If those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it, then those who cannot imagine the future will never get there.
Chile is looking toward the future. Their National Innovation Council for Competitiveness (CNIC) recently released a report outlining Chile’s strategy for innovation, Surfing toward the Future (in Spanish). The report is summarized by Irving Wladawsky-Berger at the Wall Street Journal and his personal blog.
CNIC focuses on four areas: education and motivation, biology and life sciences, energy and sustainability, and “development of an innovation culture.” The latter is somewhat vague, but it appears to mean keeping society simultaneously forward-looking and adaptable, able to “ride the waves” of future technologies and societal changes. Wladawsky-Berger quotes the report: “Though the surfers cannot go anywhere they please, it would be naive to pretend to control the sea, by remaining in constant harmony with the waves and receptive to what appears, they can find the space of stability and a path forward.”
This is an apt description of the problem of economic planning: bull-headed programs have a way of drowning in the sea of market realities. This is because our knowledge of the future is incomplete and fallible—nobody can make a perfect plan, particularly not one for an entire economy, because it’s just too complex.
But we still need visions of the future. In the United States when we look toward the future it is rarely with a sense of hope—rather, we see worsening inequality, vanishing opportunity, and partisan gridlock in Congress. Our inspiration instead has been delegated to the private sector, which is infinitely responsive and occasionally visionary but nevertheless lacks the collective agency needed for many kinds of progress.
The Obama administration has made manufacturing competitiveness a priority but our broader progress on innovation remains hamstrung by the increasingly inaccurate belief that we are securely on top. If the U.S. is to remain competitive we need public-sector leaders than can articulate not only a vision for society but the urgency of it as well. We are driven by competitiveness concerns–the rest of the world will not wait for us to get there, of course–but we must also see the virtue of progress for its own sake, understanding that the “kind of courage that we call radical hope emerges from the confidence that humans will keep moving forward.”
(photo credit: Bart Speelman)