No speculation needed any more. Barack Obama has won. But take a look at Obama's plans and policies below:
Sculptures of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama by Madame Tussauds, Washington D.C.
Can a single president make a difference?
Abraham Lincoln started the National Academy of Science, fostered the First Transcontinental Railroad, embraced the telegraph, personally tested prototype military weapons, and is the only U.S. president to hold a patent. John F. Kennedy said, "let's put a man on the moon," fueling many in an effort to tackle that seemingly impossible goal. A single president has taken the U.S. from the depths of despair to be a technology powerhouse. As the U.S. slowly crawls out of the "great recession," now is the time for a president to make a historic move to catapult the USA forward. Who is this catalytic figure, Mitt Romney or Barack Obama?
Since World War II, the United States economy prospered from being the absolute lead in almost all technology sectors. That was until the 1980s. The latest devices were disseminated all around the world, but so was the ability to make it all. Technological Innovation and manufacturing was the U.S. backbone for nearly a century. Manufacturing slowly moved out, now tech-innovation is being threatened. U.S. R&D spending rose only 10.4% from 1995 to 2008, while the largest threat, China, increase 170%. (CITE) As the U.S. lags behind the world's innovation leaders, now is the time for a focal shift. As competition from tech goods increases, cost and risk have followed suit. Most large corporations moved money outside the U.S. by producing abroad, and partnering with foreign corporations. If you can beat them join them, seems to be the mantra. Even small private tech business owners tell me, "I have to take 'X' work overseas. They have all the resources." Unfortunately, in many cases that includes the engineering of their particular devices. Innovation has flowed across international borders but rarely in the opposite direction. The U.S. has no other pillar to lean on but further tech innovation. Does either candidate have a vision to surpass global rivals?
On the common issues, the candidates have similar intentions, only varying as much as one would expect from the parties. However, let's briefly take a look at how they differ in significant technological areas.
It is hard to launch into what is to come without mentioning the past. Since taking office in 2008, Obama has made improvements to the economy. Through several initiatives, the economy has turned from negative to positive in two years. The Obama administration highlight that 5.1 million private sector jobs were added in the past 2.5 years, almost a half-million manufacturing jobs, and over 1 million saved in the automotive industry (due to the auto rescue program). Although the U.S. is only whimpering back from the recession, it is on the upward trend. This resulted in more job created in 2010 than the entire George W Bush years. Despite this, the unemployment rate remains at a stubborn 8% and national debt continues to climb.
Politically speaking, Romney left Massachusetts with a billion dollar deficit, which left more debt per person than any other state. Spending increased each year of office with Romney, which resulted in the need to create over 1000 new taxes. Education was cut, 10% of small businesses fell or lagged behind nation averages, and many state jobs were outsourced overseas.
These facts said, what do the candidates have planned for the future?
Military R&D budgeting is far too high
● The Federal R&D Budget
This is an area where the U.S. government can directly spur growth in varying sectors with direct funding and contests. This is essential when places in a highly competitive global market. It will take careful planning and cutting up funding for R&D to make the most impact. First and foremost, the federal R&D funding has a trickledown effect into every technology developed with the aid of the government.
OBAMA: Obama continues to increase the R&D budget for 2013. Funds for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to $1.951 billion, which is a 1.4% increase over FY2012, and is double 2009's request. The National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Office of Science at the Department of Energy receive slight bumps, around 5%.
ROMNEY: Romney's " Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth" states that there will be an immediate 5% cut across the board of all non-military R&D endeavors. Paul Ryan's "The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal" confirms the 5% cut to non-defense R&D, but goes on to state that there would be a 3% cut in total R&D. Despite stating in the 10/3/2012 debate that there would be no decreases in military spending, Romney has some disjointed information.
MY TAKE: Obama is relying on huge influxes of cash to push development. Without a clear goal, it will be a slow development. On the other side of the coin, Romney is setting up to stifle new development, even if it is only slightly.
● R&D Tax Credit
Properly crafted tax policies can make or break competiveness. While most countries have structured their laws to encourage development, the USA has become one of the highest corporate taxing nations on the planet. The USA's 39.2% corporate tax rate places it at 35th out of 37 countries according to the "Atlantic Century II report." The 10/3/2012 debate clearly shows that both parties are considering lowering the effective tax rate for businesses in the coming years. Although both plans are quite similar, let's take a look.
OBAMA: Obama plans to cut the corporate tax rate to 28% while eliminating "dozens" of tax breaks, making the resulting effect break even. All corporations working with R&D will continue to benefit off of the R&D tax break according to the "Administration’s FY2013 Budget Proposes Tax Policy to Boost Growth, Create Jobs and Improve Opportunity for Middle Class." However, individuals making more than $250k will get a tax bump to 39.6%, but at least their business sees some improvements
ROMNEY: Romney supports a similar plan. The corporate rate drops to 25% while also taking away all other tax breaks. According to the Romney website's "On the Issues: Tax," top earning people will get a tax deduction on their personal earnings down to 20%. As Romney has stated, the top earners are the ones providing over 50% of the jobs, give them the break. This is in an effort to make sure those people keep the jobs here.
MY TAKE: It comes down to speculation. Will taxing the wealthy keep jobs here or not? From discussions I have had with small and medium businesses owners, no matter what the tax situation is, they get parts and devices for pennies on the dollar overseas. The government can only ask nicely, can you please stop outsourcing?
● Educating the masses
There are two paths to go in gaining the skills to innovate, become self-taught or going to school. The chances of becoming self-taught and making a significant contribution to the tech of the world is becoming more slim. Many have to stay on top of the technology forefront, and gaining a strong foundation of past work to be relevant in today's world. Is the fact that the USA's education level being inferior to our global neighbors related to the how most innovative tech and manufacturing expertise is outside the borders? Both candidates seem to think so.
OBAMA: Obama plans to expand the education and training of 10,000 through the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition in his "Educate to Innovate" campaign. He fully supports the "100kin10" program that will push 100,000 teachers through the STEM system. For lower level schools, Obama plans a nationwide improvement. Though "Race to the Top" and his "Master Teacher" concept, all schools will be subjected to performance based evaluations, and improvements will be made from there.
ROMNEY: Romney also supports STEM. According to the "Primary Colors" article, Romney gave his blessing on adding 1000 STEM trained instructors while he was Governor or Massachusetts. According to Romney's plan "A Chance for Every Child," and his statements during the 10/3/2012 debate, his plan lets kids shop around for the best school. They have a choice to go to a better performing school (a voucher system). He them plans to tie federal support "reforms that expand parental choice" (Believe in America: Mitt Romney’s Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth). Romney also supports performance based rewards or penalties. Underperforming schools will have grants blocked. He also plans on removing some certification requirements for new teachers.
MY TAKE: It is clear both realize education can put the country back on track to becoming the world's number one innovator. It is Obama's job, right now, to make this happen. He wants a total education quality lift. His plan is straightforward, educate more teachers, raise quality. Romney's plan is a little more hands off. Letting the people have the choice to go to X or Y school. Everything else he has said on education has been vague and promissory. Keep in mind, Romney is in no position to make a difference nationwide, he can only speculate on what to do.
● Digital Communication
The internet is an ever growing part of the USA economy; online business now equates to 3.7% of economic activity (according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau). This area has been on the rise since the public inception of the internet. To put that into perspective, in 2010, the online activity generated $684 billion, which the Feral Government only contributed $625 billion to the USA's output (According to Boston Consulting Group). Online activity will continue to play a major role in innovation and growth in the coming decades, and that openness is being threatened by SOPA and PIPA like regulations. Getting data connectivity to every part of the nations is key. Simply put, the USA lags behind many other countries in the percentage of internet users.
OBAMA: Obama unconditionally rejects laws like SOPA and PIPA. He plans on selling off While Space. In particular, he is making the 500MHz spectrum available. Net Neutrality is at the heart of all spectrum auctions. Most importantly, he has begun an initiative that will provide "98% of Americans" with high-speed wireless service.
ROMNEY: Romney is also opposed to SOPA like laws. The Republican party platform has a strong "Internet Freedom" angle. However, Romney is not supporting Net Neutrality for spectrum auctions. Romney has not stated much in the area of digital communication. However, many republican appointees have expressed support of many Obama communication policies.
MY TAKE: It seems Obama has a clearer plan that will benefit the masses. Romney is just following suit, but he will be more restrictive with what the government can sell.
During most of the last century, the United States reigned supreme as the world's manufacturer of goods. All that changed in the 1980s. As the global competitors became more learned and skilled, the USA was outmatched in both capability and workforce prices. Bringing jobs back is almost resting on the kindheartedness of domestic corporate shot-callers. The past ten years have shown an 11% decline in the manufacturing sector. Despite the recent growth in the economy, the producers in the USA have not recovered. Every manufacturer in the USA has been outmatched by cheaper import at every turn. The goal now is to create an environment where those shot callers see that keeping production domestic is the way to go.
OBAMA: Obama is proposing $2.2 billion in advanced manufacturing R&D in programs Materials Genome Initiative and National Robotics Initiative. Companies using advanced manufacturing technologies will see a doubling of the tax deduction to 18%. As stated in the 10/3/2012 presidential debate, Obama said he would eliminate the tax benefits that corporations receive when they ship jobs overseas. It turns out that companies could receive a 20% deduction, well above the domestic price. Obama also proposed to invest $1 billion to create the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation that would serve as a nexus for "manufacturing excellence." However, a $45 million dollar pilot program was instituted instead. He is also instituting a military-veteran program to place those people into high-skilled advanced manufacturing jobs.
ROMNEY: Romney said during the debate that he has been in business for a long time and that was the first time he heard about the tax break for shipping jobs (the 20%). Romney states that the manufacturing sector may also receive a 5% cut. As governor, Romney cut funding to the manufacturing sector of Massachusetts. See the Great Recession, Policy Choices, & State Budget Cuts: An Update for Fiscal Year 2012 (Boston, MA: Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, April 30, 2011) As for the military retraining, Romney wants to put all programs "into a single program at a single agency." At which point grants would be given to states to decide how to handle their veterans. In his tenure as governor left Massachusetts as the nation's 3rd worst decline in manufacturing.
MY TAKE: Whoever came up with the idea of giving an incentive to move jobs out of the USA (the 20%) had the corporations in mind. Not only is it cheaper to move jobs out, they get a prize to do it. Obama is to end this, and that is the best want to make the sector level domestically. Historically, Obama attempted to increase funding while Romney decreased Massachusetts while being governor.
(Right) How Solyndra's cell worked. Proved to be too costly vs Chinese imports (via Solyndra)
● Alternative energy
The depletion of fossil fuels has been touted like an End Is Near poster since the 70s. Oil production continues as a solid rate. Hydraulic fracturing is a booming new oil rush for the USA. The world may still be flush with oil for centuries. What is an issues is the impact of the use of oil has had on the environment. Alternative energy not only relieves the burden on traditional fuel sources, but also does wonders for the ecosystem of the planet. Environmentally conscious people demand its use. The planet demands it use. Not only will this budding new industry innovate, but jobs will come pouring out of it.
OBAMA: Having already passing a law requiring civilian level automobiles to have a 35 mpg efficiency, Obama will have light duty vehicles to get 54.5 mpg by 2025. He will help start planning for energy laws pertaining to commercial vehicles for 2018. He wants one million electric-vehicles on USA roads by 2015. The president's view is that the government should be present in all energy innovation efforts, focusing on a plan for the tech's use. The Implement Clean Energy Standard states that 80% of electricity is to come from clean sources, as in clean coal, natural gas, nuclear by 2035. Carbon capture is also a focus.
It is hard to ignore how Solyndra may have duped the Obama administration for a $535 million dollar loan, which essentially vanished after the company filed for bankruptcy. This action left the debt placed on tax payers shoulders. Obama hailed Solyndra, "The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra, will always be America’s businesses."
The fallout of this poor choice on Obama's part resulted in the recent "The No More Solyndras Act (H.R. 6213)." This law, if it passes, would make sure that tax payers would never again not be 'on the hook' for presidential administration's 'risky bets.' Although the law has passed in the House, it is unlikely going to make it into law. "It's not about the money, it's about sending a message."
Despite all this, Obama supports offshore clean energy generation, the DOE and DOD collaborations on clean energy tech from the lab to the 'warfighter,' demanded federal government emissions cut 28% by 2020, and requiring federal agencies to meet 'net-zero' energy guidlines by 2030.
ROMNEY: Romney has unequivocally stated that he ‘will invest in new technologies and continue the Department of Energy’s critical basic research on alternative resources.' Romney’s ultimate goal for alternative energy is to make America ‘energy independent’ which he says ‘will require technology that allows us to use energy more efficiently in our cars, homes and businesses’ as well as increasing the use of biodiesel, ethanol and nuclear power. The first two parts consist of ‘dramatic regulatory reform’ related to exploration (drilling) and development of both oil and gas infrastructure (refinery refinements?) along with ‘modernizing out-dated environmental EPA laws. He states this will stop the EPA from using ‘imaginary benefits to justify onerous burdens’ when it comes to the use of coal and fracking techniques. Significant EPA law reduction will also help further his goal to continue off-shore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and the Outer Continental Shelf in an effort to become less dependent on foreign fossil energy. His stance is summed up by his 10/3/2012 debate statement, "I like coal."
MY TAKE: Obama makes numerous investments in alternative energy. Some wiser than others, but the trend is to make the USA the global expert on the matter, which is becoming an extending hurdle every day. Romney is sticking to the traditional avenues, the 'need more oil, drill more holes' approach. Romney's lack of ideas on developing alternative energy is something to consider.
The space program is the pinnacle of human engineering. Placing a man on the moon and sending a horse sized robot to mars are just the icing on the cake, so to speak. Currently, NASA funding is less than 1% of the budget, but the return on investment has always proven to worth every penny. Take this example :
One series of tests using empty houses at Vandenberg Air Force Base compared [this new] system with a 20-gallon-per-minute, 1,400 pound-per-square-inch (psi) discharge capability (at the pump) versus a standard 100-gallon-per-minute, 125 psi standard hand line—the kind that typically takes a few firemen to control. The standard line extinguished a set fire in a living room in 1 minute and 45 seconds using 220 gallons of water. The [new] system extinguished an identical fire in 17.3 seconds using 13.6 gallons—with a hose requiring only one person to manage.
Simply put, a better fire extinguishing system. It does not end there. Due to the space program 43 countries have communication satellites in orbit. G.P.S. changes navigation, meteorological forecasting, cell phones, TV, even banking are due to exploration of space. NASA's partners continue to innovate consistently, Boeing, SpaceX, and ATK, just to name a few. The USA may be falling behind as other countries are beginning to invest in the space race. Do the candidates realize the importance?
OBAMA: Despite cutting NASA's robotic exploration funding by 20% ($1.2 billion), Obama plans giving out contracts to private companies. In particular, SpaceX is to receive $1.1 billion in a transport contract. Obama also has defined a series of milestones for the space program to reach. On that list is a new spacecraft for astronauts to take to the International space station, a modified Orion capsule for emergency returns, and a new rocket system. By 2025 the president stated "we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys to allow us to begin the first-ever crewed missions beyond the moon into deep space. We’ll start by sending astronauts to an asteroid for the first time in history. By the mid-2030s, I believe we can send humans to orbit Mars and return them safely to Earth, and a landing on Mars will follow. And I expect to be around to see it." To do this, a 2011 budget increase of $6 billion was proposed. An additional $3.1 billion will be added for developing a heavy lift rocket to be finished by 2015. He believes this will create 2,500 new jobs along the "space coast."
ROMNEY: Romney, supporting a greater partnership with aerospace companies. But, with the R&D cut of 5%, NASA would be sure to receive the axe as well. (A small axe)
Romney states that he, and running mate Paul Ryan, want to bring the United States back to the fore-front of global leadership in space exploration and calls America’s space program ‘an engine of technological innovation and economic vitality.' According to recent policy paper released from Romney’s website, the Republican nominee touts that ‘space is crucial to technological innovation. If we want to have a scientifically trained and competent workforce, we must demonstrate a long-term commitment to the pursuit of innovation and knowledge.' In essence, he and running-mate Ryan will re-prioritize NASA’s mission spec and give them a more focused initiative regarding their priorities. This means they will receive no additional funding for space exploration, but rather refocused onto tasks that concern national security. Meaning advancements in communication, photo/reconnaissance and monitoring satellites are a priority over actual exploration unless it benefits a viable adaptation for economic advancement (curiosity of the heavens is no longer in the forefront). The militarization of space is the core of Romney’s space initiative but will extend to private corporations when they get their space-ventures off the ground, after which they will likely be closely regulated and come under scrutiny as to what they can carry and where they go.
MY TAKE: Both candidates feel the crunch on the budget. Direct and obvious benefits from NASA or the space program are just not clear enough to warrant significant investment. Between the two, Obama has a better launching point. It is about the betterment of the human race, dominating the impossible, and forward thinking. Fortifying the USA and its allies, the Romney plan, just isn't blowing my hair back.
● My Conclusion
I attempted to take an unbiased view of the two candidates, but I ended up favoring one of the candidates more. It is clear that Obama has quite a body of political work to stand on. With all the programs, initiatives, budgets increases, there is sure to be a surge of technological advancement in the USA over the coming decades. Romney's plan to stop most of Obama's efforts and cut R&D funding by 5% is an enormous step back. If Romney take over the United States may be left in the same state he left Massachusetts, 47th of 50 in job creation, more taxes and fees, a bigger deficit, manufacturing in decline, businesses leaving, and most jobs outsourced in history. I tried to find some redeeming qualities for Romney in regards to tech or engineering, unfortunately data came up lacking. Obama has embraced new technology, social media, and will continue fostering research, while Romney is sticking with status quo, following what others decide to do, and leaning heavily on tried and true - but often old - ways. The alternative energy subject being the perfect example.
I personally have seen the engineering sector grow the most in the past 4 years, recovering from the previous 8. Every engineer I know who could not find work, in now employed. Every year is better than the last. Balancing a budget, reducing the deficit, and social services aside, moving money into the engineering industry is what matters most. In my opinion, the choice is clear - Barack Obama.