Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, speaking to nearly 1,000 technology executives in Northern Virginia earlier today, called on the federal government and the nation at large to re-embrace a national spirit of innovation, or risk seeing the decline of nation’s global economic and political stature.
“If we are to remain the strongest nation on Earth, we must remain the most innovative nation on Earth,” he said.
Indeed, Romney seemed to be campaigning on an innovation platform before the technology audience.
The former Massachusetts governor spoke at a breakfast in Reston, Va., sponsored by the Consumer Electronics Association. The event included introductory comments from Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who noted Virginia’s own record of innovation and opportunity, as seen by the commonwealth’s 6.2 percent unemployment rate and its ranking as the most business-friendly state in the nation by CNBC.
As with most election season speeches, Romney delivered a polished and patriotic message that drew occasional applause, but provided few concrete ideas on how he would steer the nation back onto a more innovative course, or how technology might play a leading part.
Romney praised the notion of competitive states as one of the reasons the nation as a whole has flourished. He recalled how the roots of “America’s culture of prosperity” were founded on the spirit of innovation.
America “became the place on the planet to pursue life the way you choose. This was the place every innovator wanted to come,” he said.
“Over time, government has pushed itself deeper and deeper into our personal lives and the economy,” Romney said. “It is one of the reasons our country has not rebooted itself after the last recession.”
Romney pointed out that America has ranked last or next-to-last in innovation the last two years, according to a study by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. He faulted government in general-and teachers’ unions too-for making it harder to implement changes that would improve K-12 education.
“We’re going to have to make some dramatic, bold changes, or we will be eclipsed and prosperity and change will be casualties,” he said.
Romney, who continues to run as a Washington outsider, also faulted the insular and bureaucratic nature of the federal government.
“So many people who work in our government have never worked in the private sector,” he said. “Liberals feel that innovation will happen anyway. So when people tell me the government can do whatever it wants and not change the innovation and spirit of America, I tell them I think they are wrong.
Romney sketched out several changes he would make if elected, but offered little in the way of detail on how we would go about making the changes.
He said he would put in place a tax structure, and change government regulation, that would do more to encourage people to take risks. “We have a government whose job it is to say no to risk,” Romney said.”It encourages people to take their ideas elsewhere and America falls behind.”
Romney’s economic proposals include lowering the corporate income tax rate, which for some goes up to 39 percent, to 25 percent; repealing the health care reform law; and reducing non-security-related discretionary spending in the federal budget by 5 percent.
He also would do more to open markets for American products. “In the last three years, China and European Union countries have had 44 trade agreements,” he said. “The U.S. has had none.”
He would expand energy resources, but stay away from the government helping specific companies, as it did by guaranteeing $535 million in loans to solar power manufacturer Solyndra. That discourages capital from flowing to other entrepreneurs and stifles competition he said.
He proposed, alternatively, that government should only invest in core research that supports developments in space, military and science and health.
Lastly, he stressed the need to invest in human capital by strengthening K-12 and higher education.
How he planned to accomplish these changes, given the intractability of Congress, was apparently the subject for future campaign speeches.
And not surprisingly, he gave no mention to various efforts by the current administration, dating back to 2009 aimed at promoting innovation, including a wave of national contests initiated by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Veterans Administration and other agencies.
When the time came time for questions, Romney was challenged on what the nation–and he–could do about the vast concentration of engineering talent now in China that has led so many companies, including Apple, to build their products there.
Romney acknowledged he has spoken with numerous executives first hand who are now doing business in China because of the availability of human capital, rather than because of cheaper prices.
His answer sounded like much of what is heard on the campaign trail that might easily fit on a bumper sticker: “We have to make America the most attractive place for business again.”
“I love this country,” Romney concluded. “I am optimistic. I have seen the spirit of America and seen people time and time again succeed, as long as we have leaders who are leading. I am ready to call on the American people to rise to greatness.”
As for the details on how he plans to do that, including details on how he would lower health care costs, Romney said, “I describe them in my book. Go buy it!”