By Tina Rosenberg
Last week, David Bornstein wrote about how the Obama administration is using prize competitions to solve some of the problems government faces. Agencies as different as the Department of Labor and NASA are recruiting ideas from the public by offering prizes for solving challenges.
While solutions these prizes generate are often innovative, the practice of offering them is anything but new. In 1714, the British government offered a prize of £20,000 to the person who found a way to accurately determine a ship’s longitude. As described in the book “Longitude,” the Yorkshire carpenter and clockmaker John Harrison won the prize after decades of work by inventing a clock that worked at sea. Harrison’s solution revolutionized the maritime world.