Economic crises like the current one have devastating economic and social costs, but they also give rise to major rounds of technological innovation. That’s why I call them Great Resets. There was a significant spike in patents in the wake of the Panic and Long Depression of 1873 – and subsequent decades saw the rise of major new innovations from the light bulb, phonograph, and telephones to systems innovations like electric power, telephone systems, and urban transit (i.e. street cars, cable cars, and subway systems). The Great Depression was far and away the most “technologically progressive decade of the 20th century,” according to the detailed research of economic historian Alexander Field, outpacing the high-tech boom of the late 20th century by a considerable margin.
Joseph Schumpeter long ago showed how economic crises give rise to the gales of creative destruction – as new entrepreneurial individuals and enterprises seize the opportunity to forge new business models, and new industries revolutionize and transform the economy. The British economist of innovation, Christopher Freeman, found evidence that innovations not only accelerate but bunch up during economic downturns only to be unleashed as the economy begins to recover, ushering in powerful new waves of technological change.
A study released today by the Kauffman Foundation (h/t: Ian Swain) provides additional evidence that our current crisis takes the form of a Great Reset. According to the study, 2009 was a banner year for new business startups. As the graph above shows, more than 550,000 new businesses were started over the course of the year. The report found that “the 340 out of 100,000 adults who started businesses each month represent a 4 percent increase over 2008, or 27,000 more starts per month than in 2008 and 60,000 more starts per month than in 2007.” This represents the highest rate of new business startups in 14 years. The startup rate for African-Americans also surged to record levels, according to the study.