The Price of Innovation

More

Dean Kamen has some lengthy thoughts on innovation that are well worth reading.  As the article notes, besides the Segway and the world's first stair-climbing wheelchair, "His innovations include the first wearable infusion pump, a portable kidney dialysis machine, a more flexible stent, one of the world's most advanced prosthetic arms, and many other devices used in the treatment of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other conditions".  Kamen's core point is that innovation is expensive.  You can't stop rewarding innovators and expect to have as much of it.

There's often a sort of implicit dichotomy in discussing health care innovation: you have academics, and then you have greedy people.  Academics do a lot of important work.  Greedy people steal that work, and make a fortune that they don't deserve.

But there's no question that Dean Kamen knows how to produce real and important innovation--his inventions are, if not saving lives, dramatically improving their quality.  If he demands to get rich in return for doing this--very rich, filthy rich, obscenely, rolling around in piles of $100 bills rich--then this strikes me as a good bargain.  But I think for a lot of people it isn't.  The injustice of his demands for profit rankles more deeply than the miracle of his inventions can soothe.  If they have to risk some innovation in order to wring this profit out of the system, and distribute the goods he's already produced for us more widely, they're fine with that tradeoff.

I'm not.  And I don't think this is a gap we can bridge by discussing the thing.  We're doomed to keep getting angry at each other.

Ezra Klein might reply, with justice, that Dean Kamen is an interested party:  he would like to get paid as much as possible for his inventions.  But this does not, of course, mean that he is wrong.  More on why I think ignoring the businessmen in favor of the "experts" is such a bad idea later.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity


Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

CrossFit Versus Yoga: Choose a Side

How a workout becomes a social identity

Video

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.

Video

A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?

Video

In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.

Video

What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.

Video

Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In