Robert D. Atkinson

Robert D. Atkinson
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation

As founder and president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), recognized as the worlds top think tank for science and technology policy, Robert D. Atkinson leads a prolific team of policy analysts and fellows that is successfully shaping the debate and setting the agenda on a host of critical issues at the intersection of technological innovation and public policy.

He is an internationally recognized scholar and a widely published author whom The New Republic has named one of the “three most important thinkers about innovation,” Washingtonian Magazine has called a “tech titan,” Government Technology Magazine has judged to be one of the 25 top “doers, dreamers and drivers of information technology,” and Business 2 Community has cited as a thought leader on manufacturing issues.

A sought-after speaker and valued adviser to policymakers around the world, Atkinson’s books include Big is Beautiful: Debunking the Mythology of Small Business (MIT Press, 2018); Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage (Yale, 2012), and The Past And Future Of America’s Economy: Long Waves Of Innovation That Power Cycles Of Growth (Edward Elgar, 2005). He also has conducted groundbreaking research projects and authored hundreds of articles and reports on technology and innovation-related topics ranging from tax policy to advanced manufacturing, productivity, and global competitiveness.

President Clinton appointed Atkinson to the Commission on Workers, Communities, and Economic Change in the New Economy; the Bush administration appointed him chair of the congressionally created National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission; and the Obama administration appointed him to the National Innovation and Competitiveness Strategy Advisory Board. He also has served as co-chair of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s China-U.S. Innovation Policy Experts Group; as a member of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship; and on the U.S. State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Communications and Information.

Atkinson is a member of the Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security in the Information Age and serves on the boards or advisory councils of the Internet Education Foundation, the NetChoice Coalition, the University of Oregon’s Institute for Policy Research and Innovation, and the State Science and Technology Institute. Additionally, Atkinson is on the editorial boards of the Journal of Electronic Government and the Journal of Internet Policy; a member of the Global Innovation Forum Brain Trust; a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; a fellow at the Columbia University Institute of Tele-Information; and a fellow of Glocom, a Tokyo-based research institute.

Atkinson was previously vice president of the Progressive Policy Institute, where he directed the Technology & New Economy Project. He wrote numerous research reports on technology and innovation policy, covering issues such as broadband telecommunications, e-commerce, e-government, privacy, copyright, R&D tax policy, offshoring, and innovation economics.

Previously, Atkinson served as the first executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Policy Council (RIEPC), a public-private partnership whose members included the state’s governor, legislative leaders, and both corporate and labor leaders. As head of RIEPC, Atkinson was responsible for drafting a comprehensive economic development strategy for the state and working with the legislature and executive branch of government to successfully implement each element of a 10-point action agenda.

Prior to his service in Rhode Island, Atkinson was a project director at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, where, among other projects, he spearheaded The Technological Reshaping of Metropolitan America, a seminal report examining the impact of the information technology revolution on America’s urban areas.

As a respected policy expert and commentator, Atkinson has testified numerous times before the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, and he appears frequently on news and public affairs programs. Among others, these appearances have included interviews on BBC, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, NPR, and NBC Nightly News.

Atkinson holds a Ph.D. in city and regional planning from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he was awarded the prestigious Joseph E. Pogue Fellowship. He earned his master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the University of Oregon, which named him a distinguished alumnus in 2014.

Recent Publications

April 6, 2018

Available April 6 from MIT Press, this provocative book argues that small businesses are not the drivers of our prosperity. Big firms are better for job creation, productivity, innovation, and most other economic benefits. Governments should stop tipping the scales toward small and adopt “size neutral” policies that encourage companies of all sizes to grow.

March 16, 2018

Raising the cost of ICT products by levying tariffs on ICT imports from China would reduce growth in U.S. ICT investments, which would lower productivity growth, and thus economic growth.

March 16, 2018

The escalating jeremiad against “big tech” firms—particularly the idea that they are rapacious monopolists—has long since gone viral and is now hardening into conventional wisdom, but it is grounded in fallacies. Rob Atkinson explains in a reply to Charles Duhigg’s February 20 article, “The Case Against Google.”

March 7, 2018

In an adaptation of their new book "Big Is Beautiful," Robert D. Atkinson and Michael Lind argue that large corporations are vilified in a way that obscures the innovation they spur and the steady jobs they produce.

March 2, 2018

The problem is not that Trump imposed tariffs; it is that he appears to have be motivated purely by a protectionist instinct, not because he recognized a legitimate need to aggressively confront foreign mercantilism, particularly on the part of the world’s worst offender, China.

March 1, 2018

The Trump administration has proposed an infrastructure plan that would help spur necessary investment. But it’s also time to modernize how we pay for infrastructure, says ITIF President Rob Atkinson in an op-ed for Real Clear Policy.

February 26, 2018

ITIF has conducted in-depth analyses showing that while superior productivity growth did contribute to U.S. manufacturing job losses, the bigger factor was unfair foreign trade practices and the U.S. manufacturing sector’s lack of competitiveness.

February 20, 2018

Rather than slow down technological disruption to protect a small number of workers at the expense of the vast majority who are benefiting, policymakers should focus on doing significantly more to help those who are displaced transition successfully into new jobs and occupations.

February 19, 2018

Perhaps it’s the natural human aversion to bad news—sometimes known as the “ostrich effect”—but few opinion leaders on U.S. economic policy appear willing to take a cold, hard look at the state of U.S. manufacturing. If they did, they wouldn’t be happy.

January 30, 2018

Writing in RealClear Policy, Rob Atkinson says that, to “Make America Great Again,” President Trump needs to articulate a clear vision and detailed agenda for restoring U.S. economic competitiveness.

January 12, 2018

Xiaomi wants to join a growing list of companies—including Alibaba, Baidu, Huawei, Lenovo, and ZTE—that are gaining market share, not just in China, but globally. They would enjoy considerably less success if not for the Chinese government’s campaign of innovation mercantilism.

January 8, 2018

All states, but especially the laggards, would benefit from policies to attract more industry research funding, particularly as such funding appears to generate technology-based economic activity.

Recent Events and Presentations

April 16, 2018

Please join the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation for a panel discussion marking the release of Big Is Beautiful. Speakers will address the role and impact of large firms on the U.S. economy and society, and delve into the implications for policymakers.

March 8, 2018

Rob Atkinson participated in a public workshop held by the Federal Trade Commission in Washington, DC. The workshop explored issues regarding competition in the contact lens marketplace, consumer access to contact lenses, prescription release and portability, and related subjects.

February 20, 2018

Please join ITIF for a panel discussion of the challenges and opportunities posed by the coming wave of technological innovation in the economy and the steps and policies that policymakers should enact to ensure that American workers are prepared for an era of significant technological change.

December 6, 2017

In a deeply integrated global economy, with a growing number of goods and services readily tradeable across borders, nations face stiff competition to grow and attract high-value-added, traded-sector industries. Refusing to engage in this competition is not an option- so how can policymakers stem the dangerous decline in U.S. economic competitiveness.

December 1, 2017

Join ITIF for two expert panels on the intersection of technology and the future of U.S. manufacturing.

November 28, 2017

Technology-based startups are key drivers of America’s economic growth because they make outsized contributions to employment, innovation, and productivity. Unfortunately, policymakers tend to focus indiscriminately on helping small business startups without specifically targeting technology-based startups that have high growth potential. How can policymakers support the formation and success of new technology firms at the national and local level?

October 26, 2017

Many technology industries are characterized by relatively high levels of industry concentration, with one or a few firms holding significant market share. This has sparked alarm among some who assert that such concentration is anti-consumer and call for more aggressive antitrust enforcement. Yet antitrust scholars have shown that in many cases the concentration helps consumers and spurs economic growth.

October 11, 2017

The United States used to dominate the world in R&D investment, with its federal funding alone exceeding the rest of the world’s public and private spending combined. But no more. Today, the U.S. government accounts for less than 10 percent of the global R&D pie. Rob Atkinson explained whither and why at the Atlanta Conference on Science and Innovation Policy.

September 27, 2017

Speaking in São Paulo, Brazil, to an audience of Senate, Chamber of Deputies, and Court technical staff, Rob Atkinson outlined the keys to digital trade success and explained that a growing number of companies in various industries are relying on cross border data flows.

September 25, 2017

In a presentation hosted by the FHC Foundation in São Paulo, Brazil, Rob Atkinson provided an overview of the history of technological disruption and the effects of technology-driven change in a variety of occupations.

September 7, 2017

In Digital DNA: Disruption and the Challenges for Global Governance (Oxford University Press, 2017), Peter Cowhey and Jonathan Aronson show how these technologies unleash dazzling changes in the information, communication, and production capabilities that are transforming how the world works. Join ITIF for a discussion of Professors Cowhey and Aronson’s findings and policy proposals for the global innovation economy.

August 7, 2017

Speaking at the NCSL 2017 Legislative Summit in Boston, Rob Atkinson explained the state role in reviving U.S. manufacturing.


Rob Atkinson, “has a unique and enviable capacity to communicate cutting-edge analysis of emerging and effective economic development practices. In that, he made high level concepts very accessible and relevant to those in the front line of growing jobs and the economy. We consider ourselves to be very fortunate you were able to share your voice, vision, wisdom, and experience with our regional leaders.”

- Jim Prosser Executive Director, Centralina Council of Governments 

Dr. Robert D. Atkinson was an excellent addition as an international keynote speaker at the Innovation Day, hosted by the Portuguese Industrial Association (AIP) in Lisbon. Dr. Atkinson’s presentation on lessons from the U.S. innovation system was insightful and engaging. His encouraging perspective on innovation and its potential role in the Portugal context during a moderated discussion was thought provoking for the audience. Dr. Atkinson is an excellent speaker and a pleasure to collaborate with.

- Augusto Medina President, Sociedade Portuguesa de Inovacao S.A. 

Dr. Atkinson’s keynote on “Innovation Waves” was a highlight of our P&G Alumni Innovation Summit. His long view of how innovation shapes business and economic growth provides clear direction on what’s needed to sustain US competitiveness in the decades to come. Rob was able to share a balanced view of what’s working and not working today, outlining a sensible approach for Federal R&D spending and regulatory policy.

- Wayne Fisher President, Rockdale Innovation