Friday, January 27, 2006

Government - Solving Problems That Don't Exist

A bipartisan group of senators plans to introduce a package of legislation next week aimed at boosting U.S. competitiveness in science and technology by doubling federal funding for basic research and establishing a new science agency within the Department of Energy. The bills will be collectively titled the Protect America's Competitive Edge Act.

Huh, I wasn’t aware that America was falling behind the world in technology or science.  Maybe I was wrong – let’s look at how much everyone else is spending.

According to a recently released UNESCO report, in 2002 the world spent $830 billion on research and development in the public and private sectors, which represents about 1.7% of global GDP or $134.40 per person. The United States spent 3.1% of its GDP or $1,005.90 per person; the EU spent 1.8% of its GDP or $431.80 per person, Japan 3.1% and $836.6/person, Israel 4.9% and $922.40/person, China 1.2% and $56.20/person, and India o.7% and $19.80/person. This data come from this table in PDF.

I guess my anecdotal experience wasn’t so far off.

North America continues to lead in scientific investment, with public and private funding accounting for 37% of the world's gross expenditure on research and development (GERD) in 2002. However, Asia is now the second largest investor, with a share of 32%, overtaking Europe which contributed 27% of GERD, according to data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) featured in the UNESCO Science Report 2005.

Is there a chance that Asia’s contributions are increasing because they are increasing incentives for innovation while Europe continues to remove incentives?

Anyway, what are the 20 Top 10 recommendations that the NAS has to make?  (That’s no typo – 20 Top 10 recommendations – something only the government could pull off with a straight face.)

  • Annually recruit 10,000 science and mathematics teachers by awarding 4-year scholarships and thereby educating 10 million minds.

  • Strengthen the skills of 250,000 teachers through training and education programs at summer institutes, in master's programs, and Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate training programs and thus inspire students every day.

  • Enlarge the pipeline by increasing the number of students who take AP and IB science and mathematics courses.

OK, does anyone really trust our public school systems to hire teachers that would better educate our kids?  Until our broken educational system is broke throwing money at the problem isn’t going to accomplish much but waste tax dollars.

  • Increase the federal investment in long-term basic research by 10% a year over the next 7 years.

  • Provide new research grants of $500,000 each annually, payable over 5 years, to 200 of our most outstanding early-career scientists.

  • Institute a National Coordination Office for Research Infrastructure to manage a centralized research-infrastructure fund of $500 million per year over the next 5 years.

  • Allocate at least 8% of the budgets of federal research agencies to discretionary funding.

I can see the charlatans lining up for free money now.

  • Create in the Department of Energy and organization like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Office called the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy.

I hear that creating agencies with long, funny sounding names increases scientific innovation.  More bureaucracy is unlikely to accomplish much.

  • Institute a Presidential Innovation Award to stimulate scientific and engineering advances in the national interest.

Government sponsored competitions are more likely to provide positive results than any of the other 19 Top Ten suggestions.

  • Increase the number and proportion of US citizens who earn physical-sciences, life-sciences, engineering, and mathematics bachelor's degrees by providing 25,000 new 4-year competitive undergraduate scholarships each year to US citizens attending US institutions.

  • Increase the number of US citizens pursuing graduate study in "areas of national need" by funding 5,000 new graduate fellowships each year.

  • Provide a federal tax credit to encourage employers to make continuing education available (either internally or through colleges and universities) to practicing scientists and engineers.

  • Continue to improve visa processing for international students and scholars.

  • Provide a 1-year automatic visa extension to international students who receive doctorates or the equivalent in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or other fields of national need at qualified US institutions to remain in the United States to seek employment. If these students are offered jobs by United States-based employers and pass a security screening test. They should be provided automatic work permits and expedited residence status.

Again, relying on a broken education system to solve the “problem” of American competitiveness is a losing proposition.

  • Institute a new skills-based, preferential immigration option.

  • Reform the current system of "deemed exports."

I’m skeptical that any attempt to liberalize immigration law or liberalize export policy would be able to get through Congress.  Even if they did get passed I don’t think they would affect the “problem” of American competitiveness one way or the other.

  • Enhance intellectual-property protection for the 21st century global economy.

Code phrase for enhanced protectionism?  Politicians would like that.

  • Enact a stronger research and development tax credit to encourage private investment in innovation

  • Provide tax incentives for US-based innovation

That line mentioned above is already getting longer.  Subsidies merely succeed in rewarding the politically connected over the truly innovative.

  • Ensure ubiquitous broadband internet access.

Where did that come from and how is that supposed to increase American competitiveness?

I still confused as to what problem we are trying to solve?  America is the worlds’ wealthiest nation, the home of most technology companies, inventor of 70% of the world’s medicines and the world leader in computer technology.  How are we not competitive?  This looks like an ill-devised plan looking for a problem that doesn’t exist.

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