Simple-Minded Edison

Those we saw in chapter 1 that many of the innovators of the Industrial Revolution and afterward, like Thomas Edison, were not highly educated, these innovations were much simpler than modern technology.

— Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Why Nations Fail (New York City: Crown Business, 2012), p. 78.

Modern technology is undeniably more advanced than that of the 19th century, but in the context the above-quoted sentence is used Acemoglu and Robinson act as if they themselves could have developed what Edison did, with the same knowledge.  They are talking about the advantages of education.  But, Edison was highly educated in the knowledge relevant to his discoveries; he was simply mostly self-taught.

Of course, Acemoglu and Robinson are right to argue that where people do not have the option of pursuing the accumulation of knowledge, especially where access to past knowledge it is difficult to garner, there is much talent going to waste.  But, in most cases, exceptional talent is natural and not a byproduct of education.  It is just that the former takes advantage of the latter, whereas the “normal talent” not as much.  I am a normal talent with as much access to advance knowledge as anybody else, but I am no Edison.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *