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Swiss National Park

Greenpeace Misses the Forest for the Trees

This week, Greenpeace came out with a report that takes several IT companies – Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft – to task for relying on so-called dirty energy to power their data centers. Even disregarding the fact that the report, How Clean is Your Cloud?, inexplicably puts nuclear power on par with coal power as an unclean energy source, Greenpeace’s analysis ironically misses the forest for the trees. While it is indeed unfortunate that some IT companies and businesses in general may derive their energy from undesirable sources, the underlying issue of real importance is that clean energy is too expensive.

ITIF said as much last year when commenting on the release of a similar Greenpeace study:

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Byte Counting, Part Two

Reihan Salam of National Review Online seeks Timothy B. Lee's reaction to the Comcast/Xbox controversy, and Lee offers a clever analysis that avoids the pertinent facts and reverses some of his former positions. Lee (not to be confused with web guy Tim Berners-Lee) is a recent graduate of the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy, an interdisciplinary grad school program that tilts heavily towards a "Freedom to Tinker" perspective. He now writes for Ars Technica, a trollish tech blog that tends to lambaste intellectual property enforcement in very harsh terms and to advocate for a highly-regulated Internet regardless. Before Princeton, Lee was something of a libertarian, but higher education has refined his views and he's now a conventional left wing regulatory hawk.

The essential issue is whether Comcast's byte metering system is unfair to Internet-based video streamers such as Netflix. In order to make this case, it's necessary for Lee to establish that the system is arbitrary in some basic way and that its arbitrariness is retarding the growth of essential video distribution services generally. In particular, Lee and his new colleagues on the "information wants to be free" wing need to show that Comcast's decision to exempt its on-demand content from the byte cap is harmful to users and also to competitive content services.

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US and Chinese Flags

What Should the U.S. Do About Chinese Solar?

Over at Grist, David Roberts asks a straight-forward question: What do you think the U.S. should do about Chinese solar?  Roberts impetus:

“Why is solar making such dramatic progress in Germany, Italy, and Spain? Because Chinese companies are flooding the global market with cheap PV.

Why is solar grid parity (the point at which PV is competitive with retail electric prices, without subsidies) approaching so much fasterthan predicted? Because Chinese companies are flooding the global market with cheap PV.

That’s the story of solar today, for better or worse: cheap Chinese PV. The question is, what should U.S. policymakers do about it? That turns out to be a tough call.”

Roberts correctly points out that cheap Chinese solar panels are increasing the rate of deployment of solar PV worldwide.  He frames it strictly as a competitiveness issue: subsidized Chinese solar panels are much more competitive than U.S. solar panels, so what should U.S. policymakers do to rectify this disparity, if anything at all:

“One school of thought says that the U.S. should adopt a mercantilist approach and fight back against what it deems unfair Chinese competition. America should

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Lessons from Foreign Countries on How U.S. States Can Spur Manufacturing

At the National Governor’s Association March 2012 Chicago Policy Academy forum on “Making” Our Future: Encouraging Growth Opportunities through Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Investment, I shared several insights on how other countries are implementing innovative policies to attract or to grow manufacturing that may be applicable for policymakers in U.S. states, and thought I would recount those policies proposals here.

One policy instrument gaining global traction is the use of innovation vouchers (or “innovation checks”) to spur R&D, new product development, and/or innovation activity in SME manufacturers. Almost a dozen countries—including Austria, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, and Sweden—as well as Iowa in the United States, use innovation vouchers. These vouchers, usually ranging in value from $5,000-$30,000, enable SMEs to “buy” expertise from universities, national laboratories, or public research institutes regarding preparatory studies, analysis of technology transfer, analysis of the innovation potential of a new technology, etc. The intent of the vouchers is both to spur innovation in SMEs and to stimulate knowledge transfer from universities and research institutions to SMEs; they also have an added benefit of more closely aligning the interests of industry and academia in a country.

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Downtown Tokyo

Apostles of Decline Denial: America Cannot be in Decline Because we Haven’t Declined Before

If there is a cottage industry in America saying that America is in decline, there’s a booming Fortune 500 business denying denial. Case in point: the two book reviews on the front page of this Sunday’s the New York Times. Jonathan Rauch reviews Ed Luce’s new book “Time to Start Thinking” which Rauch quips should be called “Time to Start Drinking.” I have not yet read Ed’s book, but have it on order from Amazon. But from talking to Ed when he was writing and from reading Rauch’s review, it’s clear that Ed is painting a tough portrait of America's declining economic competitiveness. But all one has to do it seems in response to any warning issued today is simply say "Japan" and smile in how clever one has been. The notion is that we raised the alarm about Japan in the 1980s and early 1990s and it all worked out fine. In reviewing Robert Kagan’s book, the reviewer cites Kagan showing that “declinism is as old as America itself.” (Interesting that both Kagan and Rauch are at the Brookings Institution, where, other than the folks in the Metropolitan Studies program, it seems that Brookings is committed to denying decline).

But by this logic, if we have not declined before and it was always been a "boy crying wolf phenomenon" than we can be assured we will never decline in the future. So sit back and don’t worry. We simply can’t decline. We’re America.

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Ending the Piracy Subsidy

What do information technology, intellectual property rights, and manufacturing have to do with each other? Everything. We focus on these issues at ITIF because they are more closely linked than ever and are integral to U.S. economic competitiveness and prosperity.

Therefore, I was glad to see over a dozen U.S. Senators from both parties (members of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship) recently add their voices to a plea from the nation’s attorneys general for the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on foreign manufacturers who are ripping off U.S. intellectual property and using stolen information technology in their products. It signals a growing understanding that value-added manufacturing, intellectual property, and information technology are each important in their own right but also inextricably linked. These efforts also demonstrate a growing consensus that the U.S. needs to step up enforcement of commercial rights and obligations.

As ITIF has documented in compelling and sobering detail, the U.S. manufacturing sector has experienced declines worse than those of the Great Depression in the last decade.

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