Race to Innovate

Competitiveness, Manufacturing, and Trade Policy Analysis

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China’s Exaggerated Semiconductor Trade Deficit No Justification for Mercantilist Policies

As ITIF has long argued, China pursues an autarkic, indigenous economic growth and innovation development strategy, particularly with regard to high-tech products. For example, in the semiconductor sector, China has launched a $100 billion National IC (integrated circuits) Industry Development plan designed to significantly increase domestic IC production and to reduce China’s imports of semiconductors—by half in 10 years and entirely in 20 years. To justify its mercantilist industrial development policies China claims hardship: we import too many semiconductors. This argument has been broached again recently given the potential merger between two semiconductor companies, one of which, Western Digital, has a major Chinese stockholder. This simplistic analysis needs to be called out for what it is—false—and a façade for a policy which breaches rules China agreed to when joining the WTO.

One reason China has tried to give for its aggressive and mercantilist IC industry development plan is that it runs a “large” trade deficit in semiconductors—$232 billion in 2013—which supposedly justifies efforts to replace foreign imports with domestic production, but this rationale is wrong on several levels. First, this simplistic narrative fails to account for the fact that

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The Architect of Europe’s Digital Single Market Leaves Important Questions Unanswered on U.S. Visit

At a time of considerable uncertainty about the future of transatlantic digital commerce, one Europe’s top officials for such issues, Gϋnther Oettinger, visited the United States last week and did little to dispel concerns that the EU’s Digital Single Market (DSM) may raise new barriers for U.S. companies. Of particular concern for many in the United States is vague language in the DSM that appears to be designed for protectionist purposes. As one of the strategy’s chief architects, Oettinger would have been uniquely well-positioned to offer needed clarification. He didn’t.

The growing list of political, legal, and regulatory cases involving top American technology companies prompted U.S. President Barack Obama earlier this year to call out Europe for protecting domestic competitors. More generally, it has raised serious concerns about the direction that Europe’s regulatory environment is heading as it proceeds through multiple policy initiatives in parallel—the Digital Single Market, the General Data Protection Review, a revision of the U.S.-Europe Safe Harbor Framework, and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Any one of these on its own would be a major issue for the transatlantic trade relationship, but taken together, they

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The Sharing Economy Will Benefit All, But Only If We Let It

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is holding a hearing this week on “How the Sharing Economy Creates Jobs, Benefits Consumers and Raises Policy Questions.” These new Internet marketplace platforms are raising many new policy questions about U.S. labor law and competition.

A large part of the problem is that U.S. labor law remains guided by the National Labor Relations Act of 1935. A lot has changed since then. In 1935 the United States faced little international competition. The economy was dominated by large, stable companies that hired a lot of people. Many workers anticipated staying with their current employer for decades. Coincidentally, these traits also favor unionization.

Today’s global economy is characterized by international competition that we are losing in some respects. Companies are slashing fixed costs to avoid the very real threat of bankruptcy or acquisition. They can no longer make long-term commitments to their workers, who, in any case, anticipate working for many companies during their career. Labor law has strained to accommodate this.

Into this mix comes the rise of the Internet platforms that make up the sharing economy. Platforms such as Uber and

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Top 9 False Promises That China Made in Joining the World Trade Organization

After almost 15 years in the World Trade Organization (WTO), China has still failed to follow through on many of the trade-liberalizing commitments it made in order to convince free trade-oriented nations to approve its membership in 2001. These broken promises have harmed the global trading system as   well as both economic growth and the health of innovative industries across the United States and Europe. Here are nine commitments China made, but never lived up to:

  1. Refraining from requiring technology transfer as a condition of market access

Although its WTO accession agreement included rules forbidding China from tying foreign direct investment or market access to technology-transfer requirements, it remains commonplace for China to compel firms to hand over their technology in exchange for the privilege of investing, operating, or selling in China.

  1. Significantly reducing intellectual property (IP) theft and violations

Joining the WTO required China to recognize the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), which provides protections for patents, copyrights, trademarks, service marks, industrial designs, digital content, and other intangible property. Unfortunately, Chinese IP theft grows unabated. The IP Commission Report on the Theft of U.S. Intellectual

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One Hand Tied Behind Our Backs: Why America Must Do Much More to Curb China’s Dangerous Innovation Mercantilism

Ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the United States this week, ITIF arranged an expert panel to discuss the ramifications and potential U.S. responses to China’s aggressive, mercantilist strategy of shutting American technology companies out of Chinese markets. Panelists referred to a number of the key points in ITIF’s latest report—“False Promises: The Yawning Gap Between China’s WTO Commitments and Practices”—which was released to coincide with the event.

Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA), founder and chairman of the Congressional China Caucus, provided opening remarks explaining how China’s mercantilist strategy unfairly tilts the playing field against U.S. technology companies to such a degree that it threatens to undermine the U.S culture of innovation. The systemic nature of China’s mercantilist approach to stealing cutting-edge technology and intellectual property—through forced technology transfers and other means—has only grown more pervasive over the last decade. It is now critical that the U.S. government and others conduct a clear-eyed assessment and create accountability for China’s actions. Thus far, in the absence of real opposition, China has been using “controlled friction” to push as far as it can.

Robert Atkinson, president and founder of

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Beyond Demand: The Supply-side Benefits of Military Spending

World War II gets credit for dragging the United States out of the Great Depression. Despite all the clear negatives of having to become embroiled in such a conflict, the demand created during the war resuscitated an economy that had been dormant since the crash of 1929.

Today, the military continues to demand high levels of labor, investment, goods, and services. And this demand still plays a role in supporting the U.S. economy. Military spending provides its personnel and suppliers with the resources to purchase additional goods and services from others, and so on.

However, according to former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, it is the supply side, not the demand side, through which U.S. military spending creates benefits for the U.S. economy.

These supply-side benefits are primarily created not by spending on current strength of arms, but by investing in capabilities for the future. Chiefly, this comes through defense R&D. Not all the benefits of new technology developed by the military are constrained to the defense sector. Instead, they “spill over” to the private sector. At a recent event hosted by the Brookings Institute focused on defense spending

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Is the U.S. Economy in Slow Gear Forever?

Complaints about the sluggish recovery from the Great Recession are rampant and for good reason. It is by far the slowest of the recoveries from the nine recessions since WWII. Productivity and job growth have been anemic, while median inflation-adjusted household income is down.

Such extended malaise should indicate a longer-term structural problem within the economy. Instead, the problem is being treated as an extreme business cycle phenomenon. Thus, the major policy response has been monetary stimulus, which has been invoked at unprecedented levels with the result of near zero short-term interest rates for the past six years. To accomplish this historic feat, the Fed’s balance sheet was expanded from around $800 billion in 2008 to $4.5 trillion today.

The obsession over monetary policy is mind boggling. Congress holds periodic hearings on the Fed’s performance relative to its “dual mandate”: ensuring stable prices and full employment. The hearings are often contentious, as members demand to know why more progress is not being made. The financial media conduct daily assessments of when the Fed will begin to raise interest rates, as if increasing short-term rates from zero is somehow going to

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Don’t Blame ICT for Manufacturing Offshoring

During the 2000s, globalization took millions of jobs from the United States. Some have been quick to associate this job loss with the technology that ostensibly made it possible, chiefly the adoption of ICT that allowed for global connectivity. So, would the United States have been better off if it had simply never invested in ICT in the first place?

There are those who would love to somehow put the technology introduced by the ICT revolution back in the box. But a new study shows that doing so would have detrimental impact on the economy. Yes, in some cases ICT investment introduced the tools which allowed companies to outsource jobs. But, as new paper, Does ICT Investment Spur or Hamper Offshoring?, finds, the same ICT investment enabled productivity gains that kept companies at home.

Of course, it is difficult empirically to determine whether ICT investments increase the likeliness of offshoring, as causality is difficult to determine. To address this problem, authors Luigi Benfratello, Tiziano Razzolini, and Alessandro Sembenelli examined small and medium-sized Italian manufacturing firms with varying access to local broadband facilities, a random variable that was used

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U.S. Companies Continue to Suffer From the High Cost of Corporate Taxation

It is common wisdom that the world economy is becoming increasingly competitive. This puts enormous pressure on U.S. companies to lower their prices. Anything that adds extra cost to the production of U.S. goods and services threatens their viability against foreign firms. It is also common knowledge that the United States has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world. When state and local jurisdictions are added, American companies face an average statutory rate of 39.1 percent. The weighted average of other OECD countries is 29 percent and the rate in the United Kingdom, where a lot of U.S. headquarters are ending up, is 21 percent.

Some opponents of corporate rate reduction argue that this comparison is misleading, because effective tax rates, the amount of tax that companies actually pay divided by their profits, are much lower, and in some cases even negative. The implication is that U.S. companies do not suffer from a disadvantage and tax rates are not high enough to discourage economic activity.

A new study by PwC compares the effective tax rates of 320 international companies in six industries by looking at their annual reports.

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How ICT Can Drive Growth in Emerging Economies

I had the honor of giving a keynote presentation on August 6 at the Fifth Ministerial Conference on the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean in Mexico City (video here). Hosted by the United Nation’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the Government of Mexico, the conference was attended by government officials and others involved in information and communications technology (ICT) policy in the region. The focus was on how the region can coordinate more effectively on ICT policy and how Latin American and Caribbean countries can learn from each other. Three main things struck me during the conference: there was a distinct focus on trying to create the next Silicon Valley, an emphasis on fostering small businesses, and competing visions of opportunity versus growth. Although I have to say these were not surprises, as I have found that many policymakers around the world hold similar views on these topics.

Discussion turned repeatedly to the question of how to create “the next Silicon Valley,” rather than how to create the next ICT-enabled economy. In other words, too many policymakers focus on trying to

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