Obama to radically increase science funding

This could be excellent news (thanks to Scott Aaronson):
I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than three percent of our GDP to research and development ... This represents the largest commitment to scientific research and innovation in American history...
I agree with this:
The fact is, an investigation into a particular physical, chemical, or biological process might not pay off for a year, or a decade, or at all. And when it does, the rewards are often broadly shared, enjoyed by those who bore its costs but also by those who did not. That’s why the private sector under-invests in basic science – and why the public sector must invest in this kind of research. Because while the risks may be large, so are the rewards for our economy and our society...
If we start from the assumption that the government will hijack, by force, a large portion of everyone's fruits of labor, then this is probably one of the best long-run investments that can be made; and these are investments that are otherwise likely to not be made.

Is this oppression by people who are interested in science and its long-term benefits, against people who are not, yet are still forced to pay taxes for this?

Umm... I guess it is.

But if such science investments are made in the long run, then, 100 years from now, GDP may be dramatically higher, and lifespans may be longer, and people may be healthier, and it may be possible to enjoy a lot more things.

Consider now a future person who will have benefitted from the science investments over the past 100 years, and will now have several times the purchasing power and untold new possibilities than she would have had without it. Is it wrong to sap a few percent of this person's purchasing power, so as to redirect it to further investments in science, for future generations' further benefit?

Do we want a world where people are forced to invest for the future, when they wouldn't voluntarily invest?

Do we want a world where people are forced to invest this way, through taxes, even if such investment is against their beliefs; such as is the case for the fundamentalist religious?

It is easy to say yes, but are we not saying yes only because this particular oppression is in our interest?

It would be a lot easier to justify this if people could at least choose the country where they live and pay taxes. The U.S. was founded with such competition in mind - with multiple states and freedom of movement between them. But it has, since Lincoln, degenerated into a single, oppressive federal government with only superficial differences among the states. And there's no exit either: more than in most "free" countries, U.S. citizens are punished severely for leaving.


Daniel said…
Second thoughts from Obama's man via Mankiw.

Altough I disagree with the part that government and private R&D spending are two players in a zero-sum game. Private sector wouldn't be funding much of the basic science research, because it simply isn't cost effective not even in a mid-term.
Therefore I support Obama's proposition.
denis bider said…
Good link.

If the supply of scientist is flexible at all, crowding out effects should be temporary. Seeing opportunities in science, students should respond by some of them choosing science over another field, e.g. engineering. That, in turn, should raise competition for engineers, and so motivate some students to opt for engineering who would otherwise go into e.g. law.

Overall, a robust long-run increase in science funding should cause an increase in the number of students choosing science and engineering-related careers. This would be a decidedly good thing.

In order for this to happen in the long run, however, increased science funding has to continue not only during Obama's term, but through several presidential terms - something I am not so sure about. :(
Daniel said…
"and so motivate some students to opt for engineering who would otherwise go into e.g. law."

I agree with your reasoning, only that lawyers I think are a bad example- they're famous for being mathematically inept:) -hence very little of them would consider anything where math skills are needed.
denis bider said…
Hmm... are they? Well, I was mentioning law because it sure seems to suck up a lot of talent that it seems would be much more useful elsewhere. Some people I know who went to study law were some of the brightest in their generation and sure had no problem with mathematics... they just chose to pursue law.

It would sure be interesting if there is some research which actually shows lawyers to be mathematically challenged or something. :)

Based on my personal experience, I would sooner say that the mathematically challenged go into studies such as, um... sport, or liberal arts, or something, but I hardly know enough people in enough places to know this to be categorically true. :)
Daniel said…
"Hmm... are they?"

Well I got two in my family and they both are :) I know of 4 people who are studying law and 2 of them disliked math very much. Altough it's more of a stereotype and it's hard to know if it holds true.

"Some people I know who went to study law were some of the brightest in their generation and sure had no problem with mathematics... "
Interesting. In my generation most of the brightest people I know of went studying medicine.
A few months ago I had a conversation with a law graduate and he said that job prospects for lawyers(without the license for attorneys) are very poor in Slovenia. He barely found a job(he finished law with GPA of above 8) at some department of state for 600€/month.
denis bider said…
Do you think it's possible that people's career choices are being shaped by TV more so than by a rational assessment of real-life prospects?

It seems as though people watch Single Female Lawyer and decide: "Oh, I'm smart, I have a chance to go into law and make it big like these characters!"

Or maybe people watch E.R. and decide: "Oh, I'm smart, I can really make a difference by becoming a doctor and being a hero saving lives, like these guys!"

Maybe we need a show that focuses on the lavish lifestyles and rich social lives of engineers - maybe some very extraordinary ones, but engineers nevertheless. Show how intellectually impressive they are, and have them regularly put down other characters who were English, law or liberal arts majors with impressive witty repartes. That should get more people into science and engineering. :)
Daniel said…
"Do you think it's possible that people's career choices are being shaped by TV more so than by a rational assessment of real-life prospects?"

I don't think TV shows play that much of a role. I think that societies perception of professions plays by far the most influential role.

Doctors and lawyers have been around for centuries. Whereas engineers, apart from civil engineers, rose to prominence during the last two centuries, and haven't yet reached such high esteem in the eyes of the public, as the latter two did. They quite likely never will, as effect of engineers work- technology that is - on improvement of our everyday life is rather indirect, whereas effects of the aforementioned are more direct and therefore more obvious to the public. They don't require even that modest amount of thinking, needed to see how engineers contribute to societies advancement. And we know that if there is something Joe Sixpack doesn't likes - it's thinking, not even in such small doses :)
And mentality in Slovenia, as you know, is on average very much focused on the opinion of one's surrounding summarized in common phrase: "Kaj bo pa rekel sosed?"

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