Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Economics of Science: Should science be publicly funded?

Cato makes the case that not only does science not need to be publicly funded, but it shouldn't be, and forcefully also takes on the arguments over the funding of pure science (Cato):

The world’s leading nation during the 20th century was the United States, and it too was laissez faire, particularly in science. As late as 1940, fifty years after its GDP per capita had overtaken the UK’s, the U.S. total annual budget for research and development (R&D) was $346 million, of which no less than $265 million was privately funded (including $31 million for university or foundation science). Of the federal and states governments’ R&D budgets, moreover, over $29 million was for agriculture (to address—remember—the United States’ chronic problem of agricultural over productivity) and $26 million was for defence (which is of trivial economic benefit.) America, therefore, produced its industrial leadership, as well as its Edisons, Wrights, Bells, and Teslas, under research laissez faire.

Meanwhile the governments in France and Germany poured money into R&D, and though they produced good science, during the 19th century their economies failed even to converge on the UK’s, let alone overtake it as did the US’s. For the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, the empirical evidence is clear: the industrial nations whose governments invested least in science did best economically—and they didn’t do so badly in science either.

[...] as scholars from the University of Sussex have shown, some 7 per cent of all industrial R&D worldwide is spent on pure science. This is also why big companies achieve the publication rates of medium-sized universities. Equally, Edwin Mansfield and Zvi Griliches of Harvard have shown by comprehensive surveys that the more that companies invest in pure science, the greater are their profits. If a company fails to invest in pure research, then it will fail to invest in pure researchers—yet it is those researchers who are best qualified to survey the field and to import new knowledge into the company.

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