Real vs. Political Innovation

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A $3.8 billion investment became $796 billion in economic impact, created 310,000 jobs and launched an innovation revolution.

This, obviously, was not an Obama administration investment (spending) program that ignited this flood of innovation and economic success. It was the outpouring from “the largest single undertaking in the history of biological science and stands as a signature scientific achievement,” in the words of Simon J. Tripp.

He is senior director of Battelle Memorial Institute Technology Partnership Practice.

Tripp writes of the economic progeny of the “genomic revolution.” The Human Genome Project (HGP) ran from 1990 to 2003 to unravel the human genome. It determined the sequence of 3 billion DNA base pairs. While advancing medicine and science, the “genomic revolution” is aiding development of renewable energy, industrial biotechnology, agricultural biosciences, veterinary science, environmental and forensic sciences, studies in ecology, and studies from anthropology to zoology. But little has been written or analyzed until now regarding the economic impact of this historic undertaking. The new report includes specific examples of “genomics in action,” highlighting application of tools, technologies, and knowledge in fields such as health care, agriculture, industrial biotechnology, and even security and justice.

In his State of the Union speech in January, Obama, in a stunning acknowledgement, declared, “Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation.” But, he added, “throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need.” He said, “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.”

Basic research has long been the role of government, with national labs and universities funded largely by government. But government also has an essential duty to assure policies and a regulatory environment favorable to innovation and entrepreneurship.

After Obama shocked many listeners when he admitted our free enterprise system drives innovation, he quickly reminded his audience that “throughout history our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they needed…because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research.”

Then, the president launched into his shopworn, fantasy-world. He revealed his plans to throw taxpayer money at the impractical and wasteful while penalizing free-market innovators. He over-promised: “We can break our dependence on oil with biofuels and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 [which no realist in the industry thinks is anyway near possible]…eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies,” and “by 2035 [have] 80 percent of America’s electricity” come from “clean energy sources.” Another wishful plan to be attempted with federal subsidies.

While initially disguising himself as a Chamber of Commerce free-enterpriser, he transformed into what scholar Murray Sabrin said resembled what Mussolini stated succinctly: “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” Sabrin is professor if finance at Anisfield School of Business, Ramapo College of New Jersey.

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  • StephenD

    I don't think very many American's are against our government cooperating with research and development and innovations that can prove to better the lives of all. The problem comes when a political agenda steers the effort. When my money is directed to counteract the "threat" of Global Warming for instance, it bothers me when my money is being used. When we have our money "researching" ways to instruct men in Africa how to wash their genitals after sex to counteract rampant STD's, it bothers me. A more frugal use of funding not based on political expedience and this would be a non-issue.

  • Bowmanave

    Hi, thanks for the invitation to Saturday’s event, which I wasn’t able to attend, but I’ve enjoyed reading the various online accounts of it, particularly Peter’s and the video from Rob Stewart.

    However, the main reason for non-attendance is my cynicism about the potential of blogging to effect political change, at least insofar as it merely provides a conduit to more traditional methods of discourse.