America’s past provides a model for China’s leadership in science and technology

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In the face of China’s technology gains, President Biden has urged Congress to send him the Innovation Act, which will inject federal funding into science and technology research and semiconductor manufacturing.

The history of Cold War victories in the space race and defense-funded technologies inspire lawmakers to reassert government’s role in fueling innovation during a new era of geopolitical competition.

Congress and the Biden administration adopt industrial policy to ensure competitiveness in science and technology. They hope that by ranking industries and technologies based on strategic importance, they can position the United States to extend the long history of government driving development into the twenty-first century.

Historically, this government guidance and funding strategy has ensured that the United States has been at the forefront of global technological innovation, unleashing revolutions in information, health, and weapons since 1945.

The roots of how government can drive the development of science and technology go back to the nineteenth century. The “American System” of House Speaker Henry Clay of 1824 proposed turning the disunited United States into an interlocking nation.

While Clay delivered a 40-page speech spanning two days, the emerging US economy was overshadowed by European economies with its fragmented and dysfunctional infrastructure. To counter this deficit, the government used import taxes to promote industrialization and infrastructure development.

The American system achieved its goals, and the government repeated this pattern of investment to stimulate national growth throughout the country’s expansion westward during the rest of the nineteenth century. The federal government sponsored land-grant colleges, railroads, and settlements to encourage economic growth and knowledge production throughout the expanding country.

The federal government’s involvement in the economy during World War I convinced a generation of Democratic politicians, reformers, and economists that government spending could fuel innovation and economic growth. In the 1930s, they took advantage of this idea when the Great Depression devastated the United States. They continued to drive government spending and investment to drive innovation as the United States fought World War II in the 1940s.

During the 1930s, the government funded bridges, dams, and airports. This was followed by wartime investments in military bases, ports, and national laboratories during the 1940s. This New Deal and World War II experience grew the size of government and solidified a new understanding of government as an engine for the growth of infrastructure and technology.

But even after a century of government role in developing local and national infrastructure, it was the Manhattan Project and the first mass production of penicillin in the 1940s that cemented the United States’ position as a leader in scientific and technological developments in weapons, energy, and health. . Federal spending and the arrival of immigrants have propelled the United States to the forefront of the flag unlike it has ever been in the nation’s history.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s science adviser, Vannevar Bush, urged the president to defend science as the “endless frontier.” Although Bush’s proposal to create the National Science Foundation was fulfilled in 1950, politicians were in no hurry to allocate federal endowments to spending on science and technology.

Instead, it took the surprise of the Cold War to get the government to pour money into science and technology.

The Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik in 1957 sent shock waves through America, setting off the space race and sending policymakers into action. The concerns raised by Sputnik led to the creation of NASA and the National Defense Education Act of 1958 to support science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education to strengthen the technical workforce pipeline. The law pumped $1 billion in taxpayer money into grants and scholarships to study science and technology as well as previously unfunded majors such as area studies.

Sputnik also incentivized President Dwight D. Eisenhower to pour money into research and development (R&D) for innovation agencies like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to invest in long-term bids for new inventions. DARPA has funded the technologies that created the Internet, global positioning systems, and virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri that are now woven into everyday life.

Increased funding did not last: The end of the space race and the Vietnam War reduced government support for research and development.

Beginning in the late 1970s—and accelerating in the 1980s—the private sector outstripped government funding for research and development. Business investment has jumped with increasing corporate power and globalization.

At the same time, congressional support for science and technology research came under fire after the Cold War for allegedly wasting taxpayer money. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex) targeted the National Science Foundation for funding research, and appropriations for science and technology were an easy target in budget battles in Congress beginning in the 1980s.

By 2019, federal expenditures had fallen from the 1964 peak of nearly 70 percent of research and development funding to less than 20 percent. The private sector now accounts for 70 percent of research and development funding and provides cutting-edge technologies to the information revolution that has driven the US economy in recent decades.

Although DARPA paved the way for the information revolution by sponsoring the research that created the Internet, the government has abandoned its role as a major driver of innovation. Some government-related organizations such as In-Q-Tel have bridged the gap, but few other government bodies have shown their ability to nurture innovation, research and development and forge a new model for public-private partnerships.

One of the central challenges facing the government today is the reorganization of public and private interests and the restoration of the role of government in the industries of the future and emerging technologies. Disagreements between the interests of tech companies and the federal government have escalated, getting its best known in 2018 when Google stopped working with the Department of Defense’s Project Maven. Google bowed to its workers’ anger over Project Maven’s combative use, and the decision to stop working with the military seemed disconnected from Silicon Valley’s history.

Although private sector companies in Silicon Valley invented the myth of independence, public-private partnerships created technologies that are common today. The formation of new models of public-private partnerships will be crucial to harnessing the gains of government research and development funding in science and technology for economic gain.

Domestic criticism of the innovation law appeared on the left and right. The Democratic Socialists in America condemned it for weaponizing industrial policy against China, and a group of anti-war organizations and the Quincy Institute think tank criticized the bills for Feeding Chinese Nationalism. From the right, the Wall Street Journal editorial board criticized the bills for mimicking China’s industrial policy.

But this industrial technology policy has long been part of enhancing the economic competitiveness of the United States and pioneering science and technology. Federal funding spawned the public-private partnerships that were the genesis of the information revolution that will shape future technological and industrial transformations.

The path to passing the Trucial Innovation Act is uncertain. Although Senate Majority Leader Charles E. time is running out.

The United States, since Sputnik, has not faced a competitor whose technological development could exceed its technology. China’s quest to control the commanding heights of scientific and technological innovation has forced Congress to pass competition bills. But without China achieving a Sputnik-wide milestone, the innovation law may deliver valuable time and funding into a fierce race that could define the arc of the 21st century.

The opinions and opinions of the authors expressed here do not necessarily reflect or reflect the opinions and opinions of US Government or National Security Lawrence Livermore, and may not be used for purposes of advertising or endorsement of the product.

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