All posts by Rob Atkinson
It was with great interest and mostly pleasure that I read Martin Baily and Barry Bosworth’s new article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, “U.S. Manufacturing: Understanding Its Past and Its Potential Future.”
The article attempts to analyze recent trends in U.S, manufacturing performance, including output and employment. This is an area ITIF has been working on for a number of years. And in the past, Baily has been skeptical of our analysis, which claimed that U.S. manufacturing was in fact worse off than official statistics, in part because of the overstatement of computers and electronics manufacturing output. So it was with great delight, and some surprise, to see that Baily and Bosworth have now embraced this analysis. As they note, the fact that measured manufacturing output’s share of GDP has remained stable “is largely due to the spectacular performance of one subsector of manufacturing: computers and electronics.” In fact, as ITIF showed, they also show that by taking out computers, overall real manufacturing output fell from 2000 to 2011, something that is unprecedented in our almost 250-year history. They also rightly point out that the massive … Read the rest
R&D is fundamentally important to economies because it is a primary source for innovation and new technologies. But markets rarely provide enough incentives for innovation on their own—innovations are expensive to create but easy to copy.
For those reasons many countries provide R&D tax incentives to companies that spend money on basic or applied research. The best way to think of this policy is as actually as a fix—R&D has positive benefits for the economy as a whole, but because individual companies have trouble capturing all the benefits of R&D they are unlikely to invest the socially optimal amount.
Tax breaks for businesses are fraught with controversy because they “distort” the market and according to conventional neoclassical economics thinking distortions are by definition bad, even if they are pro-growth. To be sure certain tax incentives outlive their usefulness, as they have in the fossil fuel industry, and some tax incentives are only on the books because they serve special interests, not the public interest.
As final negotiations begin for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, it is essential that U.S. representatives understand the impact this agreement will have on our future. The TPP presents an opportunity to set the standard for future trade agreements, but implementing the wrong policies could do more harm than good.
Any TPP agreement must enable U.S. innovation and not finalizing an agreement is better than signing one that compromises America’s ability to create technologies and make advancements that benefit society. A key factor in protecting innovation through the TPP will be the assurance of strong intellectual property (IP) rights protections that promote investments in R&D and technology development and insure the free flow of information across borders.
As ITIF has noted, IP is a central component of the innovation ecosystem, which is a key factor in a healthy economy, in both developed and developing nations. For example, strengthening IP rights has been connected with increased inflows of foreign direct investment, rates of domestic innovation, and trade in high technology products.
Anytime the media covers an issue that might affect consumers, they ask so-called consumer groups for a quote as if these groups by definition represent consumer interests. Check that box. Case in point, a story in Saturday’s New York Times on Monsanto and Dupont Pioneer’s successful efforts to develop genetically modified soybeans that eliminate harmful trans-fats in soybean oil. The reporter argues that these new beans could help the image of the biotech industry because they are among first generation of GMOs that help consumers, rather than farmers.
What? So let me get this right. Past GMO efforts to reduce the costs of growing food (e.g. drought resistant seeds, seeds needing less pesticide application, etc.) don’t help consumers? It seems that the article is making the argument that anything that helps producers, by definition either doesn’t help consumers, or in fact harms them. In this framing, the implicit assumption is agriculture is a monopoly where all improvements in productivity are kept by the farmers, and not passed along to the consumers in the form of lower prices. Wow, did these people never study economics? Apparently not.
One can’t pass a single day it seems without seeing in the news coverage of the problems with the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace (HIM). But what is perhaps most surprising is not that the web site had problems, but that people are surprised that it had problems. The current process of managing and acquiring federal IT is largely broken and the failure of the HIM is simply the newest reminder of that dysfunction. We can just go down the list of past high-profile failures, including the delayed launch last year of USAjobs.gov, the FBI’s Virtual Case Files program, the Census Bureau’s handheld PC debacle, and the FAA modernization.
There are several reasons for this dysfunction. First, the contracting process does not work as it should. Larded up with an accretion of rules and requirements from past scandals and failures, only the most intrepid firms are able to manage the labyrinth called federal contracting. Moreover, as Congress has tried to use federal contracting to fulfill social policy goals that should be addressed with other policy tools, agencies must give preferences to a wide variety of businesses—small businesses, women-owned businesses, … Read the rest
No one disputes the benefits of innovative technology. It has resulted in IT, medical, and energy advancements that have revolutionized the way we live our lives. What often goes unappreciated, however, is the time and resources invested that ultimately yields this progress. As I discussed on Friday as part of a panel at the Global Intellectual Property Center’s IP Summit, failing to acknowledge and respect intellectual property puts future innovation in jeopardy, and it is critically important that we educate developing countries on the benefits of protecting IP before it has lasting effects on not just the global innovation economy, but their own individual innovation economies
At a time when developing countries are not only trying to recover from the Great Recession, but also working toward building more prosperous economies, access to innovation is increasingly important. Unfortunately, all too often developing countries believe that to achieve their economic and social goals, they must focus on getting access to technologies (including pharmaceutical products, sometimes through issuing compulsory licenses) in the near-term, instead of setting up an environment of strong IP protection where innovation can flourish over the long-term. These actions are … Read the rest
An updated report by the New America Foundation (NAF) examines whether we are getting a good deal on our broadband in the United States. It does so using fairly straightforward methods: cataloguing advertised prices and speeds for major cities around the world. Unfortunately, to paraphrase H. L. Mencken, for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.
We covered the issue exhaustively in our report from earlier this year, The Whole Picture: Where America’s Broadband Networks Really Stand, and a number of blog posts responding to the original Cost of Connectivity report in 2012. However, their report update makes the same claims as the last one using the same logic: we therefore feel compelled to issue a very similar rebuttal. The NAF report fails to engage the issue in a way that helps us understand what is really going on in our broadband markets.
There are two important questions to consider when examining these broadband markets: are companies offering a fair price for high-quality broadband services given their costs, and are they competing in a way that will offer dynamic improvements in the future? … Read the rest
In its second annual report assessing broadband speeds and prices in various nations, the New America Foundation reports some disturbing findings. Broadband provided by U.S. municipal governments costs much more than broadband provided by private sector providers in other nations. The local government of Bristol, Virginia ranks 31st; Lafayette Louisiana’s service 44th, and Chattanooga Tennessee’s, a recipient of federal stimulus funds for broadband, ranks a dismal 57th in the price of broadband. All of them charge their unsuspecting citizens prices around four times higher than their private sector competitors in other nations.
As they write, “Many American consumers take high prices and slow speeds to be a given, but our data demonstrates that it is possible to have faster, more affordable connectivity in cities of comparable density and size.” New America writes that it will be releasing a report shortly calling for policy solutions to address this terrible situation. Based on their analysis, I am sure they will be calling for Congressional legislation prohibiting socialist local governments from getting into the broadband business.
Of course my reason for pointing this out is to show the absurdity of the New America … Read the rest
The current issue of the New York Review of Books features an article by Harvard economist Benjamin Friedman, “Brave New Capitalists’ Paradise’: The Jobs?” which is yet another reminder why we should not let economists make economic policy.
Freidman starts off by rightly pointing to the period from after WWII to the early 1970s as a golden era of low unemployment and high median income growth. He then rightly points to slower income growth over the last 20 years. His solution: less technology and lower productivity.
For Freidman has joined the ever growing neo-Luddite movement in America that mistakenly attributes our economic problems to too much technology and automation. He writes, “New technology that enhances the productivity of labor… means less labor input is needed to produce what was made before.” So far so good. But he goes on to write that “increasingly over the last quarter century, the balance [of less labor for existing goods plus more labor for new goods] indeed appears to have shifted [toward less labor].”
Why? Because “the pace of labor saving technological change has accelerated.” Okay, let’s stop here. First, of all productivity growth … Read the rest
On October 16, Akami released its quarterly state of the Internet rankings comparing nations around the world on broadband speeds. The United States continued its upward trajectory, improving in both average connection speed and average peak connection speed. This new data further illustrates that the claims of some broadband Casandras, such as Susan Crawford, regarding the weakness of U.S. broadband networks are highly misleading.
As ITIF has noted, over the last five years America has made great strides in improving average connection speeds and enhancing broadband infrastructure. According to the latest Akami study, the U.S. now ranks eighth in the world in average connection speed, up from ninth last quarter, and 11th in average peak connection speed, which grew 34 percent year over year. It should also be mentioned that the nations ranking above us in both categories either have small, densely populated geographic areas where deployment costs are lower, or enjoy significant government subsidies for broadband deployment and adoption.
The data exemplifies the success of America’s competition-based broadband model in incentivizing innovation and promoting the continued deployment of high speed networks. This is particularly clear when we … Read the rest