Best of the Week
Most Popular
1. US Housing Market Real Estate Crash The Next Shoe To Drop – Part II - Chris_Vermeulen
2.The Coronavirus Greatest Economic Depression in History? - Nadeem_Walayat
3.US Real Estate Housing Market Crash Is The Next Shoe To Drop - Chris_Vermeulen
4.Coronavirus Stock Market Trend Implications and AI Mega-trend Stocks Buying Levels - Nadeem_Walayat
5. Are Coronavirus Death Statistics Exaggerated? Worse than Seasonal Flu or Not?- Nadeem_Walayat
6.Coronavirus Stock Market Trend Implications, Global Recession and AI Stocks Buying Levels - Nadeem_Walayat
7.US Fourth Turning Accelerating Towards Debt Climax - James_Quinn
8.Dow Stock Market Trend Analysis and Forecast - Nadeem_Walayat
9.Britain's FAKE Coronavirus Death Statistics Exposed - Nadeem_Walayat
10.Commodity Markets Crash Catastrophe Charts - Rambus_Chartology
Last 7 days
Covid, Debt and Precious Metals - 3rd Jun 20
Gold-Silver Ratio And Correlation - 3rd Jun 20
The Corona Riots Begin, US Covid-19 Catastrophe Trend Analysis - 3rd Jun 20 -
Stock Market Short-term Top? - 3rd Jun 20
Deflation: Why the "Japanification" of the U.S. Looms Large - 3rd Jun 20
US Stock Market Sets Up Technical Patterns – Pay Attention - 3rd Jun 20
UK Corona Catastrophe Trend Analysis - 2nd Jun 20
US Real Estate Stats Show Big Wave Of Refinancing Is Coming - 2nd Jun 20
Let’s Make Sure This Crisis Doesn’t Go to Waste - 2nd Jun 20
Silver and Gold: Balancing More Than 100 Years Of Debt Abuse - 2nd Jun 20
The importance of effective website design in a business marketing strategy - 2nd Jun 20
AI Mega-trend Tech Stocks Buying Levels Q2 2020 - 1st Jun 20
M2 Velocity Collapses – Could A Bottom In Capital Velocity Be Setting Up? - 1st Jun 20
The Inflation–Deflation Conundrum - 1st Jun 20
AMD 3900XT, 3800XT, 3600XT Refresh Means Zen 3 4000 AMD CPU's Delayed for 5nm Until 2021? - 1st Jun 20
Why Multi-Asset Brokers Like are the Future of Trading - 1st Jun 20
Will Fed‘s Cap On Interest Rates Trigger Gold’s Rally? - 30th May
Is Stock Market Setting Up for a Blow-Off Top? - 29th May 20
Strong Signs In The Mobile Gaming Market - 29th May 20
Last Clap for NHS and Carers, Sheffield UK - 29th May 20
The AI Mega-trend Stocks Investing - When to Sell? - 28th May 20
Trump vs. Biden: What’s at Stake for Precious Metals Investors? - 28th May 20
Stocks: What to Make of the Day-Trading Frenzy - 28th May 20
Why You’ll Never Get Another Stimulus Check - 28th May 20
Implications for Gold – 2007-9 Great Recession vs. 2020 Coronavirus Crisis - 28th May 20
Ray Dalio Suggests USA Is Entering A Period Of Economic Decline And New World Order - 28th May 20
Europe’s Coronavirus Pandemic Dilemma - 28th May 20
I Can't Pay My Payday Loans What Will Happen - 28th May 20
Predictive Modeling Suggests US Stock Markets 12% Over Valued - 27th May 20
Why Stocks Bear Market Rallies Are So Tricky - 27th May 20
Precious Metals Hit Resistance - 27th May 20
Crude Oil Cuts Get Another Saudi Boost as Oil Demand Begins to Show Signs of Life - 27th May 20
Where the Markets are heading after COVID-19? - 27th May 20
Silver Springboards Higher – What’s Next? - 26th May 20
Stock Market Key Resistance Breakout Is Where the Rubber Meets the Road - 26th May 20
5 Ways To Amp Up Your CFD Trading Today - 26th May 20
The Anatomy of a Gold Stock Bull Market - 26th May 20
Stock Market Critical Price Level Could Soon Prompt A Big Move - 25th May 20
Will Powell Decouple Gold from the Stock Market? - 25th May 20
How Muslims Celebrated EID in Lockdown Britain 2020 - UK - 25th May 20
Stock Market Topping Behavior - 24th May 20
Fed Action Accelerates Boom-Bust Cycle; Not A Virus Crisis - 23rd May 20
Gold Silver Miners and Stocks (after a quick drop) Ready to Explode - 23rd May 20
3 Ways to Prepare Financially for Retirement - 23rd May 20
4 Essential Car Trade-In Tips To Get The Best Value - 23rd May 20
Budgie Heaven at Bird Land - 23rd May 20

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter


A National Network for U.S. Manufacturing Innovation?

Politics / US Politics May 02, 2012 - 07:40 AM GMT

By: Ian_Fletcher


Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleIt’s no secret American manufacturing is in crisis, and that its problems form a significant component of our present economic mess. I’ve written before about how the Obama administration may (may!) be starting to get serious about the problem.

Another small but significant data point on the question of whether the administration is serious took place this last week: the government’s new National Network for Manufacturing Innovation held its first conference, designed to elicit public input on how this program will be designed and run.

The event was held at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a good engineering school in Troy, NY, and while I was not there myself, the head of my organization was, and he debriefed me on what went on.  (The NNMI website is here.  RPI’s page on the conference is here. Click here for a pdf of the conference schedule.)

Now the details of NNMI haven’t yet been settled, so I can’t comment on them.  But it is possible to know, even at this early juncture, that if it is to succeed, its policies must rest upon understanding and implementing a correct vision of its economic rationale. Absent this, it is likely to either fail to generate economic benefits to the nation, or collapse outright in a flurry of Solyndra-style scandals.  There is a huge temptation to just declare manufacturing “holy,” as environmental technology was previously declared holy, and throw public money at it.

So what should NNMI do instead?

The first rule of industrial policy is that “create jobs” is not a valid strategy, despite the political appeal of this concept.  Anyone can spend $1.00 to create $.75 worth of jobs. The problem is that the $1.00 has to come from somewhere—it has to be taxed, borrowed, or cut from other spending.  And $1.00 in the public’s pockets will, other things being equal, create $1.00 worth of jobs, not $.75.  As a result, while benefits may be apparent, they will not be real.

Effective industrial policy depends upon finding uses for $1.00 that will somehow create more jobs than would have been created if the money had just been left with the public.  This can be done: the idea that it is impossible is ultimately identical with the proposition that markets are perfectly efficient: a known falsehood in other areas of economics and ultimately an ideological dogma.

Government has a number of legitimate roles to play here, and many of them are quite complex.  But most of what is fundamental boils down to solving two key problems that the private sector cannot solve on its own:

1. Appropriability, or the fact that many useful innovations are difficult for the innovator to capture the full economic value of.

2. Time horizons, or the fact that the private sector won’t invest in projects whose profits, although appropriable, are too far in the future.

So-called infratechnologies fall into the first category. These are technologies, like the Internet, which enable a huge number of profitable innovations but which are themselves, for various reasons, hard to make a direct profit off of. As a result, the free market tends to under-supply them, and there is a strong prima facie case for the government to fund their development.

To take one example, commercial nanotechnology companies depend, according to Greg Tassey of the National Institute of Standards and Technologies, upon the following key infra-technologies:

•         Techniques for measuring the shapes, dimensions, and electrical characteristics of the various molecules making up nanoscale devices.

•         Techniques for manipulating and measuring the spin of individual electrons.

•         Scientific and engineering data for characterizing the fundamental physical behavior and long-term reliability of new nanoelectronic materials.

Mainstream neoclassical economics assumes (often tacitly and without even realizing the issue exists) that new technologies grow automatically from advances in pure science. It also assumes that new technologies automatically commercialize themselves. But both these assumptions are observably untrue, largely due to appropriability and time-horizons problems.

Historically, the U.S. solved the problems of appropriability and time horizons by indirect means.  We privileged certain oligopolistic sectors of corporate America to reap exceptionally high profits in exchange for developing technologies that would otherwise probably not have been developed.

Some of this was done by way of defense contractors, some by way of very large companies with monopoly or quasi-monopoly power over their ultimate product markets. Thus the old AT&T with its Bell Labs, the old IBM with its Watson Laboratory, the old RCA with its Sarnoff Research Center, the old Xerox with its Palo Alto Research Center, or GM in its glory days.

Because of these companies’ oligopolistic power, they were assured of a) capturing the value of whatever they discovered or invented, rather than having it swiped by a competitor, and b) bringing in enough money, over a long-enough time frame, to pay for expensive laboratories that could take many years to produce results.

Unfortunately, these companies are largely gone, or so internationalized that they confer no especial benefit upon the U.S. economy, as opposed to any of the other nations where they do business.

Worse, because the U.S. solved the problems of appropriability and time horizons indirectly, there never crystallized an explicit ideological consensus in this country about these being the key rationales for active industrial policy.  Indeed, to a huge extent, we fooled ourselves into thinking that our national economic success was caused by our (fictional) embrace of extreme laissez-faire.

Contemporary venture capitalists almost never operate beyond a seven-year time horizon.  (Thus we observe that the technology underlying Google was developed from research funded by the National Science Foundation on digital libraries.) For all its very real achievements, the venture capital system is largely a system for harvesting fundamental innovation, not creating it.

It follows that the key question that will need to be asked, whenever NNMI considers funding some project, is whether it is being asked to fund something that the private sector should be funding on its own.  (Solyndra clearly fell into this category, as there were no appropriability or time-horizons issues presented in their business model.)  Instead, NNMI should seek out projects that have the following characteristics:

1. They involve developing technologies where much of the benefit will “leak” to parties not compelled, by patent or other regulation, to help defray the cost of developing them.

2. They involve developing technologies whose payoff, though substantial, will occur beyond an approximately seven-year time horizon.

These two key issues are a highly abstract description of the problems involved, and they ramify enormously and interact with other issues—giving rise, for example, to the notorious “valley of death” problem in innovation. So they should not be misunderstood as exhausting the concerns here.  But getting these issues right will be fundamental to any successful active industrial policy.

Ian Fletcher is the author of the new book Free Trade Doesn’t Work: What Should Replace It and Why (USBIC, $24.95)  He is an Adjunct Fellow at the San Francisco office of the U.S. Business and Industry Council, a Washington think tank founded in 1933.  He was previously an economist in private practice, mostly serving hedge funds and private equity firms. He may be contacted at

© 2012 Copyright  Ian Fletcher - All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

© 2005-2019 - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.

Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

6 Critical Money Making Rules