January 2022

On Tuesday, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, posted the text of the “America Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence in Technology and Economic Strength Act of 2022,” or “The America COMPETES Act.” As far as industrial policy measures go, the COMPETES Act is one of the most ambitious and expensive central planning efforts in American history. It represents the triumph of top-down, corporatist, techno-mercantilist thinking over a more sensible innovation policy rooted in bottom-up competition, entrepreneurialism, private investment, and free trade.

Unprecedented Planning & Spending

First, the ugly facts: The full text of the COMPETES Act weighs in at a staggering 2,912 pages. A section-by-section “summary” of the measure takes up 109 pages alone. Even the shorter “fact sheet” for the bill is 20 pages long. It is impossible to believe that anyone in Congress has read every provision of this bill. It will be another case of having “to pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it,” as Speaker Pelosi once famously said about another mega-measure.

Of course, a mega bill presents major opportunities for lawmakers to sneak in endless gobs of pork and unrelated policy measures they can’t find any other way to get through Congress. The Senate already passed a similar 2,600-page companion measure last summer, “The U.S. Innovation and Competition Act.” Lawmakers loaded up that measure with so much pork and favors for special interests that Sen. John N. Kennedy (R-La.) labelled the effort an “orgy of spending porn.” Like that effort, the new COMPETES Act includes $52 billion to boost domestic semiconductor production as well as $45 billion in grants and loans to address supply chain issues.

But there are billions allocated for other initiatives, as well as countless provisions addressing other technologies and sectors. The list is seemingly endless and includes: Continue reading →

This is a compendium of readings on “progress studies,” or essays and books which generally make the case for technological innovation, dynamism, economic growth, and abundance. I will update this list as additional material of relevance is brought to my attention.   

Recent Essays

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Discourse magazine has just published my review of Where Is My Flying Car?, by J. Storrs Hall, which I argue is the most important book on technology policy written in the past quarter century. Hall perfectly defines what is at stake if we fail to embrace a pro-progress policy vision going forward. Hall documents how a “Jetsons” future was within our grasp, but it was stolen away from us. What held back progress in key sectors like transportation, nanotech & energy was anti-technological thinking and the overregulation that accompanies it. “[T]he Great Stagnation was really the Great Strangulation,” he argues. The culprits: negative cultural attitudes toward innovation, incumbent companies or academics looking to protect their turf, litigation-happy trial lawyers, and a raft of risk-averse laws and regulations.

Hall coins the term “the Machiavelli Effect” to identify why many people simultaneously fear the new and different, and they also want to protect whatever status quo they benefit from (or at least feel comfortable with). He builds on this passage from Niccolò Machiavelli’s classic 1532 study of political power, “The Prince”: Continue reading →