The American people bankroll the federal government’s four biggest spending items to the tune of $2.2 trillion annually. Medicare, Medicaid, Defense, and Social Security make up over two thirds of the federal budget.
By contrast, the slivers of the federal budget that go toward innovation are drops in a very big bucket. “We like to think of ourselves as an innovation nation,” writes Alex Tabarrok in The Atlantic, “but our government is a warfare-welfare state.”
The federal government does spend some money on innovation, but mostly for innovation in warfare. The Department of Defense, for example, spends $78 billion on R&D. Good for the DoD, at least they are thinking about the future. But most defense R&D is for weapons research that is unlikely to generate significant spillovers to other areas of the economy. The basic and applied non-weapons research that has the best chance of creating beneficial spillovers is a small minority of defense R&D. DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, for example, helped to develop the Internet but DARPA’s budget is only $3 billion. Even when we lump all federal R&D spending together regardless of quality it amounts to just $150 billion, a mere 4 percent of the budget.
Putting innovation at the center of our national vision is not simply about spending more money. An innovation nation would think about all problems differently. The long debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka: Obamacare) for example, was almost entirely about welfare and redistribution, about dividing the pie. During this debate how much did we hear about health innovation?
Tabarrok notes that healthcare advances in the period between 1970 and 1990 led to life expectancy increases worth $30 trillion, comparable “all the gains in material wealth over the same period.” Of course, along with these gains in prosperity, the longer life of modern day Americans also costs a lot more.
I’m not sure why, perhaps the old argument made by Democratic strategists that Democrats are frequently remarkably bad at making progressive arguments. During the health care reform debate and in regards Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan to gut Medicare, I don’t remember any major Democratic leader make the simple argument that death is expensive. People who die premature deaths take their knowledge, experience and earning power with them. Programs that relive poverty and improve individual health save the nation money in the long term – $30 trillion dollars is almost double what Wall Street stole from the nation during the meltdown.
One of the reasons that conservatives in the right-wing establishment hate Medicare is that it saves money. Other than Medicare there is no real downward pressure on health care costs. Strange for a country where it almost writ in stone that free markets always exert downward pressure on prices.
His argument that innovation is stifled by regulations in cities* and the very little bit of rent control is tenuous. Cities like New York, San Francisco and Miami are too expensive for many average income families to live in now. If they are forced out into the suburbs the new higher rents in the city will be replaced by new costs -like a car, auto insurance and fuel costs. Complicated issue, but just taking a an axe to regulation is too broad in terms of policy prescriptions. We have conservative presidential candidates that thinks God wants them to be president. We’re once again in the political era of wacky, not enlightened and subtle debates how to move forward.
he may also go a bridge too far is reducing entitlement programs – benefits you’re entitled to because you paid into the system – as income redistribution. Of course we redistribute income in the U.S. As this chart shows, that income is not redistributed to the people who produce the capital – working class America.
*Cities and states have acted like frightened hostages in their attempt to pay businesses to locate in their city or state. Sometimes going so far as to wave taxes, wave environmental regulations, rise money through bonds to partially pay for factory construction. For reasons that are beyond reason they still choose to outsource.
Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, while the world was still shooting black and white photographs, Russian photographer Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky was busy inventing techniques for creating color images. Credited with capturing the only known color photo of Leo Tolstoy, Prokudin-Gorsky’s technique involved capturing three separate monochrome photographs of the same scene, each captured through a red, green, or blue filter.
There are more examples of his work at the link and an image bank of unrestored photographs here.
This is a truly unique video combining typography, science, ironic humor, mortality and bitterness over a romance gone bad – Portal – Still Alive typography
This was a triumph
I’m making a note here
It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction
We do what we must because we can
For the good of all of us except for the ones who are dead
But there’s no sense crying over every mistake
You just keep on trying until you run out of cake
And the science gets done and you make a neat gun
For the people who are still alive
I’m not even angry
I’m being so sincere right now
Even though you broke my heart and killed me
And torn into pieces
And threw every piece into a fire
As they burned it hurt because I was so happy for you!
Now these points of data make a wonderful line
And we’re out of beta, we’re releasing on time
So I’m glad I got burned
Think of all the things we learned for the people that are still alive
Go ahead and leave me
I think I prefer to stay inside
Maybe you’ll find someone else to help you
Maybe black mesa
That was a joke, haha, fat chance
Anyway this cake is great, it’s so delicious and moist
Look at me still talking, when there’s science to do
When I look out there it makes me glad I’m not you
I’ve experiments to run, there is research to be done
On the people who are still alive
And believe me I am still alive
I’m doing science and I’m still alive
I feel FANTASTIC and I’m still alive
While you are dying I’ll be still alive
And when you’re dead I’ll be still alive
STILL ALIVE, still alive