With an eye toward presidential politics and what’s been lacking in the run-up to the November election, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates wrote today in a new op-ed that the United States must do a better job of investing in innovation.
Gates said that Americans have been inventing for more than two centuries and that every political candidate should agree that government investment in innovation “creates companies and jobs at home, makes Americans healthier and safer, and saves lives and fights poverty in the world’s poorest countries.” Gates’ op-ed for Reuters also appeared on his blog, Gates Notes.
Gates pointed out that while other countries, such as South Korea and China, have increased research and development spending, the U.S. has essentially flatlined. It’s a personal mission for the world’s richest man, who credits government research with affecting his access to computers.
I have seen first-hand the impact that this type of research can have. I was lucky enough to be a student when computers came along in the 1960s. At first they were very expensive, so it was hard to get access to them. But the microchip revolution, made possible by U.S. government research, completely changed that. Among other things it enabled Microsoft, the company I co-founded, to write software that made computers an invaluable tool for productivity. Later, the Internet—another product of federal research—changed the game again. It is no accident that today most of the top tech companies are still based in the United States, and their advances will have a massive impact in every area of human activity.
Gates stresses the importance of R&D when it comes to causes he champions today, such as health and energy. He credits American investment with helping to find new treatments for disease and with containing deadly epidemics. On energy, Gates believes increasing investment will create more jobs and lead to technologies that will power the world while also fighting climate change.
No matter who represents the opposing political parties in the presidential election, Gates said investing in innovation should be an essential component of any vision for America.
Investing in R&D isn’t about the government picking winners and losers. The markets will do that. It’s about doing what we know works: making limited and targeted investments to lay a foundation for America’s entrepreneurs. This approach has been fundamental to U.S. leadership for decades, and it will become only more important in the years ahead.
At noon PT today, Gates will discuss innovation, R&D and global health and development with Reuters Editor In Chief Steve Adler. Watch live here.