We Need a New Manhattan Project

by Odysseas Papadimitriou on April 2, 2009

Manhattan ProjectAs we discussed, in our previous post “Stimulus Plan Misses A Golden Opportunity“, the Obama administration spending bill concentrates on mending America, whereas it should be concentrating on getting America set to make a strong return to the world market after the recession.  In this post we’re building off of that idea and making some suggestions about how the government spending should be used to support America as a global economic leader.

President Obama is now in a position with his spending bill to invigorate the economy, just as Presidents have done in the past.  What we should remember is that when the American government has, historically, spent money to revive the economy, its most notable successes were not related to improvement or repair, but to innovation.  A concentration on the development of new technologies has always signaled eras of prosperity for America.

In the early forties, when America raced against Nazi Germany to harness the power of atomic energy, FDR charged the military technology community to produce the atom bomb.  We put together a Manhattan Project, culling together the greatest minds in physics from all over the world, and built the bomb first.  The innovation of the atom bomb insured America’s victory in the war and the nation’s success as a postwar superpower.  Twenty years later, Kennedy invigorated the economy with his plan to put a man on the moon, and though we were not first in space, the technology that was produced by that race has helped the American economy thrive on the global market.

We again face economic challenge, and we again need a kind of Manhattan project – some kind of technological mission which will unite efforts from the private sector and government agencies towards the common goal of technological innovation. After the recession has ended, possession of such technology will allow America to re-emerge onto the global market with a unique product, and will insure America’s economic superiority.

The things that President Obama needs to do are:

  1. The President needs to set a deadline by saying that seven years from now, no matter what, America will be energy independent.
  2. He should create a new non-partisan agency to bring the goal to fruition under the leadership of someone with great vision and skills in both organization and management.  We need a person like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates for this job-we recommend that this position be offered to these men first.
  3. Whoever Obama puts in charge of this new agency needs to report directly to the president so as to prevent the constraints of redtape and the corruption of gross politicking.  This goal is simply too important to have it legislated to death by politicians.
  4. This new initiative needs to be funded upfront with a budget in the hundreds of billions of dollars so that the project can make bold and quick moves in retooling America’s energy infrastructure.
  5. In addition to bringing private industry and government agency together to help in the development of these technologies, it will also be necessary to bring in, from all over the world, the best and brightest in areas of science, management, and organization.  Part of the agency’s budget will go towards top dollar salary packages in order to attract the best talent.
  6. Finally, Obama is a president with good public support in a difficult time.  He needs to use his position to rally the country around this national goal.  By actively endorsing a push towards total energy independence, he sets the tone for the rest of America to work towards the creation of this new technology.

Realization of this goal would make America a leader in an industry that has global demand, and would not only end the recession by creating millions of new jobs, but would insure America’s economic superiority for decades to come.

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