Great ResignationClimate ChangeLeadershipInflationUkraine Invasion

Nobel Prize Winner Shows How Laws Can Aid Innovation

October 10, 2018, 2:41 PM UTC

This article first appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

An apostle and scholar of innovation, Paul Romer, shares this year’s Nobel Prize for economics. It’s an exciting moment for Silicon Valley, whose doers should stop for a moment to reflect on the theories Romer advanced that explain their success.

Researchers long had a hunch that innovation led to growth. Romer documented, quantified, and confirmed the assumption. But he did more. He showed that government policies have a salubrious effect on innovation. In other words, the right laws and regulations are the lubricant for turning great ideas into economy-sustaining growth. As The Economist explained this week: “In Mr. Romer’s models of growth, the market generates new ideas. But the pace at which they are generated, and the way in which they are translated into growth, depend on other factors—such as state support for research and development or intellectual-property protections.”

Technologists who hit the mythical “product-market fit” and subsequently get stinking rich genuinely believe they got there all by themselves. It’s as if they’re able to explain their good fortune according to some pure laws of capitalism that don’t exist. Paul Romer’s research is an antidote to such thinking. And a welcome one.


Analyst Brent Thill of Jefferies put out a note to clients Tuesday reiterating a previous assertion that Alphabet’s self-driving car unit, Waymo, is like a “long-dated call option” valued at between $75 billion and $125 billion. (A call option is a bet that a security will increase in value in the future; long dated means that future is further out rather than sooner.)

Thill spun a whimsical but powerful scenario of how self-driving cars could be a part of Google/Alphabet’s money-making future: “One could wake up to an alarm from the new Google Home Hub device (announced today for $149), ask Google Assistant to request a Waymo ride to an important client meeting, prepare during rush hour while using G Suite on the new Pixel Slate, catch up on a show afterwards via YouTube TV, while personalized displays suggest the ideal venue for a celebratory deal dinner. One could subscribe to a handful of Google services or upgrade to a larger bundle–all enhanced by AI.”

If all else fails, Google has at least one enthusiastic customer-in-waiting.