The U.S. could fall behind China in our capacity for cutting-edge technology research and manufacturing. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Our political leaders are zig-zagging their way toward a national China strategy. Earlier this year, the House of Representatives created The Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, which recently held its first hearing.
However, our government has a mixed record. Visit Main Street shops or corporate boardrooms nearly anywhere in the U.S. and you’ll hear about the shortage of workers. Despite this reality, our leaders have done little to create a system that could bring the workers our country desperately needs. Many business founders and CEOs are first or second-generation immigrants, yet our policymakers haven’t passed immigration reform in decades. Additionally, there is an acute need to invest in education, tech literacy, and vocational training so that more Americans can gain crucial skills and join the U.S. tech workforce.
Over a decade ago, my book The Comeback: How Innovation will Restore the American Dream described the economic threat from China and how American leaders can counter it. In the book, I said we needed a national strategy for promoting entrepreneurship and investing in infrastructure, supporting a strong and resilient workforce, and enacting business-friendly policies that promote innovation, competition, and free trade. I also proposed new ideas to stop wasteful government spending, including tying legislative pay to balancing the budget.
Looking globally, the Biden Administration has infuriated our allies and partners, despite a claimed desire to heal global rifts. We neglected the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a smart trade deal aimed at competing with China, and our allies have now moved forward without us. The Inflation Reduction Act tells our friends they must manufacture in the U.S. or be subject to the tariffs and trade barriers we impose on our rivals. We are also undercutting and running afoul of the World Trade Organization we helped create to encourage trade and peaceful co-existence.
These policies do nothing to help our nation prosper and thrive, or American businesses innovate and grow. And as economic competition with China heats up, we can’t afford short-sighted policies and short-term thinking.
Collaborate with our allies on the technologies of the future
The world is diverging between nations that value human rights and those that constrain and control their citizens. Our allies and U.S. voters believe in democracy, freedom, and a system that doesn’t monitor individuals daily. Simply put, we are not China. The U.S. is already home to thousands of companies producing cutting-edge technologies. Now, we need to ensure that we have the right policies to encourage innovation at home and prioritize trade with friendly countries that do the same.
Recognize China’s policies and mirror them
Putting tariffs on products from China is not just inflationary but it also costs American consumers and American businesses far more than it costs China. Instead, a better policy is to treat Chinese companies doing business in America the same way the Chinese treat U.S. companies. Force them to partner with domestic firms. Don’t allow them to buy land. Insist they be held responsible for the actions and comments of their leaders.
Focus on our strengths and set big goals
China may produce millions of talented engineers, but the American innovation ecosystem rewards creativity in a way that China’s controlled economy never will. Let’s once again become the shining city on the hill, setting big goals and reestablishing the U.S. as a global leader. Public-private partnerships are one way to get us there. Not so long ago, these partnerships delivered the Internet and HDTV and allowed the U.S. to lead the world in both.
Attract the best and brightest
America is an immigrant nation: creative, entrepreneurial, and diverse. China has doubled down on efforts to reinforce its homogeneity. Congress must pass an immigration law to attract the best and the brightest from around the globe. We don’t have enough workers for all the manufacturing we want to re-shore. While we train the next generation of American workers, we should also seek to attract and retain high-skill workers in cutting-edge technology sectors. We should be stapling green cards to STEM Ph.D.s!
The Chinese are not beating us. We are beating ourselves. Without a national strategy that leverages America’s strengths, we are ceding our future to China.
Gary Shapiro is the president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 1,500 consumer technology companies, and a New York Times bestselling author. He is the author of the book Ninja Future: Secrets to Success in the New World of Innovation. His views are his own.
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