With all of the emphasis on jumpstarting economic growth buzzing around, I recently re-read Jonathan Huebner's seminal article on innovation. It is definitely worth checking out.
In the 2004 piece, Huebner makes a comparison between "a model of technology in which the level of technology advances exponentially without limit and a model with an economic limit."
According to Huebner, "the model with an economic limit best fits data obtained from lists of events in the history of science and technology as well as the patent history in the United States."
Dishearteningly, it seems, "the rate of innovation peaked in the year 1873 and is now rapidly declining. We are at an estimated 85% of the economic limit of technology, and it is projected that we will reach 90% in 2018 and 95% in 2038."
In other words, it was easier for the average person to produce an important innovation in the 19th Century than the 20th or 21st. It's not because everyone back then was so well educated- quite to the contrary but rather because innovation was easier and could be done by amateurs.
As we look forward to the "next big advancement" to cure us of our economic woes, we might do well to look back at Huebner's work.