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.
Atkinson serves 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 facing the Congress and the nation. He is 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 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.
Comments to the Federal Railroad Administration Regarding Train Crew Size Safety Requirements
The proposed rule, while written to suggest that it will enable rail innovation and the operation of less-than-two-person crews, will in fact likely stifle continued rail innovation and limit any expansion of one-person crews and the economic productivity that generates.
How the IT Sector Powers the US Economy
The information technology (IT) sector makes an outsized contribution to the U.S. economy as a leading exporter that creates high-paying jobs, including for non-college-educated workers, while producing highly innovative products and services that drive broad-based growth, counteract inflation, and improve people’s quality of life.
Washington Post Gets It Wrong on Manufacturing Jobs
Catherine Rampell’s recent Washington Post column parrots conventional “inside the beltway” wisdom about U.S. manufacturing but demonstrates that pundits often don’t understand real economics.
Korea Should Capitalize on Soaring Dollar
A strong dollar makes U.S. imports to Korea more expensive and Korean exports to the United States less expensive, which is great for American consumers but bad for American workers, and vice versa for Korea.
Podcast: Three Historic Tech Booms Shaping Our Times, With Peter Leyden
There are techniques in place to thoroughly think through how technology will get adopted, what their implications will be, how they will spur growth, and how they will create new industries.
Podcast: What Happens to the Economy When Patent Protections Are Weakened, With Jonathan Barnett
Robust intellectual property rights provide the incentives necessary to drive innovation by allowing markets to form for tangible and intangible assets. Without them, incentives get distorted and innovation slows.
Turning Point for American Industrial Policy or One-Hit Wonder?
The CHIPS and Science Act provides critical support for semiconductor firms and boosts science funding significantly, especially for key technologies for U.S. competitiveness. But there are important questions about both the legislation and the overall direction of U.S. industrial policy.
How Canada has Fallen Behind in the Global Race for Advanced Industries
When it comes to advanced industry competitiveness, Canada is unlikely anytime to be the Maple Leafs of the global economy. But with the right policies, it can at least move up the standings.
Help US Companies Compete Against China on Technology Standards
Ensuring that the open, voluntary and industry-driven standards process prevails over China’s “standards mercantilism” will require action along a number of fronts, including providing financial support for companies to participate in the international standards process.
Podcast: Life Sciences Innovation Through the Bayh-Dole Act, With Joe Allen
Rob and Jackie sat down with Joe Allen, who served as a professional staffer on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to former Senator Birch Bayh, to discuss the importance of the Bayh-Dole Act and the future of life sciences innovation.
Why Dollar as Reserve Currency Is America’s Achilles Heel
If a country is running a deficit, the value of its currency should fall to make imports more expensive and exports cheaper. Conversely, if a country is running a trade surplus, the currency should rise in value.
Is the United States Really One of the Most Competitive Economies in the World? No.
The United States has consistently ranked near the top of international competitiveness rankings. But these reports are largely meaningless in measuring actual international competitiveness, providing policymakers a false sense of optimism about America’s position.
Recent Events and Presentations
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.
Packaging Postal Reform for the E-Commerce Era
ITIF hosted an expert panel discussion on postal reform legislation, and how to ensure the continued viability of USPS as a deliverer of both mail and packages.
Cities Left Behind in Hi-Tech Innovation
Rob Atkinson was a guest on "The Creative Life" by ThinkTech Hawaii to discuss promoting policies in innovation economics, and described how to close the divide through creative self-sustaining growth centers.
Biden Officials Discuss White House Supply Chain Report
ITIF hosted an in-depth discussion with members of the Biden Administration about the report, implications for policy, and potential next steps.
Schumpeter v. Brandeis v. Chicago: The Antitrust Debate of Our Times
Watch the launch of ITIF's Schumpeter Project on Competition Policy in the Innovation Economy. An expert panel will respond to the presentation of an important new ITIF report outlining a set of guiding principles for “dynamic antitrust.”
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