Great Again: A book review by Bob Morris

Great Again: Revitalizing America’s Entrepreneurial Leadership
Henry R. Nothhaft with David Kline
Harvard Business Review Press (2011)

Why are so many middle-class communities being “hollowed out”?

With David Kline’s assistance, Henry R. Nothhaft responds to the question posed as well as to another: “What to do about the ‘hollowed out’?” Years ago, “America [once] led the world in scientific and technological innovations,” Nothhaft notes, “and those technological innovations were inextricably linked to the high-value manufacturing of new products and services…That’s what enabled the wealth created by technological innovations to be diffused throughout society and produce income gains not just for some highly educated elite, but for the masses of ordinary citizens as well. That’s what created the greatest middle class in the world.”

Today, that middle class “is vanishing before our eyes” and bold initiatives must be taken to arrest and then reverse that deadly process. In this book, Nothhaft provides “a powerful road map for recovering our nation’s innovation leadership and revitalizing our middle class.”  What specifically needs to be done? Here is what he proposes:

1. Liberate entrepreneurs from start-up killing tax and regulatory shackles.
2. Fix the patent office so we can stimulate invention and entrepreneurship again.
3. Offer meaningful incentives to bring high-tech manufacturing back to America.
4. Ease immigration rules to transform the current brain drain into a brain gain.
5. Create government programs to support basic science and research.

Obviously, these strategic objectives will require immense resources as well as a wide and deep commitment by leaders at all kevels of the public sector and throughout the corporate and not-for profit sectors. Nothhaft devotes a separate chapter to explaining how to achieve each of the five objectives. He duly acknowledges that government “is an imperfect instrument” and yet, for all its high costs and political and economic failings, “government still remains the only society-wide institution we possess with sufficient scope and legitimacy to represent the public interest and to intervene in the flow of history to give it shape and direction.”

In my opinion, few of those who read this book will disagree with Nothhaft about “what” must be done to recover our nation’s innovation leadership and revitalizing our middle class” but several will challenge his recommendations with regard to “how” to achieve those objectives. Also, I am among those who hold out little (if any) hope that government at levels can and will provide the leadership as well as cohesive, comprehensive, and cost-effective programs (including reform programs) that are so urgently needed. My rating of this book is based on how well Henry Nothhaft presents his insights and advice. His thinking is sound and his prose is frequently eloquent. I share his vision but not his faith.

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