American success is a result of experiment not design

A free society is one that is willing to place millions of small bets on persons unknown and things unseen.

A fascinating end of year reflection on the sometimes forgotten creative power of American individualism and freedom comes from Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal. Essentially based on private property rights, Stephens asks what we might consider to the be the most influential innovations in the early 21st century, the equivalents of the Model T Fords, the Wright brothers and Penicillin in the last century?

On the top of his list is fracking. It has made America the world’s leading oil and gas producer, turned the energy markets upside down and paradoxically, reduced the US’s greenhouse gas emmissions to below 1995 levels. And for good measure, it has undermined the success of renewables. .

Fracking happened in the U.S. because Americans, almost uniquely in the world, have property rights to the minerals under their yards. And because the federal government wasn’t really paying attention. And because federalism allows states to do their own thing. And because against-the-grain entrepreneurs like George Mitchell and Harold Hamm couldn’t be made to bow to the consensus of experts. And because our deep capital markets were willing to bet against those experts.

This is a paean to free markets, individualism and anarchic creativity.

Innovation depends less on developing specific ideas than it does on creating broad spaces. Autocracies can always cultivate their chess champions, piano prodigies and nuclear engineers; they can always mobilize their top 1% to accomplish some task. The autocrats’ quandary is what to do with the remaining 99%. They have no real answer, other than to administer, dictate and repress.
A free society that is willing to place millions of small bets on persons unknown and things unseen doesn’t have this problem. Flexibility, not hardness, is its true test of strength. Success is a result of experiment not design. Failure is tolerable to the extent that adaptation is possible.

This is the American secret …We are larger than our leaders. We are better than our politics. We are wiser than our culture. We are smarter than our ideas.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , ,


%d bloggers like this: