The scandal of the mobile 5G affair is not that the Europeans refused to give in to Trump administration pressure to cease all purchases from Huawei. Who knows how bad the security issue is—the Trump people have no specific examples—but the main point is that we have no alternatives to propose. We dropped the ball. That’s the scandal.
The scandal is real. Not only are there no 5G infrastructure products to recommend, but deployment of 5G equipment in our own networks is well-behind other countries. (The TV ads for 5G are for limited and pre-standard implementations.) That means we will be similarly late with the 5G applications that should be our bread and butter. That’s an infrastructure problem. Government is not doing its job.
This is happening all over the place. Climate change is an obvious example. The US has singularly low gasoline prices and no thought of carbon pricing. For the auto industry we’re even rolling back fuel efficiency standards. We’ve created an environment where US companies cannot use the US market to achieve world status. Tesla—our shining light in this area—is the exception that proves the rule: created with Obama seed capital and almost forced out of business. The Chevy Bolt is a South Korean technology product. China is already building a 21st century electrical backbone. It’s all a great big 5G.
We ourselves have proved over and over again that government needs to lead—before there’s profit to be had. Sure we’re now funding AI, but that’s late in the game. By contrast the Energy Department research budget is nowhere near what’s needed: next year—for the first time—we are funding work on in-network electrical power storage. Research universities were specifically hit by Trump’s 2017 tax plan.
Dominant countries have a tendency to believe their position was given by God. (My favorite example is the 17th century Brits who wasted fortunes looking for gold in South America, because they couldn’t believe God would have given it all to the Spanish!) It’s all too easy to get complacent, and with the ever-more-powerful Evangelicals it’s even doctrine. In the current technology environment, our ascendance could disappear in a heartbeat. We’ve got to stop believing in our divine anointment (and also stop counting our aircraft carriers on defense).
Our business-minded leaders need a business metaphor. As a country we’ve gotten ourselves stuck in a harvesting strategy—with all the benefits flowing (literally!) straight to the investors. We’d better get back to reinvesting for growth.