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All posts by Stephen J. Norton

A Word from the Wise is Sufficient

Some of the country’s most promising young scientists, in Washington this week to be honored at the White House, offered some useful insights for policymakers about the nation’s science innovation ecosystem: 1) The United States has a lot going for it– fine universities and talented, curious and innovative people eager to bring about monumental transformations, 2) Government funding is critical– often the only source for basic research and 3) Scale back on item #2 and you compromise #1.

At a press roundtable today recipients of Presidential Early Career Awards for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) were unanimous in saying a steady and consistent funding stream helps maintain the country’s brain power and world class R&D infrastructure. It also begins a process that can lead to successful commercialization of ideas and discoveries.

Michael Escuti, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University, affirmed that money he has received from the National Science Foundation has leveraged private capital and led to a small business startup. His has pioneered the development of liquid crystal “polarization gratings” which could have a wide array of applications from battlefield communications to advanced cameras.

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Are We a Nation of Homer Hickmans or Homer Simpsons?

Sputnik1

On this day in 1957, the Soviet Union deployed Sputnik. The two-foot, 180-pound orb’s beeping was the starting gun of the space race and we in the U.S. seemed to be just putting our sneakers on. Despite President Eisenhower’s initial shrug, America freaked out – but in good way.

In under a year, a Democratic Congress and the Republican President created and made operational the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The National Defense Education Act, which not only jump started higher education in math and science here but also promoted the study of countries we realized were gaining on us, became law. The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) came into being.  Later, of course, it became (Defense) DARPA, which yielded numerous technological advances, including what became the Internet.

When it came to being #1 in space, we didn’t wait for market forces to work their magic. In a speech at Rice University on September 12, 1962 President Kennedy said the tripling of the space budget in a little over two years was worth it. There were new jobs, new companies and new discoveries.  We were in the race but

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Policymakers’ Vision Must Be as Big as the Potential of Small and Mid-Sized Manufacturers

Take a look at this chart.

Sme_chart

See the plum and green sections in the ovals? That represents the medium-low and medium-high tech parts of the manufacturing sector. Germany and Japan have a lot of plum and green. The United States has too much blue—the low-tech activity.

This chart underscores yet again what my colleagues at ITIF and others have been arguing for years, particularly in the last two years as the country struggles through the ravages of the Great Recession: The United States needs to revitalize its manufacturing sector and can do so only with a coherent national strategy that harnesses national labs, private sector innovators and government.

This chart was presented by Stephen Ezell during an event this morning at ITIF on a new report, “International Benchmarking of Countries’ Policies and Programs Supporting Small and Mid-Sized (SME) Manufacturers.” The thrust of the report is that the governments of many of the United States’ formidable competitors for high-skill, high-wage manufacturing jobs put considerable effort into keeping their companies at the cutting edge of innovation. These governments make sure their SMEs know about ground-breaking research and then put it

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A Chinese Restaurant Menu Instead of Bumper Stickers

Stop the madness!  Purge “tax and spend liberal,” and “corporate welfare proponent” from your label lexicons.  Don’t use phrases such as “industrial policy” and “cut spending across the board” and “big business giveaways” unless you really know what they mean.  The near-death experience with the economy in 2008-9 and painfully slow recovery are the result of often well-intentioned but ultimately flawed policies championed by Democrats and Republicans alike over the last 30 years.  Individual consumers also bear some of the burden.  Times and circumstances have changed. We must rethink our economic policies and realize that bumper stickers don’t amount to thoughtful policy debates.  We need a Chinese menu approach for reviving our economy in the years ahead.

It is time for both liberals and conservatives to acknowledge that their respective orthodoxies are not enough to jumpstart American innovation and competitiveness.  Both sides need to revisit their assumptions about taxes, trade, regulations, public research and development investments and education.  Business and labor groups need to stop fueling the partisan divide and make it easier for political leaders to think about national interests not groups’ interests.  Maybe even have a joint U.S.

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Internet Wars: A Who’s Who Guide

Back in the day, there were no protesters outside corporate headquarters in Silicon Valley, no one had a position on net neutrality because no one knew what is was, and technology journalists were breathlessly trying to keep pace with new technologies and companies instead of holding forth on civil rights and liberties or network engineering protocols.

But ten or 15 years in the life of the Internet is a long time.  The Internet is the transformative phenomenon of our time and its role in our lives raises serious questions about who the Internet “belongs” to, whether it is used for good or ill, what are its technological limits, and what role government has as arbiter of its future.  The debates on these and other questions has become passionate and shrill, generating more heat than light at times.  A person trying to follow the debate might need a field guide to sort through the wide array of groups and their philosophical or economic orientation.  Allow me to offer up this breakdown, the details of which are spelled out in “Who’s Who in Internet Politics: A Taxonomy of Information Technology Policy,” a

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