Winning the Race 2012 Memos: Science and Technology

October 29, 2012
As the 2012 presidential campaign moves in the final stage, ITIF is presenting general principles and specific recommendations across several policy areas.

Innovation powers competitiveness and boosts living standards. Science and technology, in turn, are key enablers of innovation. This premise helped drive robust federal investment in science and technology in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s that fueled our post-war prosperity. It set the stage for the IT revolution, advances in life sciences, and the creation of millions of jobs and thousands of companies in the 1990s. But today we are shortchanging our future. The United States is now just eighth among OECD countries in R&D as a share of GDP. A key reason is that federal R&D investment grew in constant dollars at just 0.3 percent per year from 1987 to 2008. To restore federal support for research as a share of GDP to 1987 levels, we would have to increase federal funding by almost $110 billion per year. Unfortunately, we are moving in the opposite direction. Fiscal hawks want to put “everything on the table” when cutting the budget, even federal support for science. Many policymakers (usually, but not exclusively, Republicans) are wary of government funding for applied research and technology commercialization and prefer to confine public funding to basic science. While most Democrats are more willing to support R&D funding, too often they are willing to trade it off for increased social welfare spending. If we are to once again become a globally competitive innovation economy we will need to do what other nations are doing: boost public investment in research and put in place new efforts to spr commercialization of this research.