President Ronald Reagan made famous this most concise articulation of what has become conventional wisdom among too many Americans. According to this view, American ingenuity is stifled by government. If only it would get out of the way, businesses would thrive.
Business owners and others who buy into this line of thinking should be careful what they wish for. Government, in fact, is a major engine for economic growth.
OMB Watch, with our support, has put out a video today called “Government’s Invisible Helping Hand” that explores this phenomenon. It makes a compelling case. Click here to watch.
One of the challenges is the invisibility of government support compared with the visibility of government restrictions. Individuals who utilize government-run social programs like food stamps or housing vouchers understand how government is helping them. Businesses, unless they do business with the government or receive a direct subsidy, often buy in to the myth of their own self-sufficiency.
The belief that government restrains growth, rather than contributes to it, is dangerous when it is used to shape public policy. We miss opportunities to create jobs, strengthen industries, and stimulate innovations.
The Nathan Cummings Foundation has long supported social change non-profits that are familiar with the important role government plays in our economy; from health care (Citizen Action of Wisconsin) to technology innovation and research (Breakthrough Institute), public education (Austin Poly Tech) to communications infrastructure and access (Center for Media Justice).
One of those groups is Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank. It works at the cutting edge of designing innovation policies and documenting how advances in technology are creating new economic opportunities to boost economic growth and improve quality of life in the United States and around the world. Our support enables ITIF to apply an innovation economics-centric approach to the energy and climate debate. The goal is a coherent national energy policy that spurs the development of cheap clean energy, reduces carbon emissions, and spurs economic growth.
We asked ITIF Senior Analyst Stephen Ezell how some of our leaders’ unwillingness to recognize the good government can do is affecting our economy.
"The United States is increasingly isolated in its belief that countries don't compete with one another and that only firms compete," he said. "Our traded sector establishments are up against competitors that are aided in countless ways by their governments. It's time to level the playing field."
The United States is weaker when we refuse, for ideological reasons, to recognize the positive role the government can and does play in our economy. I am hopeful that this video, and many of our grantees, can help wake up policy makers to this reality, before we miss some huge opportunities to grow an economy that works for everyone.