Sunday, July 19, 2009

Economic View: Financial Invention vs. Consumer Protection

Robert J. Shiller in the New York Times:

JAMES WATT, who invented the first practical steam engine in 1765, worried that high-pressure steam could lead to major explosions. So he avoided high pressure and ended up with an inefficient engine.

It wasn’t until 1799 that Richard Trevithick, who apprenticed with an associate of Watt, created a high-pressure engine that opened a new age of steam-powered factories, railways and ships.

That is how innovation often proceeds — by learning from errors and hazards and gradually conquering problems through devices of increasing complexity and sophistication.

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