I hope I have made my position on the so-called nanotech race clear over the years. While I have been skeptical that a regional focus to nanotechnology’s development will somehow pay off in the end for those regions that invest in it, I had not yet seen the debate around nanotech’s development start splitting across the lines of the US government’s party ideologies. That is until now.
I came across this article in last week’s CBS MarketWatch website in which the debate is not just about how the US is in danger of losing its leadership in nanotech (I am not so certain this is likely to occur, even if you go by the numbers), but about whether actual funding or tax breaks are the factor that lead to that leadership in the first place.
According to the MarketWatch article, Sen. Kay Hutchinson, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, said the U.S. led in nanotech over the last decade thanks to research-and-development tax cuts. Can R&D tax cuts really be the factor that put the US in its strong position in nanotechnology’s development? I am a bit bewildered. Until this article I had never heard anyone mention tax cuts in the same breath as nanotech development. I suppose the more than $14.5 billion the Federal government has spent in actual funding over the last decade was just a minor factor in that leadership. Instead the key factor seems to be, according to Sen. Hutchinson, that those tax cuts be made permanent. I am not a Beltway expert by any means, but what is going on here? My understanding was that there was a vote to be taken by the US Senate to reauthorize the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) that has managed to get its funding through annual appropriation bills since 2008.
Instead what we seem to be getting is some non-issue standing in the way of getting the reauthorization voted on. Was someone really threatening to take away R&D tax cuts so that they needed to be protected by some permanent law?
I have been observing the US’s nanotechnology initiative since it started and have witnessed a slew of other countries launch theirs since and I think all in all the US should feel satisfied not only with the results to date but they way the program has been managed as well.
It would be a pity if all the hard work...and hard cash...that have gone into creating a foundation for nanotechnology’s development in the US, and even for it becoming a leader in the field, would be squandered for some political ideology.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.