President Obama’s three percent solution

May 5, 2009

Jonathan Hoganson– Jonathan R. Hoganson is the deputy executive director of the Technology CEO Council, a public policy advocacy group that includes the CEOs of Intel, HP, Dell, Applied Materials, EMC, Motorola, Micron Technology and IBM. He previously was the legislative director for Rep. Rahm Emanuel and policy director for the House Democratic Caucus. The views expressed are his own. –

A few years from now, when our economy has regained its stride, we may look back to a little-noticed announcement last Monday that spurred the resurgence. Amid swine-flu hysteria and First 100 Days hoopla, President Obama quietly announced a commitment to spending three percent of the U.S. GDP on science research and development.

This is a profoundly important step, but if we are to continue to lead the world, the United States must also develop a comprehensive policy to foster innovation. For too long, the United States has lived in a “next month” mindset when it came to our economy. This short-termitis has led to sub-prime lending, credit card debt and a general lack of long-term planning. And in no place has this been more evident than in the sciences.

For the past decade our spending on research and development has been anemic at best, and beginning in 2005, federal funding of academic research actually began to decline. This was happening at the same time our overseas competitors were increasing their commitment. For example, China has increased its R&D spending by an average of 17 percent each year in an effort to catch and surpass developed nations’ spending.

Currently, the United States ranks seventh among developed countries in R&D spending as a ratio of its GDP. Is that a recipe for continued economic and technology leadership?

There is, in fact, a direct correlation between R&D and scientific leadership. As the commitment to science ebbed, so did the U.S. share of worldwide patents and research articles in peer-reviewed journals. And R&D has been proven to catalyze economic growth and enable comparative advantage for developed companies and economies.

Now is the time to make technology and innovation a cornerstone. In the last three months we have made a good start, making broadband, health-care information technology and green tech key components of the stimulus package. The president has proposed a 10-year extension of the R&D tax credit to give businesses the incentive to continue to invest in cutting-edge technologies and products. By advancing these initiatives, we are developing the foundation of a national innovation strategy, but Congress must work with the president to advance a comprehensive strategy.

In recent years, countries such as Germany, France, Japan, New Zealand, Finland, Australia, Denmark, and Australia have established or expanded agencies to promote technology and innovation. While the United States is unlikely to create a new agency, the White House can develop an inter-agency strategy that will restore America’s preeminence as the world’s leader in innovation.

This strategy could synergize the Obama administration’s efforts in clean energy, broadband, and health reform, with new initiatives in education and R&D. It could also develop a system for partnering with venture capital to foster entirely new companies and industries. At the same time, we could remove non-tariff trade barriers, enforce international agreements, open new markets and provide a globally competitive corporate tax structure. All of these are crucial components of any inter-agency innovation strategy.

The last time our government put this type of concerted effort into scientific research was President Kennedy’s challenge to land a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. Not only did we achieve that goal, it also spawned a generation of scientists and technologies that shaped the 1980’s and 1990’s. What followed was an era of Internet, communications and medical advances that spurred an unprecedented period of economic prosperity.

President Obama’s bold commitment to R&D carries an important reminder that the 1960’s space race was more than a demonstration of increased federal funding; it was a comprehensive strategy to ensure that America led the world. The president seems willing and able to replicate that success today; Congress and industry need to work with his team to make this happen. It’s time for America to take another giant leap for mankind.

46 comments

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There was some concern about the private sector dominating research, twenty years ago. For a while, they even seemed to be succeeding. The problem has two parts.

First is that the reason for this dominance was not just a financial concern, the private sector has more realistic goals and a less ideologically manipulated view of how to reach them. This made corporate research more productive.

However, the second part of the problem, was that the goals of the private sector became in and of themselves manipulated. The private sector has only the most selfish motives and every reason to back stab and steal from their own innovators. It did not take long for the best of a generation to realize that their gold did not lay in creating, but in stealing the creations of others, usually by enlisting the government to help them do it.

This is where the bottom falls out of any attempt to take research out of the private sector and return it to the Federal Dole. A government, particularly a government hemorrhaging it vital resources to foreign governments, can not make up in funding what it lacks in freedom. It is not possible to foster innovation while bludgeoning the populace with what amounts to Intellectual Eminent Domain and Thought Policing.

All of Western Academia is Ignoring Reality in favor of Politics with the Media acting as their Collective Consciousness and then they are left wondering why they are losing ground to more Realistic People in other Cultures.

Posted by Abadon | Report as abusive

To Benny Acosta
What you described was already proclaimed: “To everybody according to his needs, from everybody according to his capabilities”. It is called COMMUNISM. And take from a person who lived inthe first staged , that was called SOCIALISM. It never will work. And it looks to me we are going there full speed right now.

Posted by Sandy | Report as abusive

Very little known regarding efficiency of US R&D spending. Some say that 70% of global patent registrations originate from US – but this figure is hardly illustrative, if you look at what is there on the market. If take solar and wind power, it is the European companies that lead the way. Eco-solution – the same thing. Of course US is big in IT, but this is built on ealier achievements and competitors are closing the gap pretty fast.

One should not fool itself – US R&D spending was funded as US consumer spending by foreign money. Whether or not America will be able to throw money into numerous R&D projects without really caring about their efficiency. It is all about the level of debt. You can of course confrim committment, but will be able to afford it?

Posted by dv | Report as abusive

Let it go. Why are we still so transfixed on the “economic issues”?. This is just a system. Wipe the debt clean. Forget printing more money. Just forgive all debt and write it off. Let transactions occur as normal and focus on creating an artificially intelligent, self sustaining automated, central accounting system, free of central human control.

Make money do what it is supposed to do, which is facilitate the transfer of resources from one location to another for human use. Are we seriously trying to fix a system that ACTUALLY REQUIRES HUMAN ECONOMIC LOOSERS IN ORDER TO FUNCTION? We are still approaching this “problem” from the perspective of dependence and reliance upon the system. This is absolutely absurd. How on God’s green Earth is a money problem even remotely as important as the prospect of homeless, starving, and dieing human beings? Especially when we consider that the world’s children suffer to a much higher degree because of our ridiculous over emphasis on money as a means of control rather than as a tool to aid human progress.

Why should one person get the best health care available while another dies simply because of a lack of funds? Are you kidding me?! Seriously? Are we still willing to accept this as “normal”? Are we willing to let minds go undeveloped, and potential human treasure simply wither and die because money is actually given a higher priority than your child or mine? No one can possibly be so stupid as to accept such a condition when they realize the implications.

How many Americans find themselves forced into being “professional” for the majority of their most creative and energetic waking moments? If you have to spend so much time being professional, then someone tell me where we are supposed to discover and live up to our greatest potential as human beings?

This isn’t some idealistic rhetorical question either. I’m serious. To what end will we devote all of our technology? To what end will we devote our human and material treasure? To what end will we devote our efforts? Do we really want to spend all of that, on fixing a system that prioritizes money over the value of your home, your community, and your family? Or do we want to devote all of those resources to forging a human centered course for the next millennium?

We are, as citizens, in the position making and enforcing this choice. We will choose by way of our actions. And we will choose by our lack of action. But make no mistake. We will choose. Let us please choose wisely.

Making a focused commitment to increase federal spending on science and technology is a smart move. So many of the ‘stimulus’ dollars are being invested in one time expenditures that serve an immediate physical infrastructure want or need, but create little ongoing economic stimulus after project completion. Past investments in science and technology by the Federal Government, like those at NASA in the past century, have resulted in new technological advancements that then migrated to the private sector across many segments and applications spawning new industries, jobs, and more innnovation. This is not science for science’s sake, this is an investment in our future.

It’s regrettable “Real Deal” was the only one other than me who posted regarding the Superconducting Supercollider (SSC). Real Deal does not appear to be a professional scientist, and yet expresses discouragement toward reviving the SSC, even without supporting why such a major stride in particle physics should be abandoned and surrendered to Europe’s LHC at CERN, at only one-quarter of the SSC’s energy. In fact, much of the scientific community doubts the LHC will have enough energy (at 8 tera eV) even to discover or disprove the hypothetical Higgs boson that’s purported by various theorists to be the particle that can account for the origin of mass; or to investigate the existence of the graviton particle that’s believed to carry the force of gravity. The SSC (at 40 tera eV) will have by far the best chance of unlocking these secrets.

While Real Deal’s suggested research projects such as these below* are also laudable, the USA should not give up on the SSC and its enormous long-range benefits.

- nuclear fusion power generator*
- national electric transportation grid*
- next generation Internet*

Please see my first post on the subject for information and arguments why the USA very much needs the SSC, and let’s please hear from informed scientific sources on this most important endeavor that’s more momentous than even current space research.

Posted by Leonard Zane | Report as abusive