Investing in Math and Sciences First Requires Entitlement Reform

From the diaries by Erick

Investing in math and science is the way to solve the economy. A great idea. And somehow liberals have co-opted it to make it sound like their own.

Today’s Los Angeles Times for instance contains an article entitled, “Fixing the Economy the Scientific Way,” arguing that the federal government must spend more money on math and science education. They point to the fact that over the last 40 years the government’s support of science has declined 60% as a portion of GDP. They then argue that Republicans will only make the problem worse, pointing to their pledge to reduce federal spending on nondefense-related science research to pre-stimulus levels.

There is a lot wrong with this argument. For instance, given that the stimulus was a one-off, emergency spending measure, I’m not sure you can call a return to pre-stimulus investment a “reduction.” If we simply kept all stimulus programs intact forever and ever it would be akin to adding $800 billion to our deficit annually, not exactly a financially or politically sound proposition.

The bigger problem is that liberals’ argument ignores the reason governmental support of science funding has been declining relative to GDP. The problem is that the government over the last four decades has been forced to spend on other things. Our mandatory spending, on such things as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, has been driven upwards, leaving less and less to be spent on discretionary budget items. Moreover it is not going to get better without major changes. The CBO predicts that “federal spending on major mandatory health care programs will grow from roughly 5 percent today to about 10 percent in 2035 and will continue to increase thereafter. “

As the following chart from the Heritage Foundation shows, the increase in costs of entitlements and anti-poverty programs are forcing reductions elsewhere.

If we want to increase our investment and math and science as a pathway to future prosperity we must understand one thing: we are not working with unlimited funds. We can’t simply increase science investment because it is a good idea. A budget requires prioritization. Making math and science a priority means making something else less of a priority.

Sadly, prioritization is even difficult given that our budget is being tyrannized by entitlement spending. Now, and especially in the future, these programs are taking up such a large slice of the budgetary pie that there simply isn’t enough money to pay for core government functions, much less science grants. That is why fiscal conservatism, through principled spending, is the true path toward promoting scientific advancement.

For an example as to why, look no further than Texas. Doing research for this post, I googled “math and science investment” in an attempt to find long term trends in how much the government spent. To my surprise one of the top returns was an article entitled “Perry announces math and science investment.” The Perry the article is referring to is the Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry. As it turns out, in 2009, right in the heart of the recession, Texas announced it was investing $160 million to expand Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Math academies. But how!?! After all, Texas doesn’t have an income tax and has one of the nation’s lowest overall tax burdens. Yet through shrewd spending and their ability to attract businesses to the state, Texas has weathered the economic storm better than most, even managing to maintain an $8 billion “rainy day “ fund. This financial flexibility, accomplished by keeping government spending relatively low, is what enabled them to increase their science and math spending in response to a need. The federal government lacks that flexibility.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that solving our economic issues are as simple as giving more money to math and science. It would be a good start and a great investment. But Medicare and Social Security, programs liberals love, are stopping us from doing so.

by Brandon Greife, Political Director of the College Republican National Committee


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