Entrepreneurship, knowledge and employment

Friedrich List and the American system of innovation

Knell Mark, NIFU Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education

From the session proposal: Through Wealth to Freedom Friedrich List: From the Past to the Present From Session summary: When Chris Freeman (1995) engaged into the modern debate on the “National System of Innovation”, following the pioneering work of Lundvall (1992), arguing that national and regional systems of innovation remain an essential domain of economic analysis whose importance derives from the networks of relationships that are necessary for any firm to innovate, he made explicit and intensive reference to the work of List. Mark Knell, in his essay on “Friedrich List and the American system of innovation” takes up the key ideas of the modern discussion and applies them to the contemporary US economy when List’s ideas were shaped. Paper summary: This paper pulls together those aspects of List’s analysis that relate to the American system of political economy, as he would have experienced it after settling in the United States in 1825 and as it unfolded in the two centuries that followed. Section two considers the cosmopolitan ideal in enlightenment thought and contrasts this ideal with his idea of political economy. The third section considers the importance of intellectual capital and technological learning in Adam Smith and Friedrich List. Section four builds upon the Schumpeterian idea of technological revolutions (Freeman and Perez) and places them in the context of the American system of innovation, within which List is placed in the first half of the second revolution. The American story continues with the transition from a catching-up economy to become the technological leader and no longer rely on protectionist measures. Section five associates the national systems of innovation perspective and with List’s national systems of political economy perspective. Some final remarks then added at the end of section six.


Keywords: Friedrich List, Adam Smith, technology revolutions, political economy, United States

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