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Published September 22, 2017 | Submitted
Report Open

The Political Economy of Government Programs to Promote New Technology


An important component of the federal budget is programs to develop and to commercialize new technology. This paper applies recent developments in the rational actor theory of political behavior to examine the politics of these programs. The principal theoretical conclusions are that government commercialization projects are relatively unattractive as particularistic distributive programs, but that once a project is begun, the political incentives are to rush the research phase and get on with demonstration, to continue unlucky efforts after their expected payoffs are known not to be worth their costs, and to redefine the goals of the program so as to de-emphasize the initial objective of commercial adoption. These conclusions are then tested by examining two recent projects: the Clinch River Breeder Reactor and the space shuttle. Both programs appear to illustrate the problems predicted by the theory.

Additional Information

Prepared for presentation at the annual meetings of the American Political Science Association, September 1983. The research reported here was supported by the Caltech Energy Policy Studies Program and was conducted under the auspices of the Caltech Environmental Quality Laboratory. We are grateful to Jeff Banks, our research assistant, for his contributions to the work reported here.

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