Innovation Files has moved! For ITIF's quick takes, quips, and commentary on the latest in tech policy, go to

All posts by Stephen J. Norton

David Leonhardt introduces the panel on "Innovation Economics"

At “Innovation Economics” Launch, Sobering Data and Noble Aspirations

“There is no more important subject to the future of this society than innovation. There is nothing that can solve our problems in the way strong economic growth can solve our problems.” That is how The New York Times Washington Bureau Chief David Leonhardt framed the discussion at today’s Washington launch of the new book Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage.  From strides in curing childhood leukemia to our rivalry with China, innovation-based economic growth is critical, he observed.

With innovation so critical to tackling problems and so elemental to economic growth, it is dismaying the United States has slipped as an innovation leader in the last decade or so.  But we have. The stubbornly-high unemployment and unimpressive growth are symptoms of a structural problem that is resisting cures. ITIF Senior Analyst and co-author Stephen Ezell likened it to having a weakened heart and expecting it will be healthy again with the occasional injection or pill.

In fact, we allowed the heart muscle to weaken because we began to pull back what had worked in the past. In the mid-1960s, the U.S. government alone invested more in scientific

Read the rest

Innovation Economic Consensus Versus Washington Economic Consensus

Wondering why the economic recovery has been so sluggish? We need to shift from the Washington Economic Consensus to the Innovation Economic Consensus. Here is a preview of both of these opinions, as laid out in the forthcoming book, Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage: ... Read the rest

Advanced Manufacturing Convention in Massachusetts

Voters are Ahead of Washington on Manufacturing

A new poll suggests there might be hope for American manufacturing – if democracy actually works. The poll said 89 percent of Americans think we need a national manufacturing strategy – 89 percent! Two-thirds of respondents said China’s trade policies hurt U.S. employment and 62 two percent said Washington needs to do something about it. Those were some of the results of a bipartisan survey released this week by the Alliance for American Manufacturing. ITIF has championed the need for a national manufacturing strategy for quite a while and spearheaded an effort to bring labor, business and economic thinkers together to adopt a Charter for Revitalizing American Manufacturing. But sometimes it seems hardly anyone in Washington is listening.

Pundits and policymakers across the political spectrum keep arguing that we’re still a manufacturing powerhouse and that we’ve simply become more productive and shifted to higher-end products. Factories are roaring back from the recession. Besides, who cares?  Manufacturing was yesterday’s economy and the services sector is where the action is now, they argue. No need for special treatment for manufacturing. Fortunately, it appears voters are ahead of the elites on this

Read the rest

Frankfurt, Germany

Deutschland Uber Vereinigte Staaten

Before watching a video on this morning of a shark leaping from the water to snag the fish an amateur angler was about to reel in, I had to view a 30-second ad for Germany. “There are many reasons to invest in Germany – all of them smart,” the ad asserted. As each of the smart reasons popped up I thought about whether the United States could make a comparable claim:

  • “World-beating infrastructure.” Maybe not the adjective I would have used if giving p.r. advice to Germany but I conceded the U.S. can no longer make that claim.  My Rorschach response to   “U.S. infrastructure” is “America’s crumbling roads and bridges.” The one part of my vacation I am dreading this summer is JKF International. We can’t even define shovel-ready.
  • “Europe’s most dynamic economy”: At first I thought Germany was setting a pretty low bar on that one.  Surely, the U.S. could make a similar claim if it was in Europe. But then I thought about Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands. In many metrics of innovation-based economic dynamism in ITIF’s Atlantic Century II, these countries ranked higher than
Read the rest

Thanks for Today Alan Turing

You are reading this on a tablet, a handheld device or perhaps simply a desktop on which you may later stream a movie, download a book, email photos to a friend on the other side of the world, or book a flight to see that friend. If asked who you would thank for these technological marvels, who’s name would pop into your head? Steve Jobs? Maybe Robert Noyce, inventor of the integrated circuit. How about the scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Products Agency (DARPA) who laid the foundation for what became the Internet? Or perhaps, if you saw Google’s doodle today, you’d know to give credit to Alan Turing.

Turing was born on this date exactly 100 years ago. An eccentric genius, Turing, perhaps more than anyone in this century, can be credited for conceiving and creating the basis for the modern computing ecosystem; the algorithm, artificial intelligence, artificial language, the machine itself which bore his name. If no Turing, then no Microsoft, no Google, no Facebook.  “This was not just the first man to walk over the landscape, but this was the man who put the landscape

Read the rest

Genius Loves Company

Useful comment by Suzy Khimm about the source of innovation and Perry Rotella about how innovation happens in companies.  Solitary genius is only part of the innovation ecosystem. That has always been true. It’s especially true now. As anyone who has been to the lab at Menlo Park can attest, Thomas Edison’s intensity was imparted on a team, who often slept on cots in the lab along with their boss, when working toward what seemed like a breakthrough.  In today’s world, how we do things is as much innovation as the products themselves.  The U.S. tax code needs to better reflect that. When Congress takes up corporate tax reform, lawmakers should consider a few ideas from ITIF. First, make clear that process R&D qualifies for the R&D tax credit. Currently, the way Treasury interprets the law can make it difficult for companies to take the credit for process innovation. In addition, it is easy for process innovation to spill into the market.  If we make it easier and more economically worthwhile to try new ways of producing, the more firms will invest in ways to improve productivity, and the more competitive they will be. It might also make the U.S. a more attractive place to expand manufacturing operations. Second, Congress should use the tax code to promote more collaboration between companies as well as non-corporate entities. ... Read the rest

Obama speaks at Alcoa

Time to Turn NNMI from Concept to Reality

Why do we need a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), a $1 billion initiative the Obama Administration has proposed to facilitate public-private collaboration to enhance manufacturing competitiveness?  Why not just reduce the tax and regulatory burden on companies and let free enterprise work its magic?

That question was the basis of some skepticism of NNMI voiced by members of the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation at a public hearing today. As one Member put it, why not do it the “old-fashioned” way?

Well, in a way this is the old-fashioned way.  When it came to innovations such as the Internet, “fracking” in the energy sector, advances in biotechnology that have extended our lives, and other breakthroughs, the government played a modest role in undertaking initial costs and risks of R&D or in harnessing the nation’s talent and resources in ways the private sector could not or would not do. This has been true since land grant colleges were created in the 19th century and helped make America the world’s breadbasket. That’s one reason why NNMI makes sense.

That’s not say that

Read the rest

Bits & Bricks

Originally authored by Phil Bernstein, Vice President of Autodesk and cross-posted from the Digital Energy Solutions Campaign Blog. For ITIF’s take on bringing innovation to the contruction industry, check out Steve Norton’s coverage of the Bits and Bricks event here.

The construction industry is widely understood to have missed the productivity surge created by the digital revolution. Why is that, and what is the government’s role in stimulating innovation and change in today’s building industry, particularly in the digital realm? This week’s ITIF “Bits and Bricks” conversation suggested some provocative opportunities. The U.S. Government, between DoD and GSA, represents the world’s largest property owner, tenant and construction client combined. So anything they decide to do will move the needle in the otherwise highly fragmented and disorderly world of architects, engineers and builders. But how to focus?

Our panel explored a number of ideas and formed more questions than answers. Even the Government doesn’t act a single entity, so its influence is and will be felt in a variety of ways. But some common themes emerged from the discussion, including:

  • Identifying and sponsoring innovation research (an area traditionally
Read the rest

Cranes Over Downtown Washington, DC

IT is the Foundation for Better Building

We live in a wireless world of tablets, 4G networks, and cloud computing. But on construction sites, where the future is actually being built, making sure there’s place to plug in a microwave to heat up an abandoned cup of coffee is too often about as high tech as it gets. Despite innovations in recent years such as virtual design models, building innovation modeling and laser scanning, the construction industry may have the distinction of having lower productivity than it did 40 years ago. At best construction productivity lags far behind other sectors. “You really have to work at that,” commented ITIF President Rob Atkinson.

Atkinson was speaking at “Bits and Bricks: Transforming the Construction Industry Through Innovation,” an event ITIF co-hosted with the Information Technology Industry Council and Autodesk, that explored how IT can play a crucial role in making the construction sector more productive, innovative and globally competitive. Even in these recent bleak recession years, we spent some $1.3 trillion on “things that are built and how they are used,” according to S. Shyam Sunder, director, Engineering Laboratory, NIST – that is roughly 4.5% of U.S.

Read the rest

The More Worthwhile Energy Policy Conversation


On November 17, 2011, energy policy was the hot topic in Washington. On Capitol Hill, a House panel grilled DOE Secretary Steven Chu over the bankruptcy of government-supported solar firm Solyndra. Congress needs to perform its oversight role but what was striking about the hearing was how little actual energy policy was discussed – it was more political theatre.

In contrast, on the same day, over 300 leading climate and energy advocates, policymakers, Congressional aides, academics, and journalists attended Energy Innovation 2011. They shared and debated a range of insights related to devising a cost-effective way for the government to enable the private sector to make affordable clean energy a reality. It’s the conversation Congress should be having, but is not.

Energy Innovation 2011 successfully built on last year’s groundbreaking conference(link to EI10), which brought together hundreds of clean energy advocates focused on the move away from traditional, but politically-dead carbon pricing schemes and towards energy innovation policy. The real goal? Make clean energy affordable and competitive with fossil fuels without subsidies – and do it as soon as possible. This year’s conference moved from the why to the how.

Read the rest