THE BLOG
03/28/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bravo, Tom Friedman: More Stimulation, Less Stimulus, and How CEA Is Building an Innovation Movement

Thomas Friedman writes in his Sunday New York Times column that: "What the country needs most now is not more government stimulus, but more stimulation."

"We need to make 2010 what Obama should have made 2009: the year of innovation, the year of making our pie bigger, the year of 'Start-Up America,'" Friedman continues. To get Americans excited about innovation and entrepreneurship, he counsels President Obama to build an "Innovation Movement" to rally citizens for positive economic change.

Friedman's perspective captures so well the sentiments of the existing Innovation Movement, a national campaign that the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) launched six months ago, to rally the grassroots around innovation policies and entrepreneurial leadership that would help lead the economic recovery and spur job creation.

Today, more than 50,000 Americans have joined the Innovation Movement as they share a belief that our future is tied in with our ability to innovate. The Innovation Movement is urging the U.S government to focus on policies which help rather than discourage innovation. We've seek a climate favoring investment and entrepreneurship, a focus on science and math education, and trade policies encouraging exports and lower tariffs.

We've asked the Federal Communications Commission to help find more wireless spectrum for innovative broadband services. We've advocated for an updated H1B visa program to persuade the best and brightest immigrants, educated in the United States, to stay here and work. Through our "Apps for Innovation" competition, we are encouraging software developers to build apps that illuminate innovation at work and help others share that innovation across their social networks. The winning app, GovPulse, unlocks the Federal Register by making it easily searchable.

We believe innovation is the backbone of our economy and the foundation of our future prosperity.

Innovation is not a birthright, but a precious national resource

How is the U.S. government doing in terms of supporting an environment that fosters innovation? Innovation is a two-way street between innovators and the nation that supports them. Lately, we're not holding up our end of the bargain.

Just as we rely on innovators to develop the technologies and advancements that stoke our economic development, innovators rely on all of us to create and nurture a legal and economic environment that is friendly to innovation. As one side of the equation falters, the other suffers as well.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently reported that patent applications fell slightly in 2009, following years of steady increases. Taken as an isolated data point, the small drop-off may not be troubling, but in light of the larger economic picture, it becomes yet another indicator that innovation - the most important economic force of the past two decades - is under strain.

For more than a century, the United States has been a world leader in innovation. The two most ubiquitous technologies of our generation, the Internet and personal computer, are the products of American innovation, as are thousands of other products and devices used throughout the world. And for all the debate about our health-care system, American doctors and researchers lead the world in developing new treatments and technologies.

We experience the benefits of this innovative success every day, both in our standard of living and in the continued economic development spurred by our innovative industries.

If there is a downside to the United States' lengthy run as a global innovation leader, it's that Americans have come to take that success for granted. We have a tendency to think of innovation as a natural outgrowth of innate American ingenuity, rather than the result of a social and economic environment that has been carefully constructed to support innovation.

There is nothing accidental or ordained about our historic leadership in innovation. It has been painstakingly established through a commitment to free-market principles, and through a legislative environment that - with some notable exceptions - has consistently rewarded enterprise and hard work. And our culture of always challenging the status quo, fostered by the First Amendment and our immigrant heritage, has helped make America synonymous with innovation.

But by thinking of innovation as a birthright, rather than a precious and vulnerable national resource, we risk unsettling the balance that has supported decades of global economic leadership.

Innovation critical to future economic success: 96 percent of Americans

Americans know the importance of innovation. In a recent poll conducted by Zogby International for CEA, 96 percent of Americans said that innovation would be critical to the United States maintaining its global economic leadership. More than 68 percent said that innovation would be important to the future success of their employer.

Young people, in particular, are counting on the United States continuing its tradition of innovative excellence. Nearly 50 percent of respondents age 18 to 24 said that the technology industry would lead the way over other sectors in job creation.

What's less clear is whether most Americans - and indeed, even our elected officials - fully grasp the extent of their own responsibility for supporting the innovation economy.

The cornerstone of our innovative success has been a commitment to free-market economic principles and to a policy environment that encourages experimentation and enterprise. The reason that so many innovators have started their businesses here is that the United States has traditionally provided the best platform for success, with its strong consumer base, rich venture capital markets and open international trading environment.

But now, nearly every fundamental aspect of that innovation-friendly environment is under strain. The fiscal stability that has provided such a firm foundation for business faces a dire threat in the form of skyrocketing deficits - deficits that have the potential to economically cripple an entire generation of future innovators.

At the same time, lawmakers have taken a big step back from our longstanding national commitment to trade, allowing key trade agreements to die on the vine and cutting American innovators off from emerging markets.

As we allow - and in many cases, encourage - these changes to take place, we need to be prepared for the consequences, especially as emerging nations step up to follow the blueprint we created.

Many Americans already sense the winds blowing in that direction. Some 40 percent of survey respondents from the Zogby poll predicted that "the next Bill Gates" would come from India or China, not the United States. Nearly 75 percent said it was "unlikely" that the United States would regain its status as the world's most competitive nation in 2010.

We can only hope that this bleak view of the future isn't set in stone, because, as Tom Friedman states so eloquently, while that may be the direction we're headed, it's still in our power to change the course. Our ballooning federal deficit and the notion that the government rather than industry creates jobs, are our two biggest threats to innovation in America.

I'd love to see President Obama initiate an Innovation Agenda this year that puts innovation and entrepreneurs at the center. Nothing could be more bipartisan than the desire to see our nation thrive and extend its track record of global innovation leadership. We know what it takes to foster innovation, even in the face of economic instability. Now we just need to be bold enough to put those policies back in place.

Gary Shapiro is the president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association. To join the Innovation Movement, visit www.innovation-movement.com.