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Report Explains Tech Policy Differences Between Trump, Biden

A report reveals several significant differences between Trump and Biden on the topic of innovation. The document ends on a sobering thought about America's loss of global leadership and the need for bipartisanship.

by / September 30, 2020
The White House Shutterstock/S.Borisov

A new report indicates that presidential candidates Donald Trump and Joe Biden have some significant policy differences that can have substantial implications for the future of technology and innovation in the world.  

The report, released by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), points to innovation and research and development (R&D) policy as a key point of departure between Trump and Biden. 

Although Trump has shown support for areas that he considers “Industries of the Future,” such as artificial intelligence and 5G, he has “proposed sizable overall reductions in federal research spending in each of his four proposed budgets.” Meanwhile, Biden has stated that $300 billion should be invested in R&D. This difference could impact whether the United States can begin to lead the world again in innovation.

“U.S. policies are only the world’s tenth-best (on a per capita basis) at proactively contributing to global innovation … In fact, to restore the federal R&D-to-GDP ratio to levels averaged in the 1980s, federal R&D funding would need to increase by about 80 percent, or $100 billion per year,” the report said. 

On broadband and telecommunications, the candidates have some similarities, but two major disagreements come to light in the report. First, Trump would like to keep the Federal Communications Commission from having authority over “mass-market residential broadband service,” but Biden wants to see that authority restored in some way. Second, Biden wants to increase federal support for municipal broadband, while Trump “appears generally skeptical of municipal broadband.”

Clean energy policy represents one of the biggest differences between Trump and Biden, according to the report. Trump has been supportive of “carbon-intensive technologies” and has suggested cuts to clean energy R&D. In contrast, Biden has emphasized climate change as an issue, proposed a hike in funding for clean energy R&D, and stated that carbon capture, utilization and storage technology should be prioritized.  

Even though both candidates want to clamp down on China with their trade policy, Biden has criticized Trump’s efforts, saying that Trump’s current approach “doesn’t deal with key issues such as industrial overcapacity, cybertheft, and the role of state-owned enterprises.” The report also indicates that Trump prefers a “largely unilateral approach” when it comes to dealing with China, but Biden wants to take a more multilateral route. 

In regard to policy on online platforms, the report shows that Trump seeks to take aim at an “anti-conservative bias” among platforms, while Biden seems more concerned with misinformation and hate speech on platforms. 

The report notes that its policy comparisons are limited by what the candidates have addressed to this point. 

“In past elections, both parties’ nominees generally articulated positions on nearly all of the policy areas ITIF identified as key priorities for promoting innovation,” the report said. “This is generally not the case in 2020. While Biden has stated his positions on most of the issues tracked by ITIF, Trump has been much vaguer, offering few detailed positions.”

The report concludes that neither Republicans nor Democrats seem to be fully aware of the stakes around global innovation. The authors state that the country needs a “bipartisan commitment to rejecting the anti-innovation policy advice of neoclassical economists as well as the anti-big business rhetoric of progressives.”

“The reality is that America is no longer the global innovation leader, at least on a per capita basis, and it risks losing out to China over the next decade or two,” the report said. “This could have serious implications for national security, and certainly serious implications for U.S. power globally. Whether or not the two major parties understand this threat and want to prioritize it is unclear.”

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