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Innovation Mandate: An Interview With Craig Barrett

The former Intel chairman thinks 'we have our priorities a little bit wrong'
InformationWeek: What's your prescription for education?

Barrett: The most important education reform in the U.S. is to look at our K-through-12 system. Compare it worldwide to the best in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and start to use tests based on international benchmarks, not based on state-by-state benchmarks. We do not compare ourselves to the best in the world. We compare ourselves to each other. That's inappropriate.

InformationWeek: What needs to be done by the government to foster continued U.S. competitiveness in technology?

Barrett: Invest in peer-reviewed, university basic R&D. Take the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, DOD--double that investment over a finite period of time, five years or so. It's not picking winners and losers, but it is investing in peer-reviewed basic research in our universities. Our universities are the basic research laboratory of the United States. That's where the next ideas come from.

InformationWeek: Give us your bullet points for what needs to be done.

Barrett: Fix K through 12. Get some internationally benchmarked standards to judge our performance. Recognize that the 30% of the kids in the U.S. who don't even graduate from high school are boat anchors around the economy's neck, and do something dramatically about that 30% dropout rate.

Recognize that R&D is the seed corn of the future. The government has to invest in basic R&D at our universities.

Recognize that even if you have smart people and smart ideas, you need to have an environment which promotes investment in the U.S. For a country which has the highest corporate tax rate in the world, that is not an incentive to invest. That's a disincentive. So we need to look at what other countries are doing to promote investment. We don't have to copy everything, but we at least have to have the fundamentals right.

We have pretty good intellectual property protection in the U.S., but we put a horrendous burden on corporations with Sarbanes-Oxley. That limits startups. We have healthcare costs which are out of control. And we have the highest corporate tax rate in the world.

We can throw hundreds of billions of dollars at shovel-ready, asphalt-ready projects and not put anything into the industries of the 21st century. We have our priorities a little bit wrong.

This is not a Republican or Democrat issue--it's the longstanding Washington, D.C., image that you don't make any investments beyond a two-year cycle because you don't get any return on investments for the next election cycle. That's why R&D has suffered for the last 30 years. Nobody wants to fund R&D because there's no payback for the election cycle. Its payback is in five to 10 years.

InformationWeek: Oct. 4, 2010 Issue
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