Reviving America’s Hamiltonian Tradition to Win the Economic Competition With China
With the United States at risk of losing its technological, economic, and national security lead to China, it’s time to ask: What would Hamilton do?
It is widely assumed that America’s core political and economic tradition is laissez-faire, with roots tracing back to Adam Smith. But in fact, from the founding of the Republic through the end of the Cold War, America has had a strong tradition of “national development,” championed by Alexander Hamilton among others, who understood the government must play a key supportive role in promoting industrial development. It’s time to rediscover that tradition. The federal government needs to move beyond right-of-center free-market economics and left-of-center redistribution to establish a cohesive approach to economic policy that focuses squarely on bolstering America’s competitive position in technologies and industries that constitute the most strategically important sectors of the economy.
To do that, we need stronger thought leadership and policy advocacy articulating the case for a robust national strategic-industry policy that focuses on critical, dual-use technologies and industries in advanced, traded sectors of the economy. This requires firmly rebutting the deeply held view of most economists and many policymakers that all industries are created equal, and making tough political choices. Yes, we should even “pick winners”—not individual firms or specific technologies, but certain industries and technology categories that are critical to the nation’s future. Finally, it requires a government that is knowledgeable and sophisticated about the operation of industry and the effects of policy on key traded sectors and firms. This Hamiltonian approach provides an intellectual framework for an effective advanced-industry policy.
ITIF’s Hamilton Center on Industrial Strategy hosted an all-day conference with leading experts and policymakers to explore why and how Washington can look to Hamiltonianism for guidance in how to win the techno-economic contest with China.
8:30–9:00 AM: Registration & Coffee
9:00–9:10 AM: Welcome and Introduction: Dr. Robert D. Atkinson, President and Founder, ITIF
9:10–9:40 AM: Keynote Address by Lord David Sainsbury, author of Windows of Opportunity: How Nations Make Growth; Former UK Minister of Science and Innovation: “Why Both America and the UK Need a New Theory of Growth and Competitiveness”
America needs a new intellectual framework that shapes and guides national policies that affect economic growth and international competition. Neoclassical economics has dominated U.S. economic thinking in recent decades and failed to produce such a theory. Lord Sainsbury will lay out a new “dynamic capability” theory that not only explains the “Asian economic miracle” and relative U.S. decline but also what industries and governments in G7 nations need to do to compete against China.
9:40–10:00 AM: Keynote Address by Dr. Robert D. Atkinson, President and Founder, ITIF: “How China Is Gaining and How America Is Lagging: The Case For a National Advanced Industry Strategy”
The United States has fallen behind China in a wide array of advanced technology industries and is leading in several emerging ones. Atkinson will discuss America’s recent techno-economic competitive performance vis-a-vis China and how that necessitates the adoption of national developmentalism as the guiding framework for U.S. economic policy.
10:00–10:35 AM: Panel 1: “America’s Hamiltonian, National Development Tradition”
From the foundation of the Republic and Alexander Hamilton’s Report on Manufactures to NASA and DARPA during the Cold War, national developmentalism has guided American economic policy. Beginning with the goal of gaining industrial independence from Britain in the early 1800s, to seeking to be the global industrial leader after the Civil War, to beating the Soviets during the Cold War, America’s leaders explicitly strove to use the government to shape America’s industrial mix. This panel will review that history and the implications for how we think about U.S. economic policy today.
- Michael Lind, author of Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States
- Andrew Reamer, Research Professor, George Washington University Institute of Public Policy
- Carroll Thomas, Former Director, NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership (moderator)
10:35–10:50 AM: Break
10:50–11:40 AM: Panel 2: “Speeding Us Up: What a National Advanced Strategy Looks Like”
A critical step to ensuring U.S. leadership over China in technology and economics will be to boost both the rate and breadth of U.S. innovation and the U.S. global share of advanced industry output. This panel will explore what the U.S. federal government should do substantively to advance those goals.
- David Adler, author of Inside Operation Warp Speed: A New Model for Industrial Policy
- Brad Markell, Executive Director, AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council
- Elisabeth Reynolds, Partner, Unless; MIT Lecturer; Former Special Assistant to the President, National Economic Council
- Jeanne Whalen, The Washington Post (moderator)
11:40 AM–12:20 PM: Panel 3: “Speeding Us Up: Aligning Corporate and National Goals”
To ensure U.S. leadership over China, the private sector, especially large corporations, must play a key role. But all too often, their role is poorly aligned with national goals in terms of where they innovate and produce, what advanced technologies they focus on, and the time horizon of their investment strategies. Too many free-market advocates ignore or dismiss any disjunction in goals. Too many progressives respond by seeking to either shackle large corporations or create a small business-dominated economy. This panel will explore how the government and corporations can work to align national development goals better.
- Michael Brown, Partner, Shield Capital; Former Director, Defense Innovation Unit; Former CEO, Symantec Corporation
- Chris Caine, President & CEO, Mercator XXI, LLC. (moderator)
- Sam Palmisano, Chairman and Founder, The Center for Global Enterprise; Chairman, America’s Frontier Fund; Former CEO, IBM
12:20–12:35 PM: Lunch Break
12:35–1:15 PM: Panel 4: “Slowing Down China”
While speeding up the United States is key to addressing the China challenge, so too is slowing down China, especially limiting China’s ability to profit from unfair, mercantilist policies and practices. Yet, there remains considerable disagreement and confusion about what the U.S. government should do to slow down China, with some arguing for doing little while others seek radical decoupling. This panel will explore practical and appropriate tools for slowing down China’s technology rise.
- Ana Swanson, The New York Times (moderator)
- Matthew Turpin, Visiting Fellow, Hoover Institute
- Jonathan Ward, author of The Decisive Decade: American Grand Strategy for Triumph Over China
1:15–1:50 PM: Fireside Chat: “Beyond Chips and Science: What’s Next for U.S. Advanced Industry Strategy”
Congress passed historic legislation to support the U.S. semiconductor industry, created a new, more innovation-oriented division at the National Science Foundation, and established a regional innovation hub program. With growing concerns for fiscal discipline and the new split Congress, what’s likely to come next in Congress for national developmentalist policies? Introductory remarks by Philip English.
- Dr. Robert D. Atkinson, President and Founder, ITIF (moderator)
- U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE)
- U.S. Sen. Todd Young (R-IN)
- Philip English, Arent Fox (Introductory Remarks)
1:50–2:10 PM: Keynote Conversation by Mike Schmidt, Director of the CHIPS Program Office, U.S. Department of Commerce: “Winning the CHIPS Competition”
2:10–2:20 PM: Break
2:20–2:40 PM: Panel 5: “Analysis for Hamiltonian Development”
If the federal government is to formulate and operate an effective national development policy, it will need much more robust data and analytical capabilities. Erica Fuchs will discuss a new key federal effort in this direction.
- Dr. Robert D. Atkinson, President and Founder, ITIF (moderator)
- Erica Fuchs, Professor, Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University; Director, pilot National Network for Critical Technology Assessment
2:40–3:20 PM: Panel 6: “Organization for Hamiltonian Development”
The federal government is not explicitly organized to formulate or implement a national developmentalist agenda. This panel will discuss limits to the current organization and propose new organizational arrangements.
- Martijn Rasser, Managing Director, Datenna, Inc.
- Dorothy Robyn, Senior Fellow, ITIF Center for Clean Energy Innovation; Senior Fellow, Boston University Institute for Global Sustainability (moderator)
- Liza Tobin, Senior Director for Economy, Special Competitive Studies Project
3:20–4:00 PM: Panel 7: “The Politics of Advanced Industry Strategy”
Politics is all it comes down to regarding whether the United States can implement an effective, national development-based advanced industry strategy. There are deeply conflicting interest group conflicts that shape such an agenda and significant regional differences. Ideological opposition from both the free-market right and the redistributionist left also makes progress difficult. These were all in play in the shaping of the science component of the Chips and Science Act. This panel will discuss the political landscape of national developmentalism and how both parties will likely address advanced industry strategy going forward.
- Oren Cass, Executive Director, American Compass
- Greg Ip, The Wall Street Journal (moderator)
- U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA)
4:00 PM: Closing Comments by Dr. Robert D. Atkinson, President and Founder, ITIF