Marginal Revolution On Bush Second Term Economic Policy

Lynne Kiesling

Over at Marginal Revolution, Alex reminds us of Tyler’s 12 economic policy recommendations for a second Bush term. I agree with Alex that they are all good ideas.

One quibble, though: in point 5 Tyler says we should strengthen our commitment to science, by which he is referring to medical science. But one of the most active funders of scientific research is the Department of Energy, and in point 9 Tyler recommends the abolition of the DOE. While I think there’s value in a conversation about the value of that research funding, whether or not it crowds out private research funding, and so on, doesn’t this strike you as a contradiction in Tyler’s recommendations? When we talk about a strong commitment to scientific research, why preclude energy research and focus on medical research?

5 thoughts on “Marginal Revolution On Bush Second Term Economic Policy

  1. The most significant problem I have with the idea of increased federal funding for research is the assumption that it will result in more research. If all qualified researchers are already working in the field, increased funding will not result in more research. It will result in higher pay for the current researchers. Which may result in less research down the road. The supply of researchers is relatively inelastic.

    On the other hand a more effective use of government money is large-scale engineering programs with very specific objectives. The ten year program we call the Space Race was long enough that new scientists could be trained, ramped up slowly enough that there wasn’t massive waste, and was ambitious enough that it resulted in some good basic science being done and some beneficial side-effects like the printed circuit board and the integrated circuit.

  2. Actually Dave, I believe that there is some elasticity in the supply of researchers. For example, there are a number of science fields where more PhD’s are produced than can conceivably be absorbed by the current academic infrastructure. For example, mathematics and astronomy, neither which has an obvious application in the business world (both have non-obvious application, but that’s a different story). There are a number of people who get a degree and then leave the field or become primarily instructors.

    There are two ways a significant boost of science funding would expand the pool. First, more people would enter the field. Second, more people would stay in the field.

  3. And, third, we can always import researchers from other countries, given the money, and something interesting for them to do.

  4. The distribution of funding among fields is pretty poor. Growth in life sciences reseearch doubled in the last five years of the Clinton administration, owing to Congressional disease programs. Physical sciences took a back seat in that period, with many senior faculty dropping out of academic research entirely, some say.

    One question is, does all of the new federally provided medical technology raise or lower the cost of health care?

  5. Maybe energy doesn’t need cabinet level leadership, but abolition of the Department of Energy (DOE) won’t really achieve much in a budgetary or progammatic way. DOE was cobbled together from a variety of other government agencies, and those duties would be redistributed across other agencies.

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