As we approach the upcoming Fourth of July holiday and celebrate the founding of our great nation, we cannot escape the fact that America faces a severe economic crisis. While the pundits and politicians debate whether we are on the path to recovery – or whether we’re headed for a double-dip recession -- a larger question looms: Is America becoming a second-rate nation?
Unfortunately, Washington is not prepared to answer this question. With elections on the horizon and with unemployment above 9 percent, both parties have retreated to opposite corners, almost ensuring gridlock for the immediate future. Besides, Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on what to do this week, much less what we need to be doing 20 years from now.
Indeed, our politicians are so consumed by other matters that it’s up to Americans to force the question and start demanding answers. Last week, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) announced a way to do just that: To hold our politicians accountable and start the process of restoring the American Dream for our children.
It starts with innovation. In his State of the Union Address, President Obama rightly called for a renewed commitment to rebuilding America’s innovative infrastructure. Republicans followed a few months later when they launched the House Republican Technology Working Group that champions the role of innovation in our recovery. Apparently, Republicans and Democrats can agree on something.
But as with most initiatives from Washington, the rush to return innovation to the center of U.S. economic policy will likely wither without a groundswell of popular support. That means us, which is why CEA’s Innovation Movement has written a Declaration of Innovation. This online pledge, open to all Americans, is your way to voice support of policies that ensure innovation remains the strategic advantage of the United States of America.
The policies supported by the Declaration of Innovation cover four critical areas of economic policy: free trade, immigration, wireless broadband and government spending. Pursued together, these areas define an innovative nation – one that rewards risk, encourages entrepreneurism, and establishes a secure economic foundation for the rest of our economy. But it is precisely these areas that Washington is neglecting – to the detriment of our future prosperity.
For instance, take our delay in building an economic infrastructure that represents the needs of the 21st Century economy. Demand for wireless broadband services have nearly exhausted available spectrum, creating a crisis that can only be served by allocating additional spectrum for broadband. Yet too much of our wireless spectrum remains in the grip of the broadcasting industry. It’s time we auction off the broadcasters’ unused spectrum to wireless providers to begin building the broadband infrastructure we need to compete with our foreign competitors.
Then there’s free trade, which both Democrats and Republicans insist is vital to our economic recovery. The American economy will not recover on the merits of tariffs or an outdated focus on “Buy American” provisions. But so far Congress has done nothing to pass the three pending free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, which are busy pursuing FTAs with our competitors in Canada, Asia and the EU. U.S. companies simply cannot compete when they must pay a tariff that raises the cost of our goods.
Also, it’s time to address immigration reform, if not the comprehensive reform that has tied up Congress for years, then specified changes that will greatly improve our competitive edge. Some of America’s biggest and most successful tech companies – such as Google, Intel, eBay, Yahoo! – were founded by people born outside the United States. Yet right now immigrants who earn a degree in our universities aren’t allowed to stay to build their companies. It makes no sense, and it’s time we not only let these bright, entrepreneurial immigrants stay, but encourage others to come and build their lives here as well.
Finally, Rep. Paul Ryan and the Republican Study Committee have done the nation an invaluable service by leveling with the American people about what’s needed to get our spending under control. Our companies – large corporations and start-ups – simple cannot begin hiring unless they know that Washington is serious about putting the country on sound financial footing. Unless and until we get serious about our profligate spending, then our innovation economy will continue to suffer.
It is my hope that you agree that it’s time to put innovation back at the heart of U.S. economic policy. I encourage everyone to sign the Declaration of Innovation at www.DeclareInnovation.com. It’s time for Washington to hear us.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association representing some 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times bestseller The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.