Stand with Science – Late is Better than Never
Posted on December 1, 2011 Comments (1)
The USA public has made very bad decisions in who to send to Washington DC to spend our money (and the money of our children and grandchildren). We have wasted hundreds of billions that could have been spent more wisely. I happen to think investing in science and engineering is important for a societies economic health. The problem the USA has is we have chosen to waste lots of money for decades, at some point you run out of money (yes the USA government doesn’t really, as they can print it, but essentially they do – in practical terms).
I would certainly eliminate tax breaks for trust fund babies and trust fund grandchildren (while your grandchildren are going to be left holding the bag for the spending those elected by us, the grandchildren of the rich often get huge trust funds with no taxes being paid at all). But most of the people we have elected want to give trust fund babies huge payoffs. I would cut much spending in government – spending 5% less in 2020 than we did this year would be fine with me. But we don’t elect people that support that. I would support not adding new extensions to tax cuts sold with false claims and again supported by those we continue to elect. I wouldn’t allow the financial industry subverting of markets. But again we elect people that do allow that. And when the bill comes due for letting them take tens and hundreds of millions in individual profits in the good years, we can either let the economy go into a depression (maybe) or spend hundreds of billions to trillions bailing out those institutions our politicians let threaten the economy.
It might not seem fair, but there are consequences to allowing our political system to waste huge amounts of money paying of special interests for decades. And investing in science and engineering has been a casualty and will likely continue to be. Eventually you run out of money, even for the stuff that matters. Trying to fight for politicians that will put the interests of the country ahead of their donors is not something you can do effectively only when your interests are directly threatened. At that point things may already be too bad to be saved.
I have been writing about the failed political system for quite awhile now. I wrote awhile back that Hillary Clinton’s idea to tripple the number of GRFP awards was something I thought was very smart economically. But even then I questioned if we could afford it, if we refused to do anything else different (just adding new spending isn’t what the country needed).
Even in the state the politicians we continue to elect (we elect the same people election after election – there is no confusion about what they will do) we can debate what to cut and for something we spend so little on as investing science and engineering we can even easily increase that spending and not have any real impact on cutting overall spending. But those we have elected don’t show much interest in investing in science and engineering overall.
The USA continues to invest a good deal in science and engineering. But the difference in focus today versus the 1960′s is dramatic. The USA will continue to do well in the realm of science. The advantages gained over decades leave us in a hugely beneficial position – and one that takes other countries decades to catch up to. Now some countries have been working on that for decades now, and are doing very well. China, hasn’t been at it quite as long but has been making amazingly fast progress (similar to the amazing economic story).
The way things are today the best bet for investing in science in engineering is some Asian countries and billionaires in the USA (and a few other countries) doing it with big donations. Europe has actually been stepping up investment in the face of the USA’s opening the door, but there current financial condition puts the future of that in jeopardy. Investing in science and engineering benefits the country doing so but also the world. I am more concerned with the world not losing out on the benefits than I am about the USA choosing to let others take more of those benefits for themselves (if others are willing to make the investment – great).
Sure it would be nice if the USA changed the trends of the last few decades and decided to invest in science and engineering, as we did decades ago. But it seems we have decided we want to let others take a great share of investments. The payoffs of those investments are huge, but the payoffs play out over decades and those we elect don’t care about the country in the long term (from what I see in the policies they put in place). If we want to change that we can, but I don’t see any evidence we want to.
Stand with Science is a worthy effort. I think it is a mistake to wait to try and intervene now, instead of much earlier. The problem is that the political system has been captured by those who are not interested in what is good for the country. And now sensible arguments about what is best for the country don’t seem to matter to those we have put in power.
There are tradeoffs. I support not reducing our investments in science, and even increasing them. However to do that we need to elect people that will chose science over what they have chosen for decades (a lot of paying off those that give them the most cash, it seems to me, but we keep electing them so we get what we should expect) and not invest in something else. If people turn a blind eye to all the money being thrown away by people we shouldn’t have put in the position to decide it doesn’t do much good to then try and say “hey we are worth investing in” – the money is gone. Still it is probably worth the effort to try at this late date. It would be much better to actually throw out the people that have put us in the position: sadly past evidence shows we have little inclination to do so.
Related: Economics, Politics and Science Research – Lobbyists Keep Tax Off Billion Dollar Private Equities Deals and On For Our Grandchildren – Nanotechnology Investment as Strategic National Economic Policy