Eamonn Fingleton writes in the New York Times America The Innovative?, 3/31/13
Few of the most creative societies of the ancient world were free. Certainly not Mesopotamia or Egypt. As for the spectacular creativity of early modern Europe, this somehow flourished alongside bloodcurdling efforts at mind control. More recently, both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, with authoritarian cultures, punched well above their weight in innovation.
Even the evidence of America’s own history undercuts the “all you need is freedom” story. Though from the start freedom was central to the country’s political culture, Americans have not always ranked as technological leaders. America’s technological coming of age was remarkably recent. As Ralph Gomory, former head of I.B.M.’s research department pointed out to me in an interview, America was noted up to the 1930s mainly as an inspired adapter of other nations’ technologies — a role similar to that of Japan and other East Asian nations in more recent times.