Why else would Grunwald title his POLITICO piece “The anti-innovation presidency“? In that article, Grunwald laments proposed cuts and administrative gutting of certain federal agencies, arguing that flies in the face of Trump’s commitment to “innovation.”
Not only does the Trump budget slash climate science and clean energy research beloved by Trump’s critics, it whacks advanced manufacturing programs and fossil energy research catering to Trump’s supporters, as well as basic science and medical research beloved by almost everyone. It’s a powerful rejection of the innovation-industrial complex, and even though Congress is likely to ignore most of it, a similarly powerful reflection of Trump’s political war on Washington elites.
If government programs like manufacturing, energy research, and clean power are the drivers of our technology, then we should be looking at the old Soviet Union, or Maoist China (before the “special economic zones”), or any of a passel of Eastern European countries before the iron curtain collapsed, for our model. Or modern-day Venezuela, even.
Historically, though, the U.S. government has played a vital role in seeding and developing technological advances ranging from supercomputing to hydraulic fracking, advanced prosthetics to lactose-free milk, LED lighting to MRI testing. The Trump budget represents an abrupt departure from this tradition, at a time when federal expenditures on R&D have already drooped to their lowest level as a share of the economy since the Russians launched Sputnik. This has innovation experts scratching their heads, since Trump’s entire budget depends on yet another departure from budget tradition, a blithe assumption of 3 percent annual growth. Mark Muro, policy director at the Brookings Institution’s metropolitan studies program, says that with America’s workforce shrinking, the clearest pathways to that kind of robust growth would be more immigration and more innovation—and Trump has made it clear he doesn’t want more immigration. But he doesn’t seem to think Uncle Sam can help make innovation happen, either.
This is total liberal talking-point and lobbyist horse manure. Federal spending on R&D are far outpaced by corporate spending in pursuit of the profit motive. Grant money is typically sprinkled like party favors on research institutions eager for patronage and sinecures. The actual advances in technology come from profit-motivated individuals.
William Shockley started his lab to make a lot of money. His acolytes left because they felt they could do business better than he did–and together they founded Fairchild Semiconductor. The rest–from Intel to Apple–is history. The government bought lots of Fairchild’s products, but the government didn’t do the innovating.
Yes, NASA and the space race led to all kinds of innovations, but guess who lost that race? Yes, the Soviet Union, with its entire government-centered innovation model. While hundreds of contractors in the U.S. provided the innovation, because of a profit motive.
Trump’s way of fueling innovation is far–FAR–more productive than Grunwald’s call to pour more money into federal agencies. Cutting the federal corporate profit tax will spur more innovation in the U.S., because it will allow companies to spend more on R&D.
Even with a few thousand words, the only argument Grunwald is left with to continue massive government research funding is to look to command economies, like the communists of yesteryear, where innovation was by necessity a function of government.
And the fact that legislators are pushing back so hard on Trump’s cuts only bolsters the argument that the cuts are needed. That Uncle Sugar money is nothing more than patronage that the business world could replace with investment in a heartbeat. So it will likely be business as usual in the Military-Industrial Complex (or the more pernicious research money complex) of which Eisenhower warned.
America beat communism because we are capitalists, not because our government funds or creates innovation. Government creates nothing. We would do well to remember that.