American Innovation Under Structural Erosion and Global Pressures

February 9, 2015
U.S. global innovation leadership is faltering and in danger of flat lining.

For most of the postwar era, the United States has enjoyed superior leadership in innovation, whether measured by student skills, research and development spending, patents, or high-technology industry output. However, as Western European economies caught up with the global innovation frontier and Japan followed, this superiority began to erode. The U.S.-led IT revolution of the 1990s seemed to slow down this innovation convergence, but only until the bubble burst in the early 2000s. While America has recovered faster from the global financial crisis than other nations, structural trends in innovation convergence have not disappeared. On the contrary, the technological advancement of large emerging economies, such as China, has even more clearly delineated different nations’ impacts in global innovation.

In the absence of significant government investment in innovation (from both direct spending and tax incentives for business to invest more in innovation), the current budget sequestration is likely to pave the way for further relative decline in innovation with accompanying slower economic growth. It is not an inevitable scenario, however. The United States could once again lead in the race for global innovation advantage with an appropriate innovation strategy — one that’s credible, bipartisan and medium- to long-term in nature.

This report assesses the current state of the American innovation ecosystem, compares it to the systems of our top global competitors and argues that we need a comprehensive national innovation strategy, backed by significant government investment, to restore the United States to global leadership.