To the editor:
The United States has been an economic leader for decades. We were smart enough as a nation to embrace science and critical thinking in the latter part of the 20th century. But now in the 21st century, we are losing our edge. Why? Is it because we vote into office candidates who cannot think critically and strategically? Once in office, these candidates seem to lack the ability to solve complex problems -- or is it they can’t even recognize that the problems are complex and multi-dimensional?
I suggest that our economic future has been put at risk because of reductions in government research and development budgets, restrictions on foreign students studying in our academic institutions, restrictions on immigration, and alienation of our economic and military allies. Those allies whose help we need in developing future technologies; collaboration among allies creates a rising tide for all the allies.
Under the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress, the U.S. government made major reductions in R&D spending by all agencies starting in fiscal year 2017. The amount of government R&D funds allocated in any of the first three years of the Trump administration were significantly less than any amount allocated in any year going back to 2004. In fiscal year 2021, the decline of government R&D spending was reversed, but only because of initiatives championed by the House of Representatives! Why is this important and why should you care? Because being a technological leader allows our nation to be prosperous (strong companies and industries) and thus we are able to maintain a high standard of living.
As an example, let’s examine battery technology. The U.S. is fifth in battery technology patents, from 2000 to 2018, the U.S. trailed Japan, South Korea, Europe and China. Whether you believe in climate change or not, the rest of the world does. In the global marketplace, electric vehicles (EVs) will dominate personal transportation in the upcoming decades. If the U.S. is to be a leader in EVs and maintain a competitive automotive industry, we need to be a leader in battery technology.
Battery technology is critically important in alternative energy production as well. The Trump administration has opposed initiatives to advance the science of alternative energy. Alternative energy R&D investments, however, would advance battery technologies, which would in turn will bolster our automotive industry’s competitiveness.
The Trump administration has enacted policies discouraging foreigners to study in our world-class universities, and immigrants in general. In the past, many of the brightest foreign students stayed in the U.S. and many immigrants became citizens and built strong companies that helped our economy. Among U.S. science and technology companies founded by immigrants are Tesla, Google, Ebay, PayPal, LinkedIn, Comcast, and Thermo-Fisher Scientific. These technology companies contribute to ecosystems of innovative companies, which in turn lead to the development of even more innovative U.S. companies. We need these vibrant technology ecosystems in order to compete in the battery industry and in other industries.
Every voter should ask themselves two questions: Is this nation’s economic future being diminished by the Trump administration’s failure to support R&D, its disparagement of science in general, and its failure to think critically and strategically? Is Trump and his administration capable of thinking multi-dimensionally?
Paul E. Krueger