The critical technologies movement was an effort among Democrats and Republicans to enact policies to fund scientific research in twenty-three areas of technological growth crucial to economic competitiveness and military security. These areas included micro- and nanofabrication, ceramics, and software, among others. Unlike during the early Cold War when policymakers were unwilling to admit openly whether research and development spending constituted government intervention in the free market, with critical technologies, policymakers actively and publicly collaborated with business interests to selectively target technologies they believed were likely to proffer returns on government investment.
This article traces the rise and fall of a political consensus: it discusses how and why these technologies were selected, the policies passed in this area, and ultimately, why this bipartisan convergence around critical technologies fell apart. More broadly, the critical technologies movement provides a fulcrum for understanding two key political shifts: how President Bill Clinton and his fellow Democrats captured Silicon Valley and major business interests to their ascendant political coalition, and why the Republican Party compromised its free-market principles to support critical technologies in the leadup to the 1992 election.