Investments in science are more important than ever before

Friday, 16 September 2011 15:19
holtRush091611_optBY RUSH HOLT

A clash is underway in Washington, D.C. between two starkly different visions for the U.S. government’s role in research and development. The outcome of this debate will shape the nation’s scientific landscape for years to come.

The first vision is a grim and pessimistic “No, We Can’t” view. Its proponents insist that the federal government can play no substantive role in advancing science or technology. The argument is that the government has been ineffective, that “investment” is a codeword for wasteful spending, and that the only way forward is for the government to lower its sights, stop making new investments, and scale back spending. This view is encapsulated in the recently enacted Budget Control Act of 2011, which demands $2.4 trillion in federal spending cuts. Considering that, as a share of the US economy, the government’s support for research and development (R&D) has fallen by nearly two-thirds since the 1960s, I have little doubt that R&D will bear more than its share of these latest cuts.

A hard spending cap forces false choices: should the U.S. invest in badly needed new science instrumentation or in educating inner-city kids? The truth is that the nation must invest in many things. Fortunately, there exists another, far more hopeful vision for the federal government, one that rejects the notion that government budgeting must begin with a hard cap. The recent American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 demonstrates how federal investment in R&D can drive the economy forward. I was part of the negotiations that put $22 billion of new R&D funding into science agencies, like the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. How many jobs did these funds create, and how many more will they create in the future? We won’t have the final answer for years. How many lab technicians have been hired, and how many electricians wired the labs? The accounting is difficult now, and until the scientific and technological accomplishments have reverberated through the economy, the full effect cannot be known. It appears that the short-term benefits are similar to shovel-ready construction projects, and for the long term, past experience is very promising. The return on spending by the NSF over the decades appears to be very large. And the most comprehensive study of the economics of the Apollo space program found that its $25 billion in government investments returned $181 billion to the economy.

Science is usually a smart investment for a nation’s future, and it is more important today than ever before. America’s inflation-adjusted borrowing costs have fallen to historic lows. When the private sector is not making enough investments and consumers are not spending, Congress should make the investments that will pay large dividends: public and private scientific research, education in science and engineering, and infrastructure projects to support scientific growth. An investment-focused vision for America could begin by fulfilling the commitments made in the America COMPETES Act, enacted in 2007 and reauthorized in 2010. That law authorized a doubling of the budgets at key science agencies and created the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) to fund transformative research on energy technologies. If Congress were to fulfill that law’s vision for scientific investment, it would both create good-paying jobs today and lay the groundwork for a far stronger economy tomorrow.

This will be a daunting task. With the Budget Control Act, Congress appears to have said, in effect, that federally sponsored science has no role to play in advancing the economy, that unemployment is a problem that only time will cure, and that the nation’s best days are behind us. How contrary to American tradition that would be! It must not prevail.

U.S. Congressman Rush Holt (D) represents New Jersey’s 12th District. A resarcher and educator, he holds a Ph.D. in physics from New York University.


Comments (1)
1 Tuesday, 20 September 2011 23:53
"The argument is that the government has been ineffective, that “investment” is a codeword for wasteful spending, and that the only way forward is for the government to lower its sights, stop making new investments, and scale back spending."

All true. But more importantly, so that we don't lose site of the real debate, is the fact that the states and the people didn't create the Federal government in order for it to create business, it was designed to promote the free market and therefore enabling the private industry to excel. One of many pieces of evidence to this can be found in the constitution, in the Patent Clause and the Commerce Clause. The patent clause Congress just meddled with and made weak. The actual role of the federal government is to protect the people from attack, both foreign and domestic. Our government has failed greatly on both fronts. One example is the attack on 9.11.01 the other comes from the infiltration of Socialists into the Democratic Party..

"government’s support for research and development (R&D) has fallen by nearly two-thirds since the 1960s, I have little doubt that R&D will bear more than its share of these latest cuts."

Lets have a look at what the government did before and after 1960. Before, it created the Atom Bomb, Nuclear powered warships and jets. All fine achievements. After 1960.... NASA. OK anything else?

Before 1960 the private sector. Steam Locomotive engine, flight of man, the assembly line, telegraph, telephone, electricity, lightbulb (that the feds just screwed up) any number of vaccines etc. Do you really want me to continue?

Lets look at government after the 60's, NASA and umm... well lets move on to the private sector shall we? Microsoft, Apple, IPODS, Smart phones and thousands of other products from all spectrum of the freeman's mind of imagination, self worth and tenacity.

OK, that's enough of trying to run down your very debatable socialist views. Bottom line is that all you want is to subsidize more companies like the one in California that just went belly up while stealing the citizens money. You have an agenda and it's called having all the control you can possibly gain over the people. We have the UN silently in your corner with the Green Initiative that is nothing more than a fleecing of the American people under the falsehood of man made global warming. You stop the drilling of oil then push this barely accomplished tecnoligy on us. Not to leave out all the fancy words used such as Sustainable Energy, Sustainable Living, Sustainable Towns. Sustainable Energy, make me laugh. You have to be able to create enough of it in order to make it sustainable. This notion of windmills and solar panels iis a fraud. You and your cronies call it Global Warming, but back in the mid 70's when this socialist agenda started taking shape, you created Earth Day and told us that we were on the brink of Global cooling!

This Green institution is nothing but fraud just as you are a fraud. Clean Coal? Are you kidding me? Keep it up and you'll never be allowed back into WVa. Those coal miners find themselves permanently out of jobs and your liable to get lost deep in a coal mine.

I ask, Who Is ICLEI? Why are they created by the UN and why are they in our towns. Why is our federal government taking it's marching orders from the United Nations on all of this Sustainable nonsense?
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