best competitors in Europe and on the Pacific Rim certainly know this. Many of us know it, too, although right now it seems we have a lot of educating to do with the new majority in Congress.
Some of the positive things government can do to foster competitive success are broadly enabling, such as a stable, predictable business environment, a tax structure that encourages long-term private investment in new technology and productive equipment, regulation that reduces costs and unnecessary burdens but still achieves widely agreed-on goals of protecting public health and the environment. We also need a first-class education for all children and lifelong learning opportunities, including adult retraining when needed.
We need shared public investment in high-risk, but potentially high-pay-off new technologies. The accelerating pace of technology, the ever-shortening product cycles, and the rapid worldwide diffusion of technologies means that many companies are finding it harder to justify investment in risky R&D than in the past.
This means that government R&D partnerships with industry in growth-enhancing technologies are more important than ever. Without government to share the risk, individual companies are reluctant to take the plunge. Government partnership fosters a technological advance that might otherwise not be made, or would be made in foreign countries with most of the benefits going to their citizens.
The United States has had some outstanding successes with government-industry partnerships. Agriculture is a good example, starting with the Merrill Act in 1862. Aeronautics is another example, and it dates back to 1916 with the creation of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics. Other examples are the semiconductor industry and SEMATECH. And early returns from the advanced technology program, which started in 1990, are highly favorable.
Of course, our national investments in technology have always included infrastructure that supports commerce and industry: canals, roads, railroads, and, since the turn of the twentieth century, standards of measurement—the sine quo non of technological advance.
You might think that the government provision of technically superb measurements and assistance to voluntary private sector standards development might be sacrosanct. But the plans of at least some of the Republicans in the current Congress include putting the laboratories of the National Institute for Standards and Technology up for sale.
Most of the U.S. government-industry partnerships are in research, development, and provision for facilities for R&D, such as NASA's wind tunnels and one-of-a-kind scientific equipment in the Department of Energy laboratories. We have also recently begun to share costs with local governments and industries and extension services that help 370,000 small-and medium-sized manufacturers adopt up-to-date technologies and business practices.
Our best competitors in Europe and the Pacific Rim do all of this and much