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Social progress depends on the realization of inventive ideas, and economic history provides valuable lessons about creativity in technology and culture. The empirical study of over one hundred thousand innovative individuals who obtained patents, copyrights, and prizes, sheds light on the relationship between institutions, incentives, and transformative ideas and expression, over the past two centuries. The European growth model assumed useful knowledge was scarce, and top-down administered innovation systems offered rights and rewards to “exclusive” groups. By contrast, American policies regarded creativity as widely distributed in the general population, and further promoted “inclusive” market-oriented mechanisms that fostered diversity in ideas and outcomes. The evidence suggests that property rights in patents facilitated markets in ideas, and ensured that returns were aligned with productivity and market demand. Whereas, such administered systems as innovation prizes and publisher’s copyrights in the “creative industries” benefited the few rather than overall social welfare.