AS a budget-minded Congress sets priorities, bent upon cutting
nonessential programs and closing tax loopholes, various scientific
groups are voicing legitimate concern about preserving the nation's
competitive research-and-development (R&D) base. The latest
example: The American Association for the Advancement of Science
recently warned of the harmful long-term effects of reduced federal
financing of nonmilitary scientific research.
To be sure, the importance of R&D to America's fundamental
economic growth encompasses both the public and private sectors.
This nation's "Top 8" research-based industries, for instance, pay
for 70 percent of all industrial R&D conducted in the United States
and provide an annual net trade surplus of more than $50 billion.
These high-tech industries, along with federal and university
laboratories, are vital mainstays for this country's global
competitiveness, quality jobs, good wages, balance of trade, and
standard of living.
The Institute for the Future's just-released study on the health
of this nation's R&D community should give everyone serious pause.
"The Future of America's Research-Intensive Industries" - which
examined the top eight US research-based sectors as well as
government's role in basic research - concludes that US economic
leadership and millions of jobs are in jeopardy. The reason is that
our companies and our government no longer can invest in R&D as
they once did.
The cycle of innovation
The report ominously concludes that our rate of R&D investment
has significantly declined in recent years, from 3 percent of gross
domestic product to 2.6 percent. This is a decline of $25 billion
in real dollars. And it threatens the future of America's growth.
Research is being undervalued at a time when it is needed most.
If the cycle of innovation stalls, the United States will face new
The importance of R&D to fundamental economic growth cannot be
overemphasized. America's research-intensive industries employ 5.2
million people, pay $244.6 billion in compensation, add $418.9
billion to the national GDP, and produce $866.2 billion of total
Research and development has affected all Americans in multiple
ways. Thanks to defense R&D, we won the cold war. Thanks to
chemical R&D, the "green revolution" has dramatically increased the
amount of food we produce and export. Thanks to computer R&D, we're
leading the world in the information age.
In short, our global economic leadership, standard of living,
and the "American way of life" - envied and emulated throughout the
world - are the fruits of the commitment made to and the investment
in science and technical R&D by our country decades ago.
But the inevitability of this kind of success continuing into
the future is being sharply questioned. …