Governmental agencies or think tanks that seek to influence governmental agencies may bear some fruit in the end. People like me who are predisposed toward getting things done hold skeptical views. But enough voices could cause something good to happen. This news concerns a policy center on industrial strategy for the US economy.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy, launched a new policy center called the Hamilton Center on Industrial Strategy to advance a new approach to U.S. economic policy that focuses squarely on bolstering America’s competitive position in advanced technologies and industries that constitute the most strategically important sectors of the economy.

As its opening salvo in the economic policy debate, ITIF’s Hamilton Center on Wednesday will publish a comprehensive global index of national performance in the competition for market leadership in advanced industries.

“The United States is at risk of losing its technological, economic, and national security edge to China. Policymakers need to decisively change course to avoid that outcome,” said ITIF President Robert D. Atkinson, who is directing the Hamilton Center. “There is a deeply entrenched belief in Washington policy circles that nations can specialize in any industry where they have a comparative advantage, and whether it’s computer chips or potato chips makes little difference, because global trade is generally a win-win proposition that will lift all boats. But it turns out semiconductors and other advanced, traded-sector industries are far more important to economic and national security than potato chips—and the research that ITIF’s Hamilton Center is publishing this week shows in no uncertain terms that global trade in those industries is like tug-of-war: China’s gains are coming at the expense of the United States and its allies. Policymakers need to focus like a laser on bolstering the country’s competitive position in the select group of advanced, traded-sector industries that serve the dual purpose of enabling economic and national security.”

The Hamiltonian perspective represents a new intellectual framework for practical competitiveness policy that enables U.S. technology leadership in global markets. The Hamilton Center’s mission is to advance strategic-industry policy that accomplishes more than simply increasing innovation inputs such as science funding, or improving economic factor conditions such as intellectual property protection, though those steps are certainly important. The goal instead must be to craft and effectively implement policies and programs that directly enable firms in America to lead in these key industries and technologies.

Under Atkinson’s leadership, with ITIF’s vice president for global innovation policy, Stephen Ezell, the Hamilton Center will conduct economic research, publish actionable policy analysis, organize high-level discussions, and engage with policymakers to rethink economic policy as a key instrument to achieve U.S. technological leadership. The Hamilton Center’s advisory board includes leading scholars, practitioners, and former officials with deep knowledge and experience on a wide range of issues involving industrial strategy matters:

  • Erica Fuchs, professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University
  • Carroll Thomas, former acting associate director for innovation and industry services at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and former director of the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership
  • Sridhar Kota, Herrick Professor Emeritus of Engineering of the University of Michigan and executive director of MForesight
  • Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, USAF (Ret.), former director of the U.S.Defense Department’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center (JAIC) 
  • Ben Armstrong, a research scientist and interim executive director of MIT’s Industrial Performance Center
  • Willy Shih, Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Management Practice in Business Administration, Harvard Business School
  • Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor, Harvard Business School
  • Bill Bonvillian, MIT lecturer and senior director of special projects at MIT’s Office of Digital Learning
  • David Adler, advisor on industrial strategy, Common Good Foundation

“With America now facing an aggressive, often malign challenge from China in particular, there needs to be stronger policy advocacy and thought leadership articulating the case for a robust national strategic-industry policy,” said Atkinson. “The place to start is firmly rebutting the deeply held view of most economists and many policymakers that all industries are created equal.”

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