Research Papers


The Governance of American Innovation: Restoring Congress’s Role

research papers

The Governance of American Innovation: Restoring Congress’s Role

June 6, 2023

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Executive Summary

Despite fears of sliding into stagnation, technological progress only seems to be accelerating. Multiple emerging technologies promise to change the world, including human-like generative artificial intelligence (AI), mRNA vaccines, autonomous vehicles, clean-energy breakthroughs, and cost-effective reusable rockets. We may even get flying cars.

This accelerating pace of change raises unique challenges for our governing institutions, which, following years of gradual calcification, have struggled to keep up. In American governance, policy is spread across multiple layers of federal, state, and local jurisdiction—often leading to sluggish and inconsistent patchworks of regulation.

Expectations of our policymakers have also changed. They are now routinely asked to assess and respond to an increasingly complex set of technical subjects, parsing out underlying values conflicts while managing the competing interests of incumbents and disruptors.

At the federal level, much of the blame has been put on Congress, which has delegated much of its power and authority and has allowed its staffing and policymaking capacity to atrophy.

What should we do about this “governance gap”? On the one hand, some libertarian-minded scholars embrace the absence of the state, arguing that the private sector can take the reins, leveraging informal governance mechanisms and shaping agency actions. Others argue that our weakly regulated technology sector is a ticking time bomb that will eventually lead to catastrophic results—whether ecological collapse, garage bioweapons, or an AI that turns us all into paper clips.

But state intervention without expertise or capacity is unlikely to competently address harms or maximize benefits. Similarly, the absence of governance in a low-state-capacity environment carries significant risks of reactionary and protectionist policy outcomes—particularly in times of crisis. In short, this report argues that good policy is downstream from well-functioning institutions with calibrated expertise, authorities, and incentives.

In particular, the restoration of Congress’s absorptive capacity and legislative function is a necessary condition for maximizing the benefits of new technologies and securing America’s continued leadership in innovation.

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