Republicans are inventors, Democrats are innovators

DOES it matter which political party your urologist belongs to? Or that inventors are more likely to be Republicans than Democrats?

Not everything is political, of course, but everything has a politics, including the professions.

Knowing which kinds of partisans tend to dominate which sectors can help you manage expectations not only as you go about your own life, but also as you try to understand trends in the broader economy.

Evidence from campaign contributions, for example, indicates that some professions are more right or left-leaning than others. And more recent research shows that partisanship matters for inventors too, first in the choice to become one and then about what to make.

The data show that oil workers and petroleum engineers are more likely to give to Republican candidates, while professional environmentalists, librarians and bartenders are more likely to support Democrats.

Given disputes over climate change, the breakdown in the fossil-fuel sector may be obvious – but what explains the Republican lean of truck drivers, farmers and urologists, or the Democratic lean of pediatricians and bartenders?

Causality undoubtedly runs both ways. If you are a bartender, you might be younger and rank somewhat higher in the personality trait of openness. Those traits are correlated with support for Democrats.

So it’s not necessarily the case that working as a bartender causes you to evolve into a Democrat, or that Democratic loyalties per se push you into bartending jobs.

In other cases, the profession itself may influence political leanings. Many small-business people are sensitive about the taxes they pay, since often they do not have the cash flow or profit margins of larger corporations.

So business owners and insurance agents lean more Republican, and some of that relationship may be causal.

Academics lean Democratic, and some of that inclination may come from the perception that Democrats support science and the academy more. Academics also work in environments less concerned with such traditional business constraints as accountability, profit and loss.

It turns out that partisanship matters for inventors, too. A study released last month shows that the modal or typical inventor in 2020 was Republican, accounting for 37% of the database of more than 250,000 US inventors, with Democrats making up 34% and independents 30%.

In part, this may stem from the desire of many inventors to become small-business owners.

And yet inventors have become more Democratic and less Republican since 2019, perhaps because educational polarisation means that more educated people are trending in the Democratic direction.

Furthermore, those shifts are strongest in Democratic-leaning states such as Washington. The partisan views of inventors are also correlated with what they invent.

Republicans are more likely to develop innovations for guns (the patent category is called “blasting weapons”), while Democrats are more likely to get new patents related to climate change.

These kinds of partisan effects are much stronger when the relevant work is done in teams, which is becoming more important. So invention may well become more partisan.

How should partisans view all this research? Well, conservatives who worry about the liberal domination of academia can console themselves that they have one area where they still hold sway – coming up with new and patentable ideas.

Furthermore, the stronger Republican presence influences which kinds of innovations get made. Some people might gladly give up a bigger presence in academia for a greater hand in invention.

At the same time, it is widely believed that patents can be a misleading measure of some kinds of innovation, as many new sectors of the US economy rely less on patents to protect their new ideas and advances.

Tech firms may well take out patents but their actual competitive advantage comes from network effects, talent, the ability to maintain and revise their software, and other factors.

Employees of major tech firms tend to be left-leaning and Democratic, as might be expected from high-income, highly educated people in California and Washington state.

It could be that Democrats are leading newer, more innovative fields, and leaving the older, more patent-heavy ones to Republicans.

If that’s the case, then the Democratic ideological ascendancy is stronger than it looks. But there is another way to look at it.

In the economy of the future, would you rather be developing the next generation of guns, or of artificial intelligence (AI)? I know which field I would prefer. Perhaps we should ask the AIs. — Bloomberg

Tyler Cowen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. The views expressed here are the writer’s own.

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Politics , Republicans , Democrats , climate change


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