intel, Dell, Microsoft, Google, and many biotech firms, are moving East to setup their research centers in places like Taiwan, China, and India. The US politicians and businesses harness this foreign reliance in their own interests, and then a certain chunk of US working-class goes protesting against “outsourcing innovation”. I don’t blame the foreigners, nor do I blame the US working-class. I blame the US policy on research and innovation, for its weak short-term objectives.

So my take on it is, the West invests more, but doesn’t invent more. Economically that’s a smart move though, because the West also utilizes these inventions the best for domestic progress. A salubrious anarchy?

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