The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the leading U.S. science and tech policy think tank, today released a primer on President-Elect Trump’s positions of tech and innovation policy, building on the candidate comparison we released back in September.
Technological innovation has long been and will continue to be critically important to both income growth and national competitiveness. So it is important that we examine President-elect Donald Trump’s policy agenda through that lens.[i]
This report is based on information gathered directly from the president-elect’s campaign websites and policy documents, and from media accounts of statements he has made. The report begins with an overview of the general philosophy the president-elect has articulated on technology, innovation, and trade policy, then examines his policy positions across eight specific issue areas:
Innovation and R&D
Education and Skills
Broadband and Telecommunications
Taxes and Budget
Internet and Digital Economy
Life Sciences and Biotechnology
General Philosophy toward Technology and Innovation Policy
During the campaign, President-elect Trump largely focused on issues other than technology and innovation policy. And when he spoke about the tech industry, his comments occasionally were critical. In general, there were few articulated policy positions, especially outside of the tax and trade area. As of early August, there were just six policy positions listed under the “Positions” tab of the official Trump campaign website.[ii] A separate “Issues” area of the site consisted of only about 20 short videos (most less than a minute in length) in which Trump discussed his agenda, but the videos that could be related to innovation (e.g., “jobs,” “education,” and “the economy”) provided only broad brushstrokes and no specific mention of innovation.[iii] The Trump campaign site did provide some detail about his position on China, which would have the federal government take a much stronger position on issues such as currency manipulation and intellectual property theft. In an August 8 speech at the Detroit Economic Club, Mr. Trump also offered details on his economic plan, which includes reducing the corporate tax rate to 15 percent, allowing unlimited first-year expensing on all equipment, taxing foreign source income that is repatriated at 10 percent, and significantly reducing federal regulation.
Generally conservative position of significantly reducing business taxes and regulations, including a significant reduction of corporate taxes.
Unclear position on high-skill immigration.
Supports strong homeland security with potential effects on weakening encryption.
Would strengthen trade enforcement, including by renegotiating existing trade deals.
Innovation and R&D
Among nations, a fierce race for global innovation leadership has emerged.[iv] Countries increasingly recognize the importance of coordinated national innovation and R&D strategies in driving growth and spurring the competitiveness of their enterprises, which explains why more than four dozen countries have now created national innovation strategies and/or launched national innovation foundations.[v] But as ITIF found in a comparative analysis of 56 leading nations, U.S. policies are only the world’s 10th-best (on a per capita basis) at proactively contributing to global innovation.[vi] That’s in large part because the U.S.
government underinvests in R&D relative both to historical norms and to peer nations (on a per capita basis) and also because the United States increasingly offers less attractive incentives for R&D activity; in fact, the U.S. R&D tax incentive is now only the world’s 27th most generous.[vii]
While, as a nation, the United States continues to invest the most annually in scientific research in absolute terms, the country has slipped to just ninth among OECD nations in terms of research expenditures per capita.[viii] Much of this is due to cuts in federal funding of R&D.
In fact, federal funding for R&D as a share of GDP in 2016 will be the lowest it has been since the Russians launched Sputnik, almost 50 years ago.[ix] And faltering federal R&D funding also explains why the United States has fallen to just 24th out of 39 OECD nations in government funding of university R&D.[x]
In fact, to restore the federal R&D to GDP ratio to average levels in the 1980s, the federal government would need to invest $65 billion more—per year.[xi] This matters because federal R&D funding is crucially important to U.S. innovation, as ITIF has documented in numerous reports.[xii] But so are a host of other policies to support innovation, including patent reform, and tech transfer.
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