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Why the Government can’t Innovate


To anyone that has looked at the state of the government’s involvement in the American economy recently or even just any single thing that the government has gotten involved in, it is obvious that the government can’t innovate.

But why is that? Back during the time of The Best and The Brightest, the government-sponsored innovation that got us to the moon. And the US military is constantly inventing new and ever more wonderful technologies. Or so we’re told.

In an interesting take on why the government can’t innovate, author Steve Blake of War on the Rocks recently wrote an interesting article called “Why the Government isn’t a Bigger Version of a Startup.”

If you’re interested in examples of government inefficiency caused by breaks with the private sector, then this is definitely an article that you should read. Even if you don’t think you’re interested, you might want to check it out. Their inefficiency is your tax dollars at work!

The Article about Why the Government can’t Innovate:

First, on why the government used to be able to successfully innovate:

During World War II the United States did something its adversaries did not; it enlisted professors and graduate students as civilians in 105 colleges and universities to build advanced weapon systems — nuclear weapons, radar, etc. After World War II, the military-academic relationship that was so effective against Germany and Japan mobilized to face the Soviet threat and almost every research university (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Caltech, Harvard, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, Cornell, University of Chicago, and many others) continued to engage in weapon systems research during the Cold War.

From: Why the Government isn’t a Bigger Version of a Startup

Next, about the breaks that have occurred between the government and those innovators:

But this quarter-century relationship between the military and universities ended with a bang in 1969. In the middle of the Vietnam War, student riots protesting military research forced the end of classified work on most college campuses….

the 2013 Snowden revelations damaged that tenuous relationship yet again. In hindsight the damage wasn’t the result of what the United States was doing, but over the Pentagon’s inability and unwillingness to own up to why it was doing it: After the intelligence failure of 9/11, security agencies overcompensated by widespread, warrantless datamining as well as electronic and telephonic surveillance, including on U.S. persons. Without a clear explanation of why this had been done, startups, which were already being funded by ever-increasing pools of venture capital, abandoned cooperation with the defense department.

From: Why the Government Isn’t a Bigger Version of a Startup

Finally, why it’s unlikely that the current US government will regain its past ability to quickly innovate:

However, those activities are not enough. The government isn’t a bigger version of a startup and can’t act like a startup does. Innovation activities in government agencies most often result in innovation theater. While these activities shape and build culture, they don’t win wars, and rarely deliver shippable or deployable products.

Startups dream in years, plan in months, evaluate in weeks, and ship in days. At times this means startups operate at speeds so fast they appear to be a blur to government agencies. It’s not that these companies are smarter than Defense Department employees, but they operate with different philosophies, different product development methodologies, and with different constraints.

From: Why the Government Isn’t a Bigger Version of a Startup


Unfortunately, I think Blake is right. While in the past, the government could innovate (if you don’t believe me, just check out the incredibly quick naval innovation in The Two-Ocean War), I don’t see a way that they could have a long-term rapprochement with the innovators in private industry.

So, it looks like we’re stuck in a sad situation where it’s increasingly obvious, but still an unchangeable fact, that the government can’t innovate. We’ll always be stuck in a situation where private projects beat public ones and private innovation skyrockets ahead of government stagnation.

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That’s not entirely a bad thing. If industry leapfrogs too far ahead of bureaucracy, perhaps the government will realize the value in slimming down and acting more like a lithe startup rather than a dusty, old corporation.

While not likely, it is possible. Some post-Soviet states, such as Georgia, realized the value in such modernization and streamlining and are now far more successful than their unmodernized peers. We’ll see which direction the US goes in this brave new era of rapid and transformative innovation.


And make no mistake the US needs to innovate and be more like a startup. Our ships need IRBMs to counter the Chinese military buildup. Our fighter jets, especially the terrific but expensive F-35, need lasers to shoot down enemy missiles. The nation’s immigration system needs to shift towards a merit-based system and away from a chain migration, optional practical training system. Overall, everything needs to change and modernize. But those areas, in particular, stand out.

Both The Republic for which It Stands and The Billionaire Raj show that when faced with a booming economy, such as the current Trump economy, the government is forced to change. Perhaps it will shift towards Bernie’s socialist version of the American Dream, or perhaps it will shift more towards a deregulated, small government type state. It’s hard to tell. But we can always pray for the latter. In the meantime, we’ll just have to deal with the obvious fact that the government can’t innovate.

By: Gen Z Conservative