Bonnie Gail Carter and Her Debut Book of Poetry, The Chill Turned Warm

My author interview with Geri. G. Taylor on her Blog: The Delete Key

The Delete Key

Hi everyone, I’d like to introduce Bonnie Gail Carter, and her debut book of poetry, The Chill Turned Warm. The title comes from one of her poems in the book.


I’ve asked her to provide some information about herself, her poetry, and her inspirations to share with my readers.

Bonnie Gail Carter:

I was born in Bay City, Michigan in 1954. That makes me sixty years old. My parents got divorced when I was around five years old. I lived in Bay City and Saginaw, Michigan until I was 15 years old then I moved to Lafayette, Indiana where I lived until 2 years ago. My residence is in Peru, Indiana now. I graduated from William Henry Harrison High School in 1972. I have two years of College at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana where I studied Sociology and Psychology.

Some of my poems are about intense subjects like divorce, alcoholism, when…

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Lindbergs Books: Beyond Belief


Do You Trust the New York TimesBestseller List?

The various NYT Bestseller lists appear almost everywhere. But just how trustworthy are they? And why should you rely on them for your book buying decisions?

These lists date back to 1931, and by 1950 the Times list had become the leading bestseller list for book professionals to monitor. In the 60s and 70s, mall-based chain bookstores like B. Dalton, Crown, and Waldenbooks emerged with an emphasis on selling books with mass-market appeal. This, of course, put even more emphasis on the NYT list, as it helped create demand.

The list is actually composed by the editors of the News Surveys department of theNew York Times, not the Book Review department as you might expect. It is a surprisingly narrow view of book sales, and not entirely objective or data-driven. The list depends heavily on sales figures voluntarily reported but not verified by book retailers AND book wholesalers. Until recently, the NYT did not have a list for Ebooks, or even trade paperbacks, and has been slow to embrace new technologies, formats and marketing channels.

Are the primary NYT fiction and non-fiction lists accurate? Well, no one really knows for sure, because the method for determining the placement of books on the list is considered a “trade secret”, thus is not verifiable by outside sources. A report in Book History found that numerous professionals in the industry “scoffed at the notion that the lists are accurate.” The author of The Exorcist, Peter Blatty, sued the NYT for not including his book Legion on the fiction bestseller list despite its high sales. The Times argued that the list was not mathematically objective, but rather editorial content protected as free speech (in other words, opinion) and thus .

The basic issues undermining credibility of the basic fiction and non-fiction lists are these:

      • EXCLUSION OF EBOOKS AND ONLINE SALES. The main lists only include booksellers but exclude Ebooks and online sales—hardly an accurate picture of which books are bestsellers in an age of declining store sales and escalating online purchases. My novel The Shekinah Legacy was the #1 bestselling thriller on Amazon in 2012—outselling ALL the NYT bestselling thrillers for a time—but the New York Times never heard of it.
      • DOUBLE COUNTING. Including data from both wholesalers and retailers probably leads to some double counting of sales.
      • RETURNS. Booksellers are allowed to return unsold books to the publishers for a refund. Unfortunately, “returns” can can account for 40% or more of sales, the term “bestseller” should probably be changed to something like “best-ordered”.
      • FAST-SELLERS. The lists focus on “fast sellers” — those that sell a lot of copies in a short time. There are many instances of books that have never made the NYT lists but have outsold books on the NYT Bestseller lists because they were steady sellers over longer periods of time.
      • RIGGING BY PUBLISHERS. It is relatively easy for authors and publishers to rig the rankings by buying large quantities of a book in stores that are tracked. The authors of the business book The Discipline of Market Leaders organized the purchase of 10,000 books and wound up on the NYT Bestseller non-fiction list for fifteen weeks. Even one of the suppliers of data to the NYT,ResultSource, has offered “bestseller campaigns” in which it coordinates bulk book purchases to drive bestseller status. The Los Angeles Times reported that Pastor Mark Driscoll paid ResultSource $200,000 for a “bestseller campaign” the week of January 2, 2012, for his book Real Marriage; he wound up #1 on the non-fiction list three weeks later.
      • MANUPULATION BY RETAILERS AND WHOLESALERS. Because the data reported by retailers and wholesalers is voluntary and unverified, it can be distorted. In past cases, books have become bestsellers before they have been officially released to the public! Go figure.
      • SELF-FULFILLING RESULTS. Because the NYT lists are heavily relied upon for buying decisions, simply making it onto the list virtually guarantees a place on the list. This incentive can mean the cost of a “bestseller campaign” may be a good investment if you can afford it.

Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Close to 99% of the books published this year are not even eligible to make any of the New York Times bestseller lists no matter how many copies they sell because their sales data is unavailable to the NYT. And the relatively new Ebook bestseller lists, which rely on data from ResultSource(which offers “bestseller campaigns” to publishers) is based on data from less than 5% of Ebook sales and which is derived from only a handful of large publishers. Not exactly statistically significant or reliable.

Maybe this makes you want to explore some of the “other” books released each month, many of which are just as good as the NYT bestsellers, and some of which are selling even more copies!

I wish there was an app for that.


Editor’s note: This poem kicks off a new “Question Worth Asking” series: “How weird will the future be?” First up: a piece from poet and TED Fellow Ben Burke.

[Dear Helen- So sorry. Didn’t have time to write that poem. But my future self sent me one yesterday. So we’re good. Crazy, right? It’s totally legit and actually from the future, so no need to double-check, you’re probably too busy anyway. Also included is the typewritten note that was taped to the package. Happy New Year!  – Ben Burke]


Audio Player


I arrived in the basket that was weaved here before me
And I stayed in any place with a roof that would store me
I have lots of belongings
But didn’t pack for the trip
I got here, they put pants on me
And then the world gave me the slip

I’ve lived as slowly as I could
Because there was no time to waste
But then things just got so weird
That I just had to grab your ear
And give the tongue inside your mind a little taste:

For example:

The wallpaper can see that you’re stressed,
So it turns a lovely shade of blue
The thermostat has thought things over
And is ready to have a word with you

And your closet picked out your outfit
for the party Friday night
Whilst the blender and the toaster
made vindaloo by candlelight

And Doctor mailman robot
Printed your pills in quite a hurry
Your vitamins were running low
Now there’s B12 in your curry

But your personality algorithm
was accidentally miswritten
You forgot your fingernails were all encoded
and you bit them

Now the discs of your thumbnails
are gangrene, corrupted
The chip that was slipped
twixt each digit erupted

Your sensors and servos
Implants and additions
All bent towards a personal program of precision

Your body’s expanded
Your spirit is failing
The row boat got a motor but wants to be sailing

Yes every Thing now is thinking
We are each our own king
But there’s no kingdom here to speak of
It’s a pot luck, but we’ve nothing to bring

For the air now is as thick as the sea
With every thing we created, each idea we have dreamed

Yes we screamed and filled the skies with drones and clones of drones
Now they’re crashing on our couches as they move into our homes
And taking in some old stray nanobots
Now the drones have a family
Now the drones have a dog
There’s so many drones, we all miss having cops

Yes life never stops, there’s no room to start over
Though we have deftly fashioned countless walls
Every thing that you want or you need or just hoped for
Is always round the corner, and just down the hall

We are tubes inside of tubes inside of tubes inside of more
We are a sinking ship that’s filled with valves, and pouches, switches, doors

A whirling servo for your heart-
It no longer beats, it hums
Every poem will be disposed of that once compared our hearts to drums

We are a hurricane that just built a fountain
A pile of rocks with an eye for the mountain
But keep your ears to the ground for the counting
For the number of hooves that are rumbling round it
Numb to the sound of the sirens surrounding

For we will stretch ourselves further
Than we ever have before
And one day, there’s no doubt, we will snap

With our nose to the grindstone
of progress
We’ll all make our way
to the top, then collapse

For though we’ve imagined where it is we’re all headed-
We do not yet know where we stand
The future can’t hold for us a promise, my friend
It’s a ghost with a pair of clouds for hands

Yes the future isn’t waiting there for us-
It is quietly being pulled through us
It’s an illustration of our secret ways
and yet we cannot say who drew us

For as soon as the word is pronounced
There’s a parade!
The new product arrives!
In your ear
On your finger
Up your nose
In your eyes

Yes we’ve figured out a way to make you all feel MORE alive
(side effects may include
shortness of breath
thoughts of suicide or death
but most likely just
and hives)

You’ll be a walking coral reef
You’ll be the tide pools filled with teeth
You’ll be a mouth that’s always chewing
You’ll be a tongue that’s underneath it all
You’ll be the roof, the ceiling, and all the papered walls

You’ll be prefixed
With endo
And intra
And supra

As they watch you
And poke you
And cut you
And shoot ya

Let us mend every seam with some sutures
Let them sew up the holes in your life with the future

But who are we inside of this thing that we’ve built?
We’re a bowl full of milk that’s about to be spilt

For there is always a storm that is coming
The word on the tip of all tongues now is fear
We’d all love to cry out, but we’re too filled with doubt
That’s no diamond, my friend, it’s a tear

That’s no animal, in fact-
No we’ve all just learned
each of them is a sentient being
Why there’s so many facts
That are all in the past
It’s unbelievable- the things that we weren’t seeing

It turns out that Reiki is real
And meditation’s no longer a joke
We’ve all been such fools, but now we teach it in the schools
And yes the hippies are all pretty stoked

And the universe, it just so happens,
Is just the way Tesla found it-
It’s all about frequencies… and vibrations….. and things
We just had to wrap our little heads around it

Yes, we still don’t like the unknown
We need to have things defined
We want our world to make sense
We like it when nature rhymes

Even if only slightly
Even if we must bend
What we see and we hear to fit the means to our end

We all just spend our lives
Trying to overcome our births
Trying to get along with Death
And then untie ourselves from Earth

Now we vacation on the moon
And yes, we’ve flown beyond the stars
And can you guess where I just sent this from?
I’ll give you a hint- It’s Mars

Now we can grow your bones for you
And buildings build themselves, for free
But there’s still work for you to do:
You must remember how to be-

Just like the ocean when it’s thinking
Just be that storm that’s always brewing
You’re an idea
Just one idea
Of what one person on earth could be doing

And what animal doesn’t love
Going out to chase wonder?
Only to learn of the lightning
just before there is thunder?

Look above you- it’s raining
Look around- there’s a flood
Who can say when it started,
but now the ghost is in our blood

We can only move forward
Only turn back for a time
Now the only sacred space left
In the world
Is our mind

And it’s running away with itself and the others
Like the wind through the trees-
Phantom sisters and brothers
Have gone the way of the bees
And the birds and the lovers

Yes they’ve all been drawn and quartered
A million horses left the track
The future will take your mind off of itself-
So I suggest you start stealing it back

For our time here, like the twilight
Is precious and fading
And while there’s certainly nothing new under the sun-
Under the moon, there is waiting


Future Self
Good day and good luck and good bye

Oh that’s right,
I nearly forgot-
Everyone in the future says H

your (character’s) state.

From Erin Brown Conroy’s Blog for Entrepreneurs and Creatives

Focus, Create, Repeat -- With Author, Writer, & Speaker Erin M. Brown, MA, MFA

Well. I’m letting you (and me) off the hook.
This isn’t about our personal character. (You know, the interior part of us, the part where integrity sits.)

And I’m not going to ask you where you’re from — your physical geography — the point on the map where you lay your head at night (as in the state of Michigan, where I live in the US, called “the mitten state” because it looks like a mitten).
MichiganThis is about your story — your characters in that story.
Their personal, emotional states.
As in how we feel at any given moment.

Oh — and if you’re not a writer — keep reading, because
there’s something important here…
(it all makes sense when you read to the end).

There’s a not-so-secret secret to help you create compelling characters (and a compelling plot line, too).

(You ready?)

State doesn’t come from outside influences
(what people say or…

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What is Modern Medicine?

A Protein that could Reverse the Aging Process

Harvard researchers find protein that could reverse the aging process


May 7, 2014

A protein that's more abundant in young mice appears to reverse the aging process in older...

A protein that’s more abundant in young mice appears to reverse the aging process in older animals (Photo: Rama)

Researchers from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) have shown that injections of a protein dubbed GDF11, when administered to older mice, appear to cause a reversal of many signs of aging. Analysis showed that every major organ system tested displayed signs of improvement, with the protein even appearing to reverse some of the DNA damage which is synonymous with the aging process itself.

The protein GDF11 is found in humans as well as mice, and is now being considered for possible human testing due to its surprising and apparently regenerative properties.

A previous study had focused on examining the hearts of mice the equivalent of 70 human years old. The mice were regularly exposed to the blood of younger mice whose blood carried a higher concentration of GDF11. Ordinarily the hearts of older mice are enlarged and weakened, however results from the previous study displayed that, thanks to the GDF11 protein present in the blood of the younger mice, the hearts of the elderly mice reduced in size, making them appear younger and healthier. The changes were not purely aesthetic however, with the mice displaying an increased ability to exercise for prolonged periods of time.

The most recent set of experiments tested the protein in two ways. The first stage of the testing involved linking the circulatory systems of an older and a younger mouse through what is known as a parabiotic system. This allowed the protein-rich blood from the younger mouse to flow through the elder’s system continuously, maximizing the effect of the protein. The second method involved injecting the older mice with a concentrated dose of GDF11.

Results from the second study showed that the protein had positive effects reaching far beyond the heart. It was found that, having been exposed to increased levels of the protein, all organs examined by the researchers displayed a heightened level of function. Furthermore, whilst previous studies on the protein had focused on regenerating damaged muscle in mice, the most recent study focused on the repair of cells damaged by the aging process. The GDF11 protein was found to reverse some of this damage, allowing muscle to function as effectively as that of a much younger mouse.

Analysis of the brains of the older mice via MRI imaging displayed an increase in neural stem cells along with the development of blood cells in the brain. “There seems to be little question that, at least in animals, GDF11 has an amazing capacity to restore aging muscle and brain function,” states Dr. Doug Melton, co-chair of HSCI. The team believes that due to the increased blood flow exhibited in the brain of the elderly mice, it may be possible to reverse some of the cognitive effects of aging. The protein was also found to improve the olfactory system of older mice, greatly heightening their sense of smell.

In terms of human applications, it is hoped that a drug derived from GDF11 will lead to a cure for conditions such as diastolic heart failure. This condition is a defect which eventually causes one or more of the ventricles of the heart to deteriorate while attempting to fill the heart with blood, in order to pump it around the body. There is also a possibility that a GDF11-inspired drug could be used to combat Alzheimer’s, a condition synonymous with the aging process.

Looking to the future, the team will continue studies of the GDF11 protein, with a view to begin human medical trials within three to five years.

The research papers regarding the discoveries surrounding GDF11 are available in the journal Science.

Source: Harvard University

Book Review on “Splitting an Order” by Ted Kooser

‘Splitting an Order’ offers poetry that outshines dark days

Wisdom, compassion, and dignity continue to mark the poems of Ted Kooser.

By Elizabeth Lund DECEMBER 31, 2014

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As December draws to a close, many people think about endings, the future, and celebrating light during the darkest days of the year. If that includes you, consider greeting 2015 with a copy of Ted Kooser’s Splitting an Order, a quiet collection that honors small victories and gives reasons to be hopeful.

The book – Kooser’s 13th full-length collection of poems – introduces all of those elements in the first pages before exploring them at length in the next three sections.

Kooser fans will recognize his trademark compassion and plain-spoken wisdom in the initial poems, which form a series of gray- and white-haired portraits. Here, an elderly father and son walk down stairs together, their fingers interlaced in affection and strength. A long-married couple shares a simple meal, along with practiced patience. A woman celebrating her 110th birthday glides to the celebration “in a chair with sparkling carriage wheels,” riding “inches above/ the world’s hard surface, up where she belongs,/ safe from the news.”

Recommended: Poetry quiz: Can you match the poet to the poem?

Those stories, tinged with melancholy, show the dignity and perseverance of their subjects. Every poem contains several lines that uplift both the anecdote and the reader. Kooser also intersperses more youthful scenes – a little girl swinging between her parents, a young woman swooshing by on inline skates – creating a rich canvas where experience and innocence are equally moving.

From there, Kooser shifts his attention from people to things and animals. The second section explores time and the past, beginning with a long poem called “Estate Sale.” As the speaker moves from one item to another, he ponders ideas and tools that have been discarded through passing decades. A broken bird feeder, a baseball split at the seams, a wristwatch with “a cracked leather band” have all lost their former glory. Yet Kooser’s careful, compassionate view gives them and other forgotten items a different kind of worth and dignity. Wing imagery and ocean references help transform the scene, little by little, until readers and the poem arrive at an antique gilded harp, “its dusty strings like a curtain/ drawn over the silence,/ stroked by fingers of light.”

The third section starts gloriously, as if Kooser’s willingness to see beyond the surface in previous parts has led to new beginnings.

The poem “At a Kitchen Table,” one of the best in the book, opens like a new year with stories that “arrive at dusk,/ in pairs, quietly/ creating themselves/ in the feathery light.” These tales arrive not with fancy plumage but “with a plain little song./ Theirs are the open wings/ we light our table by.”

Readers will feel that light in the next poem as well, as Kooser describes the natural world coming to life in early spring and realizes more than once that there will be “No other day/ like this one, not ever again.” That bittersweet recognition leads to the poem’s powerful last sentence: “This is my life,/ none other like this.” The speaker then shifts direction again, recalling childhood memories of his father, the way people create the past in their own minds, and his unsuccessful first marriage.

Some readers might wish for more light at this point, or wonder why the poet has reverted to sad memories. The book’s final pages answer that question and make a point everyone should remember as 2014 draws to a close: Feeling hopeful is easy when there are no big losses or shocks to challenge one’s perspective. But when major cracks weaken a person’s foundation, he or she must decide what kind of outlook will guide moving forward.

Much of the fourth section is a prose piece, recounting the horror and grief Kooser felt after learning that a teenage boy had been murdered in the house where he, his first wife, and their baby used to live. That violent act seemed to taint key memories and destroy part of the past.

As the speaker describes the cellar he used as a study, the orange shag carpet, and the couple’s “most ordinary unhappiness,” he mentally inhabits those familiar rooms again and restores, in some measure, the place he knew.

Yet Kooser, always full of surprises, doesn’t end with that. Instead, he closes “Splitting an Order” with a short poem in which he compares his right hand to a chicken that pecks her way across the paper and pulls him along “across more than seventy years, a sometimes/ muddy, sometimes frozen barnyard/ where, looking back, it seems that every day/ was rich with interest, both underfoot/ and just an inch or two ahead of that.”

Published by the Counsel on Foreign Affairs

The Innovative State

Governments Should Make Markets, Not Just Fix Them

You didn’t build that: an iPhone in Washington, D.C., October 2013 (Kevin Lamarque / Courtesy Reuters)

The conventional view of what the state should do to foster innovation is simple: it just needs to get out of the way. At best, governments merely facilitate the economic dynamism of the private sector; at worst, their lumbering, heavy-handed, and bureaucratic institutions actively inhibit it. The fast-moving, risk-loving, and pioneering private sector, by contrast, is what really drives the type of innovation that creates economic growth. According to this view, the secret behind Silicon Valley lies in its entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. The state can intervene in the economy—but only to fix market failures or level the playing field. It can regulate the private sector in order to account for the external costs companies may impose on the public, such as pollution, and it can invest in public goods, such as basic scientific research or the development of drugs with little market potential. It should not, however, directly attempt to create and shape markets. A 2012 Economist article on the future of manufacturing encapsulated this common conception. “Governments have always been lousy at picking winners, and they are likely to become more so, as legions of entrepreneurs and tinkerers swap designs online, turn them into products at home and market them globally from a garage,” the article stated. “As the revolution rages, governments should stick to the basics: better schools for a skilled workforce, clear rules and a level playing field for enterprises of all kinds. Leave the rest to the revolutionaries.”

That view is as wrong as it is widespread. In fact, in countries that owe their growth to innovation, the state has historically served not as a meddler in the private sector but as a key partner of it—and often a more daring one, willing to take the risks that businesses won’t. Across the entire innovation chain, from basic research to commercialization, governments have stepped up with needed investment that the private sector has been too scared to provide. This spending has proved transformative, creating entirely new markets and sectors, including the Internet, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and clean energy.

Today, however, it has become harder and harder for governments to think big. Increasingly, their role has been limited to simply facilitating the private sector and, perhaps, nudging it in the right direction. When governments step beyond that role, they immediately get accused of crowding out private investment and ineptly trying to pick winners. The notion of the state as a mere facilitator, administrator, and regulator started gaining wide currency in the 1970s, but it has taken on newfound popularity in the wake of the global financial crisis. Across the globe, policymakers have targeted public debt (never mind that it was private debt that led to the meltdown), arguing that cutting government spending will spur private investment. As a result, the very state agencies that have been responsible for the technological revolutions of the past have seen their budgets shrink. In the United States, the budget “sequestration” process has resulted in $95 billion worth of cuts to federal R & D spending from 2013 to 2021. In Europe, the eu’s “fiscal compact,” which requires states to drop their fiscal deficits down to three percent of gdp, is squeezing educational and R & D spending.

What’s more, thanks in part to the conventional wisdom about its dynamism and the state’s sluggishness, the private sector has been able to successfully lobby governments to weaken regulations and cut capital gains taxes. From 1976 to 1981 alone, after heavy lobbying from the National Venture Capital Association, the capital gains tax rate in the United States fell from 40 percent to 20 percent. And in the name of bringing Silicon Valley’s dynamism to the United Kingdom, in 2002, the government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair reduced the time that private equity funds have to be invested to be eligible for tax reductions from ten years to two years. These policies increase inequality, not investment, and by rewarding short-term investments at the expense of long-term ones, they hurt innovation.

Getting governments to think big about innovation is not just about throwing more taxpayer money at more activities. It requires fundamentally reconsidering the traditional role of the state in the economy. Specifically, that means empowering governments to envision a direction for technological change and invest in that direction. It means abandoning the shortsighted way public spending is usually evaluated. It means ending the practice of insulating the private sector from the public sector. And it means figuring out ways for governments and taxpayers to reap some of the rewards of public investment, instead of just the risks. Only once policymakers move past the myths about the state’s role in innovation will they stop being, as John Maynard Keynes put it in another era, “the slaves of some defunct economist.”


According to the neoclassical economic theory that is taught in most economics departments, the goal of government policy is simply to correct market failures. In this view, once the sources of failure have been addressed—a monopoly reined in, a public good subsidized, or a negative externality taxed—market forces will efficiently allocate resources, enabling the economy to follow a new path to growth. But that view forgets that markets are blind, so to speak. They may neglect societal or environmental concerns. And they often head in suboptimal, path-dependent directions. Energy companies, for example, would rather invest in extracting oil from the deepest confines of the earth than in clean energy.

In addressing societal challenges such as climate change, youth unemployment, obesity, aging, and inequality, states must lead—not by simply fixing market failures but by actively creating markets. They must direct the economy toward new “techno-economic paradigms,” in the words of the technology and innovation scholar Carlota Perez. These directions are not generated spontaneously from market forces; they are largely the result of deliberate state decisions. In the mass-production revolution, for example, the state invested in both the underlying technologies and their diffusion across the economy. On the supply side, the U.S. military-industrial complex, beginning in World War II, invested in improvements in aerospace, electronics, and materials. On the demand side, the U.S. government’s postwar subsidization of suburban living—building roads, backing mortgages, and guaranteeing incomes through the welfare state—enabled workers to own homes, buy cars, and consume other mass-produced goods.

As Michael Shellenberger and his colleagues at the progressive think tank the Breakthrough Institute have documented, despite the mythmaking about how the shale gas boom is being driven by wildcatting entrepreneurs operating independently from the state, the U.S. federal government invested heavily in the technologies that unleashed it. In 1976, the Morgantown Energy Research Center and the Bureau of Mines launched the Eastern Gas Shales Project, which demonstrated how natural gas could be recovered from shale formations. That same year, the federal government opened the Gas Research Institute, which was funded through a tax on natural gas production and spent billions of dollars on research into shale gas. And the Sandia National Laboratories, part of the U.S. Department of Energy, developed the 3-D geologic mapping technology used for fracking operations.

Likewise, as the physician Marcia Angell has shown, many of the most promising new drugs trace their origins to research done by the taxpayer-funded National Institutes of Health, which has an annual budget of some $30 billion. Private pharmaceutical companies, meanwhile, tend to focus more on the D than the R part of R & D, plus slight variations of existing drugs and marketing.

Silicon Valley’s techno-libertarians might be surprised to find out that Uncle Sam funded many of the innovations behind the information technology revolution, too. Consider the iPhone. It is often heralded as the quintessential example of what happens when a hands-off government allows genius entrepreneurs to flourish, and yet the development of the features that make the iPhone a smartphone rather than a stupid phone was publicly funded. The progenitor of the Internet was ARPANET, a program funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is part of the Defense Department, in the 1960s. Gps began as a 1970s U.S. military program called Navstar. The iPhone’s touchscreen technology was created by the company FingerWorks, which was founded by a professor at the publicly funded University of Delaware and one of his doctoral candidates, who received grants from the National Science Foundation and the CIA. Even Siri, the iPhone’s cheery, voice-recognizing personal assistant, can trace its lineage to the U.S. government: it is a spinoff of a darpa artificial-intelligence project. None of this is to suggest that Steve Jobs and his team at Apple were not brilliant in how they put together existing technologies. The problem, however, is that failing to admit the public side of the story puts future government-funded research at risk.

For policymakers, then, the question should not be whether to pick particular directions when it comes to innovation, since some governments are already doing that, and with good results. Rather, the question should be how to do so in a way that is democratically accountable and that solves the most pressing social and technological challenges.


State spending on innovation tends to be assessed in exactly the wrong way. Under the prevailing economic framework, market failures are identified and particular government investments are proposed. Their value is then appraised through a narrow calculation that involves heavy guesswork: Will the benefits of a particular intervention exceed the costs associated with both the offending market failure and the implementation of the fix? Such a method is far too static to evaluate something as dynamic as innovation. By failing to account for the possibility that the state can create economic landscapes that never existed before, it gives short shrift to governments’ efforts in this area. No wonder economists often characterize the public sector as nothing more than an inefficient version of the private sector.

This incomplete way of measuring public investment leads to accusations that by entering certain sectors, governments are crowding out private investment. That charge is often false, because government investment often has the effect of “crowding in,” meaning that it stimulates private investment and expands the overall pie of national output, which benefits both private and public investors. But more important, public investments should aim not only to kick-start the economy but also, as Keynes wrote, “to do those things which at present are not done at all.” No private companies were trying to put a man on the moon when NASA undertook the Apollo project.

Without the right tools for evaluating investments, governments have a hard time knowing when they are merely operating in existing spaces and when they are making things happen that would not have happened otherwise. The result: investments that are too narrow, constrained by the prevailing techno-economic paradigm. A better way of evaluating a given investment would be to consider whether it taught workers new skills and whether it led to the creation of new technologies, sectors, or markets. When it comes to government spending on pharmaceutical research, for example, it might make sense to move past the private sector’s fixation on drugs and fund more work on diagnostics, surgical treatments, and lifestyle changes.

Governments suffer from another, related problem when it comes to contemplating investments: as a result of the dominant view that they should stick to fixing market failures, they are often ill equipped to do much more than that. To avoid such problems as a regulatory agency getting captured by business, the thinking goes, the state must insulate itself from the private sector. That’s why governments have increasingly outsourced key jobs to the private sector. But that trend often rids them of the knowledge necessary for devising a smart strategy for investing in innovation and makes it harder to attract top talent. It creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: the less big thinking a government does, the less expertise it is able to attract, the worse it performs, and the less big thinking it is allowed to do. Had there been more information technology capacity within the U.S. government, the Obama administration would probably not have had such difficulty rolling out, and that failure will likely lead to only more outsourcing.

In order to create and shape technologies, sectors, and markets, the state must be armed with the intelligence necessary to envision and enact bold policies. This does not mean that the state will always succeed; indeed, the uncertainty inherent in the innovation process means that it will often fail. But it needs to learn from failed investments and continuously improve its structures and practices. As the economist Albert Hirschman emphasized, the policymaking process is by its nature messy, so it is important for public institutions to welcome the process of trial and error. Governments should pay as much attention to the business school topics of strategic management and organizational behavior as private companies do. The status quo approach, however, is to focus not on making the government more competent but on downsizing it.


Since governments often undertake courageous spending during the riskiest parts of the innovation process, it is key that they figure out how they can socialize not just the risks of their investments but also the rewards. The U.S. government’s Small Business Innovation Research program, for example, offers high-risk financing to companies at much earlier stages than most private venture capital firms do; it funded Compaq and Intel when they were start-ups. Similarly, the Small Business Investment Company program, an initiative under the auspices of the U.S. Small Business Administration, has provided crucial loans and grants to early stage companies, including Apple in 1978. In fact, the need for such long-term investments has only increased over time as venture capital firms have become more short term in their outlook, emphasizing finding an “exit” for each of their investments (usually through a public offering or a sale to another company) within three years. Real innovation can take decades.

As is the nature of early stage investing in technologies with uncertain prospects, some investments are winners, but many are losers. For every Internet (a success story of U.S. government financing), there are many Concordes (a white elephant funded by the British and French governments). Consider the twin tales of Solyndra and Tesla Motors. In 2009, Solyndra, a solar-power-panel start-up, received a $535 million guaranteed loan from the U.S. Department of Energy; that same year, Tesla, the electric-car manufacturer, got approval for a similar loan, for $465 million. In the years afterward, Tesla was wildly successful, and the firm repaid its loan in 2013. Solyndra, by contrast, filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and, among fiscal conservatives, became a byword for the government’s sorry track record when it comes to picking winners. Of course, if the government is to act like a venture capitalist, it will necessarily encounter many failures. The problem, however, is that governments, unlike venture capital firms, are often saddled with the costs of the failures while earning next to nothing from the successes. Taxpayers footed the bill for Solyndra’s losses yet got hardly any of Tesla’s profits.

Economists may argue that the state already receives a return on its investments by taxing the resulting profits. The truth is more complicated. For one thing, large corporations are masters of tax evasion. Google—whose game-changing search algorithm, it should be noted, was developed with funding from the National Science Foundation—has lowered its U.S. tax bill by funneling some of its profits through Ireland. Apple does the same by taking advantage of a race to the bottom among U.S. states: in 2006, the company, which is based in Cupertino, California, set up an investment subsidiary in Reno, Nevada, to save money.

Fixing the problem is not just a matter of plugging the loopholes. Tax rates in the United States and other Western countries have been falling over the past several decades precisely due to a false narrative about how the private sector serves as the sole wealth creator. Government revenues have also shrunk due to tax incentives aimed at promoting innovation, few of which have been shown to produce any R & D that would not have happened otherwise. What’s more, given how mobile capital is these days, a particular government that has funded a given company might not be able to tax it since it may have moved abroad. And although taxes are effective at paying for the basics, such as education, health care, and research, they don’t begin to cover the cost of making direct investments in companies or specific technologies. If the state is being asked to make such investments—as will increasingly be the case as financial markets become even more focused on the short term—then it will have to recover the inevitable losses that arise from this process.

There are various ways to do so. One is to attach strings to the loans and guarantees that governments hand out to businesses. For example, just as graduates who receive income-contingent student loans get their repayments adjusted based on their salaries, the recipients of state investments could have their repayments adjusted based on their profits.

Another way for states to reap greater returns involves reforming the way they partner with businesses. Public-private partnerships should be symbiotic, rather than parasitic, relationships. In 1925, the U.S. government allowed AT&T to retain its monopoly over the phone system but required the company to reinvest its profits in research, a deal that led to the formation of Bell Labs. Today, however, instead of reinvesting their profits, large companies hoard them or spend them on share buybacks, stock options, and executive pay. Research by the economist William Lazonick has borne this out: “The 449 companies in the S&P 500 index that were publicly listed from 2003 through 2012 . . . used 54% of their earnings—a total of $2.4 trillion—to buy back their own stock.”

An even bolder plan would allow the state to retain equity in the companies it supports, just as private venture capital firms do. Indeed, some countries adopted this model long ago. Israel’s Yozma Group, which manages public venture capital funds, has backed—and retained equity in—early stage companies since 1993. The Finnish Innovation Fund, or Sitra, which is operated under the Finnish parliament, has done the same since 1967, and it was an early investor in Nokia’s transformation from a rubber company into a cell-phone giant. Had the U.S. government had a stake in Tesla, it would have been able to more than cover its losses from Solyndra. The year Tesla received its government loan, the company went public at an opening price of $17 a share; that figure had risen to $93 by the time the loan was repaid. Today, shares in Tesla trade above $200.

The prospect of the state owning a stake in a private corporation may be anathema to many parts of the capitalist world, but given that governments are already investing in the private sector, they may as well earn a return on those investments (something even fiscal conservatives might find attractive). The state need not hold a controlling stake, but it could hold equity in the form of preferred stocks that get priority in receiving dividends. The returns could be used to fund future innovation. Politicians and the media have been too quick to criticize public investments when things go wrong and too slow to reward them when things go right.


Past technological revolutions—from railroads to the automobile to the space program to information technology—did not come about as the result of minor tinkering with the economic system. They occurred because states undertook bold missions that focused not on minimizing government failure but on maximizing innovation. Once one accepts this more proactive state purpose, the key questions of economic policy get reframed. Questions about crowding out private investment and unwisely picking winners fall by the wayside as more dynamic questions—about creating the types of public-private interactions that can produce new industrial landscapes—rise to the top.

Today, many countries, from China to Denmark to Germany, have settled on their next mission: green energy. Given the potential benefits and the amount of money at play, it is crucial that governments back this mission the right way. For starters, they must not only pick various technologies or sectors to invest in but also ask what they want from those sectors. For example, if what governments want from the energy sector is a stable energy supply, then shale gas will do, but if the mission is to mitigate climate change, then it won’t. In fact, mission-oriented policies need to foster interactions among multiple fields. NASA’s mission to the moon required the interaction of many different sectors, from rocketry to telecommunications to textiles. Likewise, the green energy revolution will require investment not just in wind energy, solar power, and biofuels but also in new engines, new ways of more efficiently maintaining infrastructure, and new ways of making products last longer. Accordingly, the state should take its cue from the venture capital world and diversify its portfolio, spreading capital across many different technologies and enterprises.

In making green investments, governments should fund those technologies that the private sector has ignored and provide a strong, clear direction for change, letting various entrepreneurs experiment with the specifics. Governments should provide ambitious targets, not in the old command-and-control style but through a combination of carrots and sticks. The German government has followed this approach in its energy-transition initiative, or Energiewende, which is designed to phase out nuclear energy and substitute it with renewables; it is doing this by setting lofty goals for carbon emissions reductions and subsidizing technological development of wind and solar power.

More broadly, governments should strike agreements that allow them to share in the profits from their successful investments. And most of all, they should build the public agencies of the future, turning them into hotbeds of creativity, adaptation, and exploration. That will require abandoning the current obsession with limiting the state’s intervention to fixing problems after they have happened—and smashing the popular myth that the state cannot innovate.