We are still at the top of our research and development game, but if Greg Tassey, senior economist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, is correct, the clock is ticking down on that as well. Tassey has examined the relationship between manufacturing competency and investments in R&D and has concluded that a vibrant R&D enterprise requires a vibrant manufacturing enterprise.
The proposition that we can maintain a strong economy by doing high-tech research at home and allowing manufacturing to continue to move offshore is wrong, Tassey says. Basing our economy on services and expecting R&D to thrive is also folly.
Innovation is an ecosystem we must nurture. It is the driver of the American economy and job creation. But it is only as strong as its weakest link.
We must step up our public and private investments in science and engineering research. We must revamp our education system to encourage students to become more proficient in science, engineering and math. But, just as importantly, we must provide an affordable path for students who want to pursue high-tech vocational careers. And we must ensure that education and retraining are available for people in the labor force throughout their working lifetime.
Finally, we must enforce our trade laws to prevent “dumping” and violation of intellectual property rights. And we must rewrite tax laws to encourage industry to make R&D investments at home and move manufacturing back to our shores. We must make the research and experimentation tax credit permanent, lower corporate tax rates and eliminate loopholes that encourage companies to manufacture their goods overseas.
If we don’t address these issues soon, our innovation ecosystem will fail and our economic future will be bleak.
Michael S. Lubell is a professor of physics at the City College of the City University of New York and director of public affairs of the American Physical Society.