Mar 19, 2013
“If we're talking about how to solve problems with public health, or the economy, or the environment, they tend to be very difficult problems,” said Vandermeer. “It is precisely such problems that require multiple perspectives to solve and in societies that are very unequal, not everyone is allowed to contribute to solving them. That makes it more difficult to solve and results in less equal societies being less innovative.” Vandermeer, an ecologist, is the Asa Gray Distinguished University Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Alfred T. Thurnau Professor. His coauthor is Scott Page, U-M Center for the Study of Complex Systems.
The researchers constructed two theoretical models that analyze the relationship between inequality of access and rates of innovation. Their data showed a negative correlation between income inequality and levels of innovativeness. “Our two models suggest that unequal access to problems slows innovation by reducing the level and variety of human capital applied to problems,” they wrote. “More interestingly, both models show that the rate of innovation decline becomes much more pronounced as problems become more difficult. Thus, the costs of inequality may be increasing as the problems that societies face become more challenging.”
“The research tells us that the pursuit of social equity is one way to encourage innovativeness in a society,” said Vandermeer