Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 10:47 AM ET, 01/26/2011

What type of innovation should America focus on?

By Ezra Klein

Michael Mandel thinks Obama focused on the wrong types of innovation in last night's speech:

I counted how many words the President devoted to different areas of innovation.

-2 words for biomedical research, the area where the U.S. is far ahead of the rest of the world.
-68 words devoted to extolling the job-creating virtues of space travel and NASA, an agency which currently has no mission unless it gets a lot more money.
-113 words for highspeed-wireless broadband, a worthy goal.
-361 words in favor clean energy, a technology where the U.S. has little competitive advantage over the rest of the world.

In other words, Obama spent his time lauding our least competitive areas of innovation, while giving the back of his hand to biomedical research, the area where we have the clear global advantage.

I'll just note that words matter a lot less than policies here, but since we don't know what policies Obama is proposing, we're left with more esoteric forms of analysis.

By Ezra Klein  | January 26, 2011; 10:47 AM ET
 
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: We won't always be the biggest
Next: Can we win the future if we lose the present?

Comments

--*What type of innovation should America focus on?*--

You ever hear of throwing darts at the financial listings, Klein? Is that what governments are instituted for???

Posted by: msoja | January 26, 2011 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Well Mandel, maybe Obama feels that the government funds enough biomedical research already - by being the largest payer/consumer of increasingly expensive health care services in the world. Where does Mandel think our competitive advantage in the Biomedical industry came from? the private market? Please. This reads like one of those simple economic analyses of a developing country that suggests that they should focus on agrarian or low skill manufacturing, because that is where their competitive advantages are at that time. Is that what the East Asain Tigers did? No, countries can change, and the time has come, just ask Obama.

Posted by: ethanadennison | January 26, 2011 11:08 AM | Report abuse

This is where mere statistical word counts get you in trouble. The space program allusions were not part of what he was suggesting as areas for future innovation. They were invoked as parables of the kinds of innovation we achieved in the past and that helped create jobs and prestige. Something that people understand. Don't just count words: listen.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | January 26, 2011 11:10 AM | Report abuse

There are a lot of good reasons why this is that you or Mandel could have touched on.

NASA funding is sexy. People like it. When people think "innovation," they think "space ships." Simple as that. Tell people you're going to appropriate more money for innovation and that some of it is going to NASA, they'll support the whole package.

Biomedical research is pretty much maximized as it is, and there doesn't seem to be a lot of growing room. The market is flooded with biomedical researchers. Health care is consuming an increasingly large portion of our economy. NIH funding doesn't need to be expanded as much as reorganized to support more and younger Principal Investigators.

Wireless broadband and clean energy are the low-hanging fruit and the places where growth will be, and we want to latch on to that growth.

Posted by: constans | January 26, 2011 11:13 AM | Report abuse

This is what the deficit king proposed a week or two after he last called for a spending freeze in his 2010 state of the union.

What a pathological liar.


http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/feb/01/obama-budget-2011-deficit-spending-department#zoomed-picture

76.6% increase in Education
17.4% increase in Health and Human Services
27.4% incease in Agriculture
64.5% increase in International Assistance
34.2% increase in State Department.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 26, 2011 11:35 AM | Report abuse

--*What type of innovation should America focus on?*--

In the late 18th Century, the country innovated by securing the blessings of liberty to the individual, a thing that had never been tried before. In a few short years, the United States was the greatest nation in the history of man, with freedom unparalleled, and advances in science and medicine that were beyond the founders dreams.

Now, the ignorant and despotic among us want to "innovate" by usurping their fellows' freedoms and assets and using the plunder to direct the country in their preferred directions. There is no rhyme or reason to it, just ignorance and despotism, which the results will soon validate.

Posted by: msoja | January 26, 2011 12:18 PM | Report abuse

NASA wasn't a policy focus, it was a historical example of how we've had successful investment & innovation in the past. He transitioned from Sputnik & the space race to say that now we need that same dedication to new innovation, "in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology."

NASA was rhetoric and analogy to support his argument for new investment.

Posted by: vince432 | January 26, 2011 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Krazen, You're playing very fast and loose with the statistics. Here's what Obama had to say in the 2010 State of the Union: "Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze goverment spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will not be affected." The increases in spending you're citing refer, essentially entirely, to the stimulus package passed earlier, not to an ongoing increase in spending. Spending under the stimulus package is now largely history. It's over. The regular budgets for education and other items you cite were held essentially flat in Obama's 2010 budget, and will be held essentially flat again in his 2011 budget. To paint the one-time burst of spending from the stimulus package as part of a permanent, ongoing increase in the size of government looks to be a deliberately misleading statistical ploy.

Posted by: madhoboken | January 26, 2011 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Ezra,

any chance to do a post on this? Its amazing that the CBO can be off by $414 billion in a matter of 6 months.


http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0111/48226.html


Maybe the president should have focused on this a bit more and maybe your first post shouldn't be on "where do we spend what we don't have". Its like an obese person asking instead of when they're working out today what's for breakfast.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 26, 2011 12:33 PM | Report abuse

I've heard NASA termed: Welfare for Geeks.

It's one more bureaucracy that should be abolished.

Posted by: msoja | January 26, 2011 12:43 PM | Report abuse

Nanotechnology -- replete with potential.

Posted by: oldbob | January 26, 2011 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Didn't the NIH just announce a billion-dollar effort to develop new therapeutic candidates to hand off to the drug industry? Granted, a billion isn't much, but still, here's a new government initiative to basically spoon-feed biopharma candidates for commercialization -- and all because the invisible hand has been twiddling its thumb of late when it comes to drug development.

Posted by: matthewarnold | January 26, 2011 12:47 PM | Report abuse

"Krazen, You're playing very fast and loose with the statistics. Here's what Obama had to say in the 2010 State of the Union: "Starting in 2011, we are prepared to freeze goverment spending for three years. Spending related to our national security, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will not be affected." The increases in spending you're citing refer, essentially entirely, to the stimulus package passed earlier, not to an ongoing increase in spending. Spending under the stimulus package is now largely history. It's over. The regular budgets for education and other items you cite were held essentially flat in Obama's 2010 budget, and will be held essentially flat again in his 2011 budget. To paint the one-time burst of spending from the stimulus package as part of a permanent, ongoing increase in the size of government looks to be a deliberately misleading statistical ploy."


Nope. Those numbers are from his 2011 budget which was actually released a year ago, so there's no 'will'. You're a year behind.

Here are the actual numbers from Obama's 2011 budget, released in february 2010.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2011/assets/tables.pdf

Nonsecurity outlays in 2009: 437 billion
Nonsecurity outlays in 2011: 530 billion
Nonsecurity outlays in 2013: 480 billion

Nope, no freeze.


Nonsecurity discretionary budgetary authority in 2009: 354 billion
2011: 386 billion
2012: 437 billion
2013: 399 billion


Nope, no freeze.


Anyone can see that the enacted numbers for 2010 were already a massive increase in spending. He was lying through his teeth even as he was standing on the podium.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 26, 2011 12:53 PM | Report abuse

"What type of innovation should America focus on?"

No one person or small group on Earth knows that answer. But that's okay. People can and will figure it out, if left to their own devices.

Posted by: justin84 | January 26, 2011 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Specific line items for education:

2009 spending: 41 billion
ARRA spending: 81 billion (huge nonsense here but whatever)
2010 spending: 47 billion
2011: 50 billion


No freeze here either....

Same tale with transportation. Up from 70 billion to 80 billion even according to the whitehouse's own numbers before they plopped on crap like that $23 teacher bailout.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 26, 2011 1:07 PM | Report abuse

--*the invisible hand has been twiddling its thumb of late when it comes to drug development.*--

Cute, but it might be more meaningful to refer to the handcuffs of government regulation, incompetence, and inefficiency. The government is pricing the drug industry out of business. They did it rather more overtly with the vaccine industry, but they're working the same magic with the greater pharmaceuticals, too. Many of the people cheering it along will be very sorry when what they wanted comes to pass, but they're probably too dumb to see their own roles as useful idiots in it.

Posted by: msoja | January 26, 2011 1:25 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr and krazen can't even stay on topic and need to bring their hobby horses into this thread rather than a more appropriate one. Meanwhile, msoja is grinding his ax of opposing the foundations of the Enlightenment and western society's decisions about government and civilization in favor of a rural anarchist u/dystopia. This thread could have been interesting, but it's become a waste.

Posted by: constans | January 26, 2011 1:57 PM | Report abuse

By far the most important research has to be in the area of energy research. We (and the President) call it Clean Energy but the more appropriate term is Alternative Energy as in an alternative to fossil fuel. The reason is simple. Be it 30, 50 or 200 years, eventually fossil fuels will run out. If we don’t develop a reliable alternative energy by then it is game over for the human race as we know it. Fossil fuels are critical for providing the energy we need to investigate, discover, refine and make practical some other energy source be it solar, nuclear, bio, etc… Without fossil fuels we can’t put the other sources into practical use. If we burn up all the oil without a replacement we are done for.

Posted by: GabsDaD | January 26, 2011 2:05 PM | Report abuse

constans,

actually the topic IS the ever increasing debt. If you haven't clued in yet its what's causing the inability to fund any or all of these "innovations". The fact that we have to make these tough choices is because we didn't make these tough choices before (and that includes not funding two wars and tax breaks FOR ALL, not just the rich).

But you keep burying your head in the sand and see where that gets you.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 26, 2011 2:07 PM | Report abuse

--*This thread could have been interesting, but it's become a waste.*--

You didn't actually argue any of the points people raised, did you?

Posted by: msoja | January 26, 2011 2:10 PM | Report abuse

visionbrkr, I admire your single minded focus on issues you've had beaten into your head to believe you should be concerned about when a democrat suddenly became president, but you are willfully ignoring the thread topic to disrupt and distract. But if you had any idea or respect for research or innovation or American competitiveness, you would have done something more interesting with your life than become and insurance salesman. If you don't know anything about the topic and can't comment on it, don't interrupt and start babbling about issues you and your right wing NJ suburb drinking buddies repeat to each other, or get your own blog.

Posted by: constans | January 26, 2011 2:13 PM | Report abuse

By far the most important research has to be in the area of energy research. We (and the President) call it Clean Energy but the more appropriate term is Alternative Energy as in an alternative to fossil fuel. The reason is simple. Be it 30, 50 or 200 years, eventually fossil fuels will run out. If we don’t develop a reliable alternative energy by then it is game over for the human race as we know it. Fossil fuels are critical for providing the energy we need to investigate, discover, refine and make practical some other energy source be it solar, nuclear, bio, etc… Without fossil fuels we can’t put the other sources into practical use. If we burn up all the oil without a replacement we are done for.

Posted by: GabsDaD | January 26, 2011 2:15 PM | Report abuse

"visionbrkr, I admire your single minded focus on issues you've had beaten into your head to believe you should be concerned about when a democrat suddenly became president, but you are willfully ignoring the thread topic to disrupt and distract. But if you had any idea or respect for research or innovation or American competitiveness, you would have done something more interesting with your life than become and insurance salesman. If you don't know anything about the topic and can't comment on it, don't interrupt and start babbling about issues you and your right wing NJ suburb drinking buddies repeat to each other, or get your own blog."

Any mention of sputnik or innovation can only begin with the fact that Eisenhower did not have to pay for Medicaid.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 26, 2011 2:23 PM | Report abuse

--*msoja is grinding his ax*--

So, you think that politicians and bureaucrats, using other people's money, can pick winners and losers better than people using their own assets, according to their own values, can?

Posted by: msoja | January 26, 2011 2:30 PM | Report abuse

constans,

I admire your spite towards me as its evident always. You're really clever aren't you. The problem is that it does nothing to help the growing debt. I'd gladly stay on topic of how far off the CBO was on it, IF EZRA EVER POSTED ON IT but I don't see that happening. Also it has nothing to do with President Obama's political affilliation but you keep up that heated rhetoric, it works for you I guess.

But again we could afford more stimulus towards innovation if we weren't so mired in debt. But you keep up the personal attacks (didn't learn anything did you?) and I'll keep speaking as to why we can't afford more innovation. It makes you look like the spoiled brat you seem to be.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 26, 2011 2:33 PM | Report abuse

--*Be it 30, 50 or 200 years, eventually fossil fuels will run out. If we don't develop a reliable alternative energy by then it is game over for the human race as we know it.*--

Hilarious. I'd rather trust to a free people working a myriad different angles according to their own lights on every aspect of it, than a more or less one size fits all government stab for glory. Looking to government for salvation is almost a guarantee of extermination.

Posted by: msoja | January 26, 2011 2:37 PM | Report abuse

is there a way to "ignore" the msojabot? It's occasionally amusing - like any short passage from Rand, say - but only occasionally.

Posted by: gjudd | January 26, 2011 3:55 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure why he thinks we have a clear advantage in biomedical research. There is lots of it going on in Israel and Europe, to name two places, where products can actually reach the market much faster than here (which is not to say the U.S. companies can't launch in Europe).

Plus I'm not sure why we can't have a competitive advantage in green energy if we created one.

Posted by: amiller5 | January 26, 2011 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Mandel,

Oftentimes you're weakest things are where you can most easily improve, where you far less into diminishing returns.

Plus, you may be weak, like in alternative energy, just because you've made little effort, not because you have little aptitude.

Posted by: RichardHSerlin | January 26, 2011 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Krazen, Re you post at 12:53 p.m., it's tiresome to go back and forth on this. You're going to find a way to cherry pick and misconstrue the numbers regardless. Your first set of numbers, from Table S3, folds in ARRA (stimulus) spending, most of which took place in FY10, and some of which is taking place in FY11. That's almost all of what keeps 2011 higher than 2009. You misread table S-11. "Discretionary budgetary authority" is technical term; the first line on the second page of the table gives actual funding amounts, labeled "non-security discretionary budgetary resources." (You can verify that this line gives the sum of the spending items above it, not the line you cite.) There's a whopping increase from 2009 to 2012 of $38 billion, from $408 billion to $446 billion--and this not adjusted for inflation. Simply put, the supposed vast permanent increase in government spending is a figment of your imagination.

Posted by: madhoboken | January 26, 2011 5:34 PM | Report abuse

no defense of NASA but I have two guesses about 2 words on biomedical.
1) it isn't controversial. Everyone supports the NIH. Clean energy research is controversial.
2) he doesn't want to talk about "medical" and is afraid people will think he means research on better death panels.

Posted by: rjw88 | January 26, 2011 6:04 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of NASA, it looks like that among other incompetencies, they're heavy into propaganda, now:

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/nasa-targets-climate-kids-with-new-global-warming-website/

Other people's money. Is there anything it can't be wasted on?

Posted by: msoja | January 26, 2011 6:07 PM | Report abuse

I'm a big fan of many of NASA's achievements (Apollo, Voyager, Mariner, Cassini, etc), but space exploration should be funded via voluntary contributions.

Posted by: justin84 | January 26, 2011 6:49 PM | Report abuse

"Krazen, Re you post at 12:53 p.m., it's tiresome to go back and forth on this. You're going to find a way to cherry pick and misconstrue the numbers regardless. Your first set of numbers, from Table S3, folds in ARRA (stimulus) spending, most of which took place in FY10, and some of which is taking place in FY11. That's almost all of what keeps 2011 higher than 2009. You misread table S-11. "Discretionary budgetary authority" is technical term; the first line on the second page of the table gives actual funding amounts, labeled "non-security discretionary budgetary resources." (You can verify that this line gives the sum of the spending items above it, not the line you cite.) There's a whopping increase from 2009 to 2012 of $38 billion, from $408 billion to $446 billion--and this not adjusted for inflation. Simply put, the supposed vast permanent increase in government spending is a figment of your imagination."


Thankfully inflation is near 0.

Thanks for confirming the nature of the pathological liar and that a freeze is not actually a freeze.

But that's ok. He has people like you to redefine the word 'freeze', even after you conveniently ignore pieces of legislation that you figure should not count.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 26, 2011 7:08 PM | Report abuse

Still though I laugh at how a 10% increase in spending (even under your nicely chosen criteria) is described as a freeze! I got to take that to my boss.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 26, 2011 7:13 PM | Report abuse

Post a Comment

We encourage users to analyze, comment on and even challenge washingtonpost.com's articles, blogs, reviews and multimedia features.

User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions.




characters remaining

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2011 The Washington Post Company