We Need More Innovation, Not Less
November 10, 2017Share:
TL;DR: In the past, America built our economy on our inventiveness. Today, the Trump administration is making policies that stifle innovation in an attempt to maintain a fossil fuels status quo. It is impossible to maintain that status quo, and the American economy will suffer for these policies.
In the earliest days of our country, Europe dominated industrial innovation. The Continent drove the Industrial Revolution, creating the first devices that supplemented or eliminated manual labor in the textile, manufacturing, and transportation industries.
America, at the time, was still largely an agricultural economy, but soon Yankee inventiveness began to shine. Americans were simply the best at applied science, and although many inventions were worked on by several individuals, the last link was often the one that successfully made the marketable model. And that person was often American.
After the Civil War, American innovation really took off. As the country rapidly expanded, inventors found ready markets (and investors) to take advantage of the opportunities. Between 1866 and 1896, the number of patents issued annually doubled. The fifty years following the War have been known as the Golden Age of American innovation. American inventiveness revolutionized the agriculture, communications, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and dozens of other industries.
IMMIGRATION FUELS INNOVATION
By the turn of the 20th century, the booming American economy drew immigrants from throughout the world, and their inventions became part of the American innovation zeitgeist. From Tesla, (electricity) to Luther Simjian (optics and light) to Vladimir Zworykin (TV) and on to Einstein and Von Braun (the atomic and space travel eras), immigrants’ accomplishments fed America’s reputation as an innovative powerhouse. In fact, the 2003 National Survey of College Graduates study found that immigrants obtain patents at twice the rate of native-born Americans.
WE ARE NOW TURNING OUR BACKS ON INNOVATION
The future will require us to stop burning fossil fuels. That is fact. The world is rapidly moving on to the new paradigm. Within the next decade, the modern power generation industry will be born, predicated on distributed renewable generation in the form of wind and solar energy. Automobiles will be electric, Uberized self-driving, and with zero local pollution. These nascent industries are being funded and developed from China and India and on to the European Union. Even the Middle Eastern oil sheiks are investing in this future. Yet our current administration is cutting not only R&D funding but also subsidies and tax credits for these new industries while leaving such perks in place for the dying fossil fuels industries.
We are committing to a strategy that leaves America behind.
Perhaps worse than that shortsighted economic approach is the active doubling down on fossil energy sources, increasing government support and subsidies, slashing leasing costs on government lands, rolling back mileage requirements for autos, and unleashing a new future of pollution in our skies and seas.
In 2030, people will demand and buy high-mileage cars that run on electricity and are pollution-free. But, thanks to today’s policies, these cars won’t be made with American capital and may not be manufactured in the US at all. And American companies certainly won’t be in the forefront of global car sales.
WHO STANDS TO GAIN FROM THESE POLICIES?
Why do we take these actions? For whose benefit? These policies are being demanded by the people that own the fossil resources and who don’t want to see their investments devalued by the rise of renewable energy or pollution-free transportation. It’s as if the 19th-century owners of the buggy whip factories had engaged in suppressing the horseless carriage.
The fact that the owners of the fossil resources are the largest political donors is what gives them the “thumb” on the policy-making scales—or, in this case, their whole hand. And the average American is the loser. Profits will be privatized, but the cost of the ruinous fossil fuel practices will be socialized. The costs of the rising seas’ damage will be shared among all of us. The dirtier air, the inefficiencies of American autos—all those costs will be borne by the average working American. The rich will simply move away from the pollution and ecological degradation that their investing strategies cause.
So, for the sake of the Koch family profits, the American 21st century will indeed be named a new American age: not the American Golden Age of Innovation, but something more like the American Age of Mediocrity.