As the United States looks to science to help us get past the COVID-19 pandemic, we would be well advised to also look back. Seventy-five years ago this summer, when our country faced financial uncertainty about the post-war future, a farsighted engineer named Vannevar Bush made it clear that America’s enduring technological leadership and economic vibrancy were inextricably linked. His report to President Truman, entitled “Science — The Endless Frontier,” proved to be a blueprint for prosperity and economic vitality. We would be well served to continue heeding its central message.
Following the worldwide devastation of World War II, America’s industries had to wait for other countries to rebuild before they could afford to buy what we built — things such as cars, airplanes and electronics. However, as other societies rebuilt, they gained industrial capacity and learned to duplicate what American factories made, but at a lower cost. As a result, more and more factory jobs were filled overseas.
So how did America’s economy continue to lead the world, despite the surging of other economies? The secret is that we kept inventing and developing things that never existed before, and that no one else knew how to do. Our creative free-enterprise system then generated things of value out of these discoveries, such as the booming biotechnology economy that grew out of research into the molecular underpinnings of life, and the computer technology industry and advanced manufacturing that grew out of the broad spectrum of physical science research. Read the full story here.