Does high-tech flower best with or without subsidy?
As a good capitalist, L.Thomas Bryan gets a certain wry amusement from quoting a top communist. When talking about a national strategy for high technology, he paraphrases China's late chairman, Mao Tse-tung. ''Let the thousand flowers bloom,'' he advises, meaning let high-technology companies continue to spring forth from a risk-taking, entrepreneurial environment. Don't stifle this process with the dead hand of government intervention.
That's one view of how the United States should deal with the competitive threat to high-tech business from Japan and other nations.
Others, looking at the Japanese system of singling out an industry for special government assistance and protection until it is able to export highly successfully, suggest that Washington do something familiar. They are really talking of a form of government planning, but that word has unpopular connotations and so a euphemism is employed - ''targeting.''
There's something of a national debate going on over this issue right now, perhaps particularly in New England, which in some ways pioneered high-tech industry and now has the second-largest bunch of such companies in the nation, after California. The area's high-tech business is so successful that New England suffered considerably less from this slump in the economy than the nation on average. New England also attracts a constant stream of visitors from other parts of the country or abroad seeking either to attract high-tech plant expansions or learn how to create an environment in which a domestic high-tech industry will thrive.
People like Mr. Bryan are asking, ''How do you keep a winning game going?''
Bryan heads the high-technology lending group at the First National Bank of Boston, the region's largest bank. He also works with the New England Council, an independent regional business association. In these capacities he is constantly visiting high-tech companies and talking with their managements.