U.S. industrial and attendant technology policy has a long and tortured existence often rising and falling in a decadal threat cycle: communism in the 50’s/60’s, oil shocks in the 1970’s, and the rise of Japan in the 1980’s. For many years starting in the 1990’s, the term “industrial policy” was considered verboten, off-limits in policy circles especially among free-market Republicans who preferred to let market forces drive technology investments. This led to a whip-saw effect, U.S. technology initiatives would flourish in times of threat, then languish and die as the U.S. defaulted to market forces alone. Unfortunately, while market forces are highly efficient and effective in picking winners and losers, this process has left the U.S. vulnerable, as the market for critical technologies (and their attendant supply chains) globalized.
With these shifts becoming apparent in the past few years, Robert Atkinson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) is out today with a new white paper on Strategic Industrial Policy. Because of an increasing reliance on sophisticated globally-sourced dual-use technologies such as semiconductors, Atkinson argues that the United States should adopt what he terms a Strategic-Industrial Policy. In the white paper, Atkinson attempts to refute the standard arguments against industrial policy — picking winners and losers, focus on high profile failures, politicization risks — while arguing that the threat from China to both U.S. economic and national security demands a new approach to U.S. industrial policy.