One of NASA’s original Mercury 7 astronauts, Scott Carpenter, died last week at age 88. His passing leaves only John Glenn, 92, still living from that intrepid group of American test pilots who began the historic race into space behind the Soviet Union but courageously helped pioneer an era of remarkable American scientific and technical achievements. They, indeed, had “the right stuff.”
French President Francois Hollande recently brought together his country’s business leaders in an effort to promote economic innovation. The event pointed to inventions from the past in which France played an important role, including the steam locomotive, automobile and supersonic Concorde. A key lesson from French history, though, is that government can’t impose a culture of innovation on its people. It has to be a bottom-up phenomenon, with men and women liberated to pursue their economic interests. France too often has tried to subsidize and intervene its way to prosperity. Not a recipe for genuine innovation.