Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Government, Not Business, Creates New Science

One of the major false conservative beliefs is that private business is better at all things than governments.   There are certain things business is better at than government.  It is more nimble and quicker to respond to changes in the business environment.  But somethings require muscle, not nimbleness.

Today I am going to talk about one field where government clearly does MUCH MUCH better than business.   That is major new science.   The Microsoft's, Apples and Google (and Ford, Boeing, Exxon's etc.) of the world are much better at the small refinements that turn existing products into major best sellers.    But when it comes to major new science, look to the government.

The government created rockets, satellites, and digital cameras - all to spy on the world.  Not to mention GPS.   The government created computers (code breaking machines), the internet, radar (British government), nuclear power (and bombs), jet airplanes (Germany), highways (Germany again).  Government is the source for most of the major, ground breaking inventions.

Think of a world without World War II.  What if we had magically become peaceful lambs after World War One.  No war with Germany, no Cold War with Russia afterwards.  That also means no rockets, no satellites, no digital cameras, no GPS, no computers, no internet, no radar, no nuclear power, no jet airplanes, no highways.  Oh maybe, we would have eventually invented them on our own.  Maybe the government just saved 50 years.  That means, today we would just now be getting to the moon.  With computers the size of buildings doing what my phone can do today.  

Government is better at big science than business is.

The reason is simple - business has a short term horizon.   This year preferably, maybe 5 or 10 at the most.  But big science takes a huge commitment of money and time that business just can't put out.  Governments on the other hand can and do.  They can invest 10 or 20 years and hope everything works out right.   They can accept a big bet that may fail, without worrying about being fired.

Which is why we need to fund NASA.  A full 1% of the budget is not unreasonable.  Not for the same people that gave us rockets and satellites and GPS.   Job creators?  NASA is a proven BUSINESS CREATOR.

NASA currently gets about one half of one percent of the federal budget.  At that level, many very important scientific ideas get ignored.   Yes, we give money to other agencies, such as DARPA (the creators of the internet), but the honest truth is there are ton of NASA projects that should be investigated and we are turning people away. 

Space is full of wealth, waiting for us to find a way to get at it.   All those rare earth metals needed for advanced technology?   China has most of the known deposits and keeps throwing up walls to keep it to themselves.  (Source)  But asteroids are a good source of theses same minerals. (Source = Ben Bova)

But you know, when it comes to big science, it's not the obvious stuff that works out well.  It's the strange ideas that no one saw coming.   No one was planning on the internet, it just happened.  Same thing with most of the big ideas government created.

So lets let government do what it does best - create ground breaking new inventions. 

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