“We need to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.”
-U.S. President Barack Obama during 2011 State of the Union
In the eyes of many including Barack Obama, the U.S is facing serious issues. The economy is unstable, healthcare reform is troublesome, and of course, international politics are not so simple. (See the Middle East) However, while elaborating on all these things in his recent State of the Union speech, President Obama spent serious time discussing a different crisis; a decline in American innovation. Why does this scare him, and so many people others around the United States? Because to those individuals, a lack of U.S. innovation signals a greater problem—lost ground to China, the United States’ top competitor. There is no doubt that the U.S. should forge ahead with programs to boost innovation capabilities, however is it time to panic just yet?
The real answer is no. The U.S. is the world’s leader in education, business, human rights, as well as several other important domains. Take Duke University for example: It is home to a host of students from different ethnicities and nationalities. Duke produces leaders in wide variety of realms, and affords its students a top-notch education. Duke demonstrates the United States’ strength in that it is one of several institutions that operate at this high level. According to a US News and World Report, 31 of the top 100 universities in the world are located in the U.S. whereas China only has 2. In regards to lost innovation in business, if one simply reflects back to U.S. accomplishments over the past 10 years, it is clear that there is no deprivation of creativity. Facebook, twitter, and Google are the products of American individuals and companies, and they are just a few of the several companies that have been immensely successful and changed the quality of life. China, although creating ingenious products like the Toyota Prius, has not experienced the same success. Lastly, China cannot compare to the U.S. to cultural acceptance and human rights. The easiest way to illustrate this is through the fact that in 1989 the events at Tiananmen Square occurred, but still to this day, Chinese individuals do not have access to information regarding what happened. Their Internet is censored, and their ability to search freely, and voice your opinion is heavily limited. In the U.S., freedom of speech and ability to browse is practically a given.
Do not take everything said to mean that U.S. does not have several things to address. Although both citizens of the U.S. as well as the government need not to panic, there is validity in the claim that heavy emphasis should be placed on growing innovative capabilities within the states. China has rolled out a program that includes both big investments in national industries as well as patent laws that favor Chinese companies. Similarly, the Chinese government is requiring that all foreign companies transfer their technology to China before selling their products in that market. Without taking the appropriate steps, complacency would be troublesome for America. However, if handled correctly, the U.S. should, and will remain on top.
The question then becomes, how can the U.S. address this issue? It’s a loaded answer, but for starters, it’s an absolute necessity that the United States begins incentivizing innovation. Companies should be rewarded for creating cutting edge products, and individuals should want to create new things. The U.S. government could attempt a subsidy program, or better yet for large corporations, tax breaks. Or perhaps award scholarships to those students who are able to come up with beneficial ideas. Things such as this will have the effect of instilling a drive in these groups to enhance research and development, which in the end produces results. I am aware it is much easier said than done to install programs, however there are several viable options that could yield positive results.
When it comes down to it, the U.S. was founded on the notion of creativity and innovation. It is what allowed the forefathers to create such a unique and successful nation. Without the consistent presence of new products and ideas, the U.S. would not have sustained over time. In order to last another 200 years as the preeminent world power, America needs to dig deep and explore its creative side. Although now is not the time to sound the alarm, that day could come down the line, if the issue of innovation is not addressed.