Pro-free market think tank offers sharp critique of Trump plan to bolster emerging tech
The R Street Institute, an advocate for free market-oriented policy solutions, says the Trump administration’s new technology strategy fails to balance economic and national security needs, and lacks a clear plan for implementation.
“Like the National Cyber Strategy of 2018, [the National Strategy for Critical & Emerging Technologies] reads more like a hastily thrown-together, mish-mash of ideas than a cohesive plan of action,” according to an analysis by R Street’s Kathryn Waldron and Tatyana Bolton. They cite the Cyberspace Solarium Commission report, in contrast, as offering “a more actionable strategy to enhance American competitiveness and protect national security.”
The R Street analysts write that “many of the priorities listed by the National Security Council [in the Trump strategy] are too broad to be an effective guideline for policymakers. This issue becomes immediately apparent when the document begins with a blurry vision of the path forward for the United States, outlining a hierarchy of technology ‘leaders,’ ‘peers’ and ‘risk managers’ based on an as-yet-undefined threat calculus process.”
The National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies was released Oct. 15 by the White House, addressing efforts to ensure U.S. predominance in areas including semiconductors and artificial intelligence. Initial reactions from industry were generally positive, amid cautionary notes on the need for a robust implementation strategy.
The R Street analysts dig in on that point, saying, “like other recent efforts in this space, the administration’s strategy has two major problems. First, it lacks the detail and implementation plan necessary to make its recommended actions useful. And second, it fails to adequately address the balance of economic and national security that must be at the heart of any strategy such as this one.”
They write, “while in some places the strategy calls for the United States to attain world leadership of the ‘highest-priority technologies,’ in other places, it calls for the nation to be only a ‘global peer’ or a ‘risk manager’ in these areas. It also provides no rubric to determine which technologies should be considered ‘high priority.’ And, while it does list 20 ‘critical technologies,’ — a hodge-podge of everything from ‘advanced weapons systems’ to ‘advanced agriculture’ — the broad nature of those technologies leaves far too much room for interpretation, bureaucratic rent-seeking and industry lobbying in the name of national security. Put simply, if a research and development (R&D) program manager within the government or a private company wanted to use this document to try to align their efforts with the administration’s guidance, she would be left with more questions than answers.”
According to the authors, “the most consistent part of the strategy is its lack of clarity regarding prioritization and implementation.”
The combination of “nebulous goals” and sketchy or nonexistent implementation plans could result in policies such as nationalizing 5G networks, “an idea that has gained recent attention after the Department of Defense (DOD) released a Request for Information (RFI) about the prospect. But doing so would likely stifle the competitiveness of American companies without providing superior national security benefits. It’s also antithetical to the free-market model that has made our country prosperous and innovative,” according to the authors.
The analysis concludes: “[T]he administration’s efforts fall short of the thorough and coordinated global competition strategy the nation deserves: one that can strike the appropriate balance between national security considerations and the economy; address critical emerging technologies within a broader framework of economic competitiveness; plan for research and development; and provide smart trade policy. While the Chinese national champions model is not, in the end, effective in market economies, it is high time that the United States created its own democratic alternative.”
R Street in its self-description says: “We favor consumer choice; low, flat taxes; regulation that is transparent and applied equitably and systems that rely on price signals rather than central planning. Thus, it is fair to say we are on the political right. At the same time, we recognize that public goods, natural monopolies and externalities are real concerns that governments must address. We also understand that life in a democratic society sometimes means reaching a compromise that doesn’t necessarily represent a first, best solution.”