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America’s technological leadership is at stake in this election

The stakes are high: The US presidential election next Tuesday will shape the world for years to come. Not only because Joe Biden and Donald Trump have radically different ideas about immigration, health care, race, the economy, climate change, and the role of the state itself, but because they represent very different visions of the US’s future as a technology superpower.

A huge task: Whoever wins, it won’t be enough to fix the US’s abject failures in handling the pandemic and tackling climate change. He will also have to get the country back on a competitive footing with China, a rapidly rising tech superpower that now has the added advantage of not being crippled by covid-19. To do that, he’ll have to make up for years of government neglect—long predating the current president—of the kind of research that made the US the world’s technology center in the first place.

The main issues: The US’s technological primacy was weakening well before Trump. For decades, the US has been turning its back on the essential role of government in supporting science and technology. It’s become increasingly clear that while the venture capital model is good at building things people want, it’s less good at producing things society needs in order to solve hard, long-term problems. The old stereotype that the US invents things and China manufactures them is more out of date than ever. China is catching up to the US as an inventor and leaving it in the dust as a manufacturer. This is a good thing for the world as a whole; more competition means more sources of new ideas. But the US’s position in such a world is looking increasingly weak. Read the full story.

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