The Biden administration last week announced the designation of 31 regional “tech hubs” across the United States, as part of a new program launched by the Commerce Department. The program aims to boost a region’s technological capabilities by collaborating with private industry, educational institutions, governments, tribes, and labor groups to produce research that drives innovation and supports economically challenged areas.
The tech hubs program is the latest example of U.S. industrial policy, or government intervention aimed at promoting strategic industries as a means to gain a competitive advantage in those sectors. Industrial policy is often associated with authoritarian countries like China, but more recently it has seen a resurgence in the U.S. as well.
The Commerce Department program is rightly being called “a grand experiment” in industrial policy. The hope is that, by taking risky gambles with taxpayer dollars, perhaps the administration will get lucky and one of its bets will hit the jackpot in terms of sustainable economic growth. However, such “experiments” are nothing new. For example, former President Obama had a program to boost “manufacturing hubs” and not much came of it. Nor is industrial policy just a Democratic Party endeavor, as Republicans senators like J.D. Vance have also embraced the strategy at times.
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