ronald reagan and the high tech industry -- 2/26/16

Today's selection -- from These United States: A Nation in the Making 1890 to Present by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore and Thomas J. Sugrue. Though he famously stated the "government is the problem" in his first inaugural speech, President Ronald Reagan presided over one of the largest escalations of government spending in U.S. history and gave an enormous boost to technology research in the process. Government spending under Reagan gave an indispensable boost to the rise of high tech centers such as Route 128 corridor outside Boston, the Research Triangle in North Caro­lina, and the semiconductor center of Austin, Texas. In fact, by the end of the 1980s, 40 percent of all research and development in the computing industry was federally funded and university computer science programs received 83 percent of their funding from the U.S. government:

"Reagan began by significantly increasing defense spending, one of the pri­orities in his first budget. It rose from 5.3 to 6.4 percent of the gross domes­tic product between 1981 and 1989. The administration channeled funds into constructing expensive new bombers, including research for a high-tech 'stealth' bomber that would evade conventional radar. Reagan also autho­rized the deployment of 572 new intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Western Europe, within easy striking distance of the Soviet Union. ...

"In early 1983 the Reagan administration's relations with the Soviets were icier than ever, and the president escalated the war of words. He con­tinued to assert that the USSR was on the brink of military supremacy, despite mounting evidence that the Soviet regime was weak and unpopular, its military technologies inferior, and its economy in crisis. In a speech before the National Association of Evangelicals in March, Reagan spoke of 'sin and evil in the world' and pointed to the Soviet Union as an 'evil empire.' He denounced the nuclear freeze as 'a very dangerous fraud.'

"That same month, Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), calling for the creation of a space 'shield' of X-rays and lasers to protect the United States from incoming nuclear missiles. ... Budget hawks argued chat SDI would be an expensive boondoggle, costing as much as a trillion dollars. But Reagan did not let it go. The program would survive until the early 1990s, when the Bush administration and Congress dramatically cut funding for the program to balance the federal budget.

"The Clinton admin­istration would dismantle it in 1993. One of the unintended consequences of the arms buildup was that it stimulated a boom in research and development and military technology. Suburban Boston, Silicon Valley, and Los Angeles were flush with federal dollars, pulling them out of the economic slump sooner than most of the rest of the country. Federal spending also launched a high-tech economy. Universities introduced student-accessible computer centers in the early 1980s, the personal computer went from a novelty item to a mass-produced necessity in less than ten years, and microchips transformed everyday elec­tronics. The number of jobs for electrical engineers and computer scien­tists skyrocketed. By the early 1990s, local area networks and the Internet began connecting computers into what would be later named the World Wide Web.

"The rise and success of American high-tech industries did not result from tax cuts and deregulation. In fact, no American industries relied more on government spending than did computing, electrical engineering, and communications equipment. ... Between 1982 and 1988, federal research and develop­ment spending nearly doubled. By the decade's end, 40 percent of all research and development in the computing industry was federally funded; nearly half of communications technology research -- including the systems that were the basis of the Internet -- came from the federal government. Government programs also bankrolled university laboratories, computer science, and electrical engineering. In 1985 alone, computer science pro­grams received 83 percent of their funds from the federal government."



Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore and Thomas J. Sugrue


These United States: A Nation in the Making, 1890 to the Present


W. W. Norton & Company


Copyright 2015 by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore and Thomas J. Sugrue


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