Annie Lowry’s article last Sunday in The Washington Post, “Can cash prizes for innovation get the economy rolling again?“, is a terrific examination of the U.S. government’s increasing use of prize money in its efforts to enlist the private sector in finding solutions to specific R&D challenges. The impetus for her piece was the recent reauthorization of the America Competes Act, which provides the legal framework for these efforts.
The “inducement prizes” described by Lowry are distinguished from the Nobel, MacArthur and other “recognition prizes”. Anyone can view Uncle Sam’s contests at Challenge.gov. (Check out the vitual Easter egg hunt — we’re not so sure about that one.)
The most fascinating part of Lowry’s piece is her brief history of the use of prizes by various governments and an explanation of when they work best. The fact that many of these contests have worked exceptionally well–perhaps an obvious result to many–suggests that we can expect to see substantial growth in the number of such contests in the future.
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