Monday, June 6, 2011

Do we Need Government to Pay for Scientific Research?

One of the major arguments for taxing and spending is government research. Universities throughout the country host research labs that get all or most of their funding from the National Institute of Health, which gets its budget from the United States governments, which gets all of its money from taxation. This research searches for cures for cancer, treatments for heart disease, sources of complex diseases, etc. This scientific research is very good and is instrumental in our life expectancy today, but do we need government to pay for it?

Tax proponents always ask if government will not pay for it, then who will pay? Scientific research costs too much and the profits that would come from it would take too long to make the investment worthwhile. Look at cancer research. Most of the research does not pay off and even if it does who is to say that the profit gained from selling the treatment will offset the cost of researching the drug?

In all fairness, the progressives have come up with a very good argument. Unlike their other arguments about fairness and equality, this one has some merit. However, an analysis of the situation will show that private funding of research would be more targeted, more efficient, and quicker than our current system. In the current system, researchers vie for funding by submitting proposals to the NIH. The people who decide on these proposals see whose names are on the proposal and decide whether or not to fund the research. Besides the obvious potential for corruption, this system does not ensure efficiency. Once the money is gone, it is gone forever. There are no assurances that the money will not be wasted. The money cannot be taken back once it has already been disbursed.

The current practical problem is a serious one, but would the private alternative be any better? What about the claim that research would not pay off? That argument is bogus. As we have seen from oil companies who explore for oil, they will wait for decades to search for new sources of oil. Offshore oil platforms take many years to build and even more years to finally get the newly drilled oil on the market. If oil companies can wait years to find oil, then pharmaceutical companies can also wait years for treatments of diseases and discoveries of new technologies. The reason that they do not right now is because government is paying for all the research. Furthermore, this research would be more efficient and faster because the company funding the research would ensure that the money is not wasted. The government has no means of doing it, and even if it did it would be subject to corruption.

Now this is not all to disparage researchers. I myself hope to be one in the future as I see it as a way to affect many lives positively. The problem is not with the researchers, it is with the corrupt system that does not have any guarantees on the money that it disburses; our money that the government steals from us. Private companies have shown that they will invest in projects that will take years to pay off (and it is not just oil companies who do this, by the way), so why do we need government funding this? They have proven themselves to be slow and inefficient. The time has come to let private hands control the future of health and technology.

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  1. You raise an interesting question, Tony. In general, I would much prefer that government didn't use our money for research. The profit motive drives the private sector to do and/or support research including the funding of PhD candidates. Patent law makes new discoveries very profitable. Although I think 17 years is too long for a patent.
    On the other hand, we have certainly benefited fro the research of the military-industrial complex and NASA. How efficient was it? We'll probably never know.

  2. Patent laws do make discoveries very profitable, though I do not support patents as there can be profit even without that. What's ridiculous, though, is our current situation where we have government funding research and then securing the patent for itself or for the universities. It's a crazy, corrupt system.

    And yes, we have benefited from the research, though I contest the necessity of government funding it.

  3. " ... our money that the government steals from us...."
    could not have stated it better!