Clinton Versus Trump: Who’s Stronger on Innovation?

Xconomy National — 

With the Republican National Convention behind us and the Democratic convention in full swing, it seems like a good moment to ask how a Donald Trump presidency or a Hillary Clinton presidency might affect the prospects for high-tech entrepreneurship and business growth in the United States.

At this stage, both candidates have given major economic addresses, and both parties have published their platforms. So it’s becoming easier to see how a President Trump or President Clinton might approach questions of keen interest to entrepreneurs and investors, like the merits of the carried-interest loophole in the federal tax code, or how to handle visas for high-skilled workers.

In the spirit of informed debate, I’ve assembled a point-by-point comparison below.

But first, since this is an opinion column, let me be blunt about my own beliefs. I don’t think the candidates’ stances on innovation should be foremost in your mind on November 8. Something much more fundamental is at stake—namely, the survival of our democracy and, perhaps, our species. I agree with Tony Schwartz, the remorseful ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal, that “if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization.” That means there are 7.3 billion reasons to vote against an unstable and narcissistic demagogue like Trump, especially in these tumultuous times.

I support Clinton. Okay? Now that I’ve put my own cards on the table, let’s proceed.

Interestingly, when you dig into the published record, you won’t find much difference between the Democratic and Republican parties on the broad importance of innovation. It’s a bedrock assumption in American economic policy that innovation and entrepreneurship drive job growth and lead to greater productivity, efficiency, consumer choice, and wealth.

This idea has the virtue of being true—though macroeconomist Robert Gordon has argued with some merit that innovation is gradually losing its mojo—and it’s embraced by both of the candidates, in their speeches, and both of the parties, in their platforms. The word “innovation” appears 22 times in the Republican platform and 14 times in the draft Democratic platform.

The real question is, what are the conditions that best support innovation? On that matter, there’s far more room for debate. Maybe innovation goes faster when wealthy investors are allowed to keep more of their income and capital gains and reinvest the money. Or maybe it’s healthier in the long run when the government imposes more progressive taxation and puts the funds into education, social programs, and R&D.

Your feelings about a question like that depend on your political philosophy. It’s when you start to pick apart the specific innovation-related policy proposals in speeches by Trump and Clinton and in the two parties’ platforms that you begin to see how they diverge along ideological lines.

Here’s the rundown. For specifics, I’m drawing mostly from the final draft of the 2016 Republican Platform, the July 21 draft of the 2016 Democratic Platform, Hillary Clinton’s June 22 economics speech in Raleigh, NC, and Donald Trump’s June 28 trade policy speech in Monessen, PA.


Startups and technology giants alike depend on legions of highly educated foreigners working in the U.S. under H-1B guest visas. These workers are now pawns in a larger debate about immigration and jobs.

Republicans: A fear that immigration imperils American jobs is at the core of the GOP platform and Trump’s rally speeches. This attitude appears to extend to lawful guest workers, including those with H-1B visas. Trump himself has flip-flopped on the issue: he has said that talented foreigners who attend U.S. universities should be allowed to stay, but also that the H-1B program has been abused “for the explicit purpose of substituting for American workers at lower pay.” The Republican platform takes a clearer stance: “In light of the alarming levels of unemployment and underemployment in this country, it is indefensible to continue offering lawful permanent residence to more than one million foreign nationals every year,” it says.

Democrats: Clinton said back in 2007 that the U.S. should increase the number of H-1B visas, which has long been capped at 65,000 per year. But she hasn’t talked about the issue much during the 2016 campaign. In a June interview with Vox, Clinton appeared to sympathize with some of the GOP’s fears, citing “heartbreaking” stories of “people training their replacements from some foreign country” as a cost-cutting measure. But later she called for “a credible path forward for reform that is truly comprehensive, addressing all aspects of the system, including immigrants living here today, those who wish to come in the days ahead, from highly skilled workers to family members.”

The Democratic platform says that the U.S. immigration system is “broken,” pointing to problems such as discriminatory quotas, green-card paperwork backlogs, and the need for a clear path to citizenship for immigrants already in the country. The platform doesn’t mention the H-1B program explicitly, but says the country must “attract and retain talented people from all over the world.”

Education and Workforce Development

The two parties agree on the need for an educated workforce to drive job growth in high-paying sectors like technology, but they diverge on the proper role of the federal government.

Republicans: Education isn’t one of Trump’s signature issues. Mainly, he has come out in favor of charter schools and vouchers and against forgiveness of student loans. He has also called the Common Core standards initiative “a total disaster” and has threatened to shrink the federal Department of Education.

On education, as in many other areas, the GOP platform offers a deeper look into the likely policies of a Republican administration under Trump’s leadership. The document says the federal government “should not be a partner” in education reform, “as the Constitution gives it no role in education.” But it goes on to list a few “policies and methods that have actually made a difference in student advancement,” including school choice and “STEM subjects and phonics.” The platform adds that “because technology has become an essential tool of learning, it must be a key element in our efforts to provide every child equal access and opportunity.”

On higher education, the GOP platform says the federal government should get out of the student loan business, and it blasts campuses for turning into “zones of intellectual tolerance…as if college students need protection from the free exchange of ideas.” The platform also calls for “new systems of learning to compete with traditional four-year schools: Technical institutions, online universities, life-long learning, and work-based learning in the private sector. Public policy should advance their affordability, innovation, and transparency and should recognize that a four-year degree from a brick-and-mortar institution is not the only path toward a prosperous and fulfilling career.” (Didn’t we used to call that community college?)

Democrats: In a section entitled “Pursuing our Innovation Agenda,” the Democratic platform says better education and workforce training are needed to harness the technologies transforming the economy so that they create higher-paying jobs. To that end, Democrats say they will invest in “high-quality STEAM classes” (STEM plus Arts) and computer science training, among other priorities. The platform opposes for-profit charter schools, calls for a crackdown on for-profit colleges that misuse federal financial aid, and promotes job training as a priority for veterans and people in underserved communities and those afflicted by poverty and environmental problems.

Clinton has said that every student should have “options after high school, whether it’s a four-year degree, free community college, an apprenticeship or other forms of higher education.” She also supports tax credits for companies that … Next Page »

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