We are not necessarily number one. We are only #5 globally in the World Economic Forums Global IT Report, where Sweden and Singapore lead. (Our high school scores in math and science do not bode well for the future.)
Other, usually smaller, nations today target a piece of the high-tech future that they want to claim: India famously offers outsourced business process efficiency and a robust low-end software capability. Russia offers higher value software engineering and world-class scientists. China is not just manufacturing, they are closing the gap in life sciences, computer engineering, and more (and leveraging their market power to grow indigenous industries). The UK and Germany are make progress in life sciences. Eastern Europe also offers low-price, high-skill software capabilities and a healthy entrepreneurism. Japan and South Korea offer more bandwidth. Israel attracts global R&D. Malaysia is focused on digital media. I could go on about Brazil, Mexico, and others.
So, we must get even better in the innovation game. That requires a president who recognizes the challenge, and has a game plan.
I am hopeful that debate questioners and the Republican candidates will focus on the components of innovation, the keys to US growth in the flat world of the 21st century. Here are ten specific suggestions:
1) At least one informed question about new policies to impact US innovation;
2) Upping the bar slightly, I ask for one informed candidate comment on how private sector technology and innovation is driving national security and homeland security;
3) Somebody who would speak up for the federal role in basic science research;
4) One candidate willing to describe the federal role in applied research, and where the lines between public sector and private sector responsibilities for applied research;
5) One policy suggestion on how to speed new technology from labs (government or private) to commercialization;
6) A policy recipe for talent development, both domestically and via immigration policy;
7) A proposal to better leverage the $80 billion we spend annually on IT so that it works, serves taxpayers and rewards innovation (hint: start from scratch);
8) One idea to better leverage the $30 billion we spend on life sciences research to better partner with the $60 billion being spent by the private sector;
9) A substantive proposal to increase global respect for intellectual property;
10) An initiative to bolster our weak tax credit for research and experimentation. (It was the world’s best in the 80’s, today it is considered the 24th most attractive on the planet.)
Candidates could score on other topics, too, such as the patent system, cyber security, e-commerce taxation, international R&D collaboration, or territorial tax systems.
These issues will drive the future economy. And the Republican field includes people who know these issues and have some new ideas. Someone needs to offer a 21st century economic vision that will both inform and lead public opinion. If not, the electorate will be let down and the fall campaign will feature only one campaign making a high-tech connection.
Phillip J. Bond, Former Undersecretary of Commerce for Technology. Bond is also President and CEO of Petrizzo Bond.