Robert D. Atkinson
As founder and president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), recognized as the world’s 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 the Wharton Business School has given the “Wharton Infosys Business Transformation Award.”
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), Supply-Side Follies: Why Conservative Economics Fails, Liberal Economics Falters, and Innovation Economics is the Answer (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), 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. He has testified before the United States Congress more than 30 times.
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; the Obama administration appointed him to the National Innovation and Competitiveness Strategy Advisory Board; as co-chair of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s China-U.S. Innovation Policy Experts Group; to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship; and the Trump administration appointed him to the G7 Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence. The Biden administration appointed him as a member of the U.S. State Department’s Advisory Committee on International Communications and Information, and a member of the Export-Import Bank of the United States' Council on China Competition.
Atkinson also served on the UK government’s Place Advisory Group to advise the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation on how policy can drive innovation in more regions. He is a member of the Polaris Council, a body of cross-sectoral, interdisciplinary science and technology policy experts who advise the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics (STAA) team on emergent and emerging issues.
Atkinson is a member of the Special Competitive Studies Project. He served on the Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security in the Information Age and serves on the boards or advisory councils of 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; a fellow of Glocom, a Tokyo-based research institute. He is also an adjunct professor at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service.ice.
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.
Wake Up, America: China Is Overtaking the United States in Innovation Capacity
Based on key indicators of innovation and advanced-industry performance, China has surpassed the United States in total innovation output and is getting close on a proportional basis. To regain its leadership, the United States must respond more strategically and forcefully.
Podcast: Microchips Are the New Oil, With Chris Miller
Semiconductors are arguably the most important core technology in the modern world. You can’t fully understand the current state of politics, economics, or technology until you consider the role they play. Rob and Jackie sat down with economic historian Chris Miller to discuss the extent to which microchips are the new oil.
When Facts About China Change, Elites Should Change Their Views Too
China’s aspiration to become the new global hegemon calls into question the “Washington Consensus” that free markets and unfettered globalization maximize U.S. and global welfare. But for true believers, that is unacceptable. So, the idea China is a threat must be destroyed intellectually.
Let’s Unite for US Tech Leadership, Mr. President
President Biden has accused leading U.S. tech companies of destroying privacy, spreading harmful content, and hurting competition. Not only are these alleged abuses vastly overblown, but the regulatory solutions he appears to endorse would do more harm than good.
The EU Pot Calling the US Kettle Black on the IRA
When Europe gets around to fixing its own trade and procurement imbalances and with the United States and discriminatory policies, then the Biden administration should talk. In the meantime, the Biden administration needs to stop being defensive against the EU attacks and counter with its own narrative that demonstrates the EU’s protectionist performance.
Top 10 Tech Policy Pronouncements for 2023
As Yogi Berra once said, making predictions is hard, especially about the future. So, looking ahead to the New Year, ITIF can offer predictions with only 90 percent confidence. The other half is prescriptive.
Korea Should Not Require Companies to Pay to Deliver Digital Content
Starting with a 2016 amendment to Korea’s Telecommunications Business Act, ISPs of comparable size have had to compensate each other based on the volume of traffic they exchange under a sending-party-network-pays policy. But consumers are the ones who ultimately pay in this arrangement.
Podcast: Will a Western “NATO for Tech” Work? (Atkinson Guest Appearance on ‘What China Wants’)
ITIF’s Rob Atkinson appears on the podcast What China Wants by Sam Olsen to talk through the realities of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s proposal to create a “NATO for Tech” to counter Chinese influence.
Corporate Views on U.S. International Tech Competition
Crafting and implementing well-funded U.S. government policies that advance U.S. international competitiveness, especially in technology-driven industries and in relationship to China, requires a modicum of corporate political support or, at minimum, limited opposition.
Podcast: Measuring the Whole Spectrum of Mathematics Achievement, With Richard Rusczyk
Teaching students to combine basic ideas to solve novel, difficult problems is imperative to lay a foundation for STEM pursuits.
Hope for the Best, But Prepare for the Worst at the US-EU Trade and Technology Council
The European Union wants it all—access to the U.S. market without fully reciprocal access to the EU, U.S. action against China while it free rides by exporting to China, and the freedom to restrict U.S. firms in Europe under the banner of “digital sovereignty.” It’s time for the U.S. government to say, “No more.”
Podcast: Growth and the Character of Society, With Benjamin Friedman
Economics is about more than the economy. It also intersects public and private institutions, culture, religion, morality, and politics. Rob and Jackie explored these subjects with Benjamin Friedman, a professor of Political Economy at Harvard and author of The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth and Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.
Recent Events and Presentations
Reviving America’s Hamiltonian Tradition to Win the Economic Competition With China
Please join ITIF for 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.
The Future of Manufacturing and Innovation in Germany and the US
Join ITIF and OECD Working Party to explore policy questions that arose in the context of the OECD Review of Innovation Policy: Germany, but which have relevance to both the United States and Germany.
Should Congress Pass President Biden’s Tech Agenda?
In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, President Biden outlined an ambitious legislative agenda for Congress to tackle alleged shortcomings of “Big Tech.” The president’s list of priorities includes enacting a federal privacy law, reforming Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and increasing competition in the tech sector.
How Updating a Century-Old Trade Law Could Limit China’s Ability to Profit From Unfair Trade Practices
Watch ITIF's briefing event featuring Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and an expert panel of current and former U.S. trade officials who discussed how to limit China’s ability to profit from its predatory trade practices.
The Politicization of Business: What Gives?
Robert Atkinson participates in an expert panel discussion on “The Politicization of Business: What Gives” as part of a Cato conference—“New Challenges to the Free Economy (from Left and Right)”—that brings together leading economists and policymakers to discuss the ascendant political threats of progressivism and national conservatism to the free economy.
The State of Innovation
Robert Atkinson spoke at signature Protocol Live event, “The State of Innovation,” which was held virtually on September 27th.
U.S. Industrial Policy, Subsidies, and Trade
Rob Atkinson spoke on an expert panel hosted by the Washington International Trade Association. Topics included what the Chips and Science Act means for the U.S. jobs, exports, and international trade policy, and how these bills position the U.S. relative to China and in relation to its allies and partners.
Devil in the Details: Reconciling the House and Senate Versions of Competitiveness Legislation
Watch ITIF and an expert panel featuring key policymakers and leading analysts who discussed how to bring House and Senate versions of competitiveness legislation across the finish line in a form that will be a winner for U.S. workers and the economy.
Dynamic Antitrust Discussion Series: “Has Economic Concentration Really Increased?”
Join ITIF for a discussion on the accuracy of the narrative put forward and whether or not market concentration has, indeed, increased with ITIF's Julie Carlson & Robert D. Atkinson, Nicholas Trachter of the Federal Reserve of Richmond, & former DOJ official, Gregory Werden.
What a National Strategic-Industry Policy Should Look Like
ITIF hosted a discussion of what a robust national strategic-industry policy should—and should not—entail.
The 4th Industrial Revolution: Political Economy Overview
Rob Atkinson was the keynote speaker at the Ministries of Korea Global Policy Conference on the 4th Industrial Revolution on December 15th, 2021.
2021 Global Trade and Innovation Policy Alliance Annual Summit
The GTIPA’s annual summits bring together alliance members with world-leading experts to explore creative solutions to the difficult economic, trade, and innovation challenges facing the international community.
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
Rob provided a keynote presentation for the Waukesha County Business Alliance’s 103rd Annual Meeting. Our members enjoyed his thorough and informative presentation about innovation and growth potential for our region and state.
- Robyn Ludtke Senior Vice President, Strategic Initiatives & Workforce, Waukesha County Business Alliance
Rob Atkinson offers a cleared-eyed view of the need for a new and well-founded industrial policy for the United States. Without taking any political side, Atkinson lays out the economic uncertainty the country faces by failing to invest in critical industries. The war in Ukraine and mounting tensions with China highlight the need for the U.S. to invest in critical development and production, particularly in semiconductors, but in other key industries as well. According to Atkinson, the debate is not about capitalism or socialism, but whether the U.S. has the determination to build resiliency at home to face myriad global problems now and in the future.
- Bill Clifford President and CEO, World Affairs Councils of America