TRUTH about US R&D SPENDING from BRITISH NATURE

Jim Smolen jsmolen at bcm.tmc.edu
Mon Apr 22 14:34:52 EST 1996


"Arthur E. Sowers" <arthures at access.digex.net> wrote:

>On Fri, 19 Apr 1996, Jim Smolen wrote:
>> But I don't think that the issues are all that complex. The trends
>> leading to this situation, and to which the Nature editorial allude,
>> have been obvious for at least two decades now. It just takes time for
>> exponential growth to reach fruition.

>Jim, I can see some validity in lots of "viewpoints" on this topic, but
>one phrase in what you said prompts me to add a footnote to my own
>comment: The  "exponential growth to fruition...." sometime ends actually
>in an "S"-shaped curve as whatever plotted on the Y axis becomes
>saturated. It sure looks to me like, for example, the NIH and NSF budgets,
>considering that inflation (plus the institutional surcharge "tax" known
>as overhead [to me a ripoff]) is running ahead of budget increases, are,
>in real dollars, actually shrinking slightly.
>
>Jumping back a couple of decades (when I was young and naive and twice as
>idealistic as now), I had this dumb notion that the world was actually
>getting smarter and wiser. I thought is was intuitively obvious, for
>example, that everyone would "discover", through education and expansion
>of science, that war really was senseless and that defense budgets would
>decline and the money saved would be available for another intuitively
>obvious worthy goal, research. When the Soviet Union collapsed, there was
>a little talk of the peace dividend (so some component of my prediction
>came true), but it wasn't long before that got blown to smitherines (Jeez,
>I wanted for a long time to use that word) with all this concern, by
>members primarily but not entirely of one political party, now for
>government deficits and cutting taxes (goofy, considering that companies
>are making record profits and, as usuall, the rich are getting richer, but
>at record rates of increase, too).
>
>So, what bugs me? Seeing that the tobbacco industry is three times larger
>than the entire NIH budget. The defense budget is about 20 times bigger
>than the entire NIH budget (not counting the bomb production budget which
>is in DOE). Etc.

Arthur, I think that we were talking about different programs when we
were referring to exponential growth. I was referring to the
exponential growth of entitlement spending, which has generally
exceeded the costs of inflation. Entitlement spending along with debt
payments are the only exponentially growing segments of the budget.
This wouldn't be a problem if these programs were small, but they are
the majority of the budget. They dwarf the defense budget and continue
to grow (the defense budget has, until last year, been static or
decreasing in real terms over the past decade) .  Unless budget
priorities change, it is mathematically certain that they will crowd
out every other aspect of the budget. We scientists should be the
first to appreciate the "logic" of unfettered exponential growth. 

When discussing how this growth has occurred over the past several
decades, I like to refer to a chart published by the NY Times on
December 3, 1995, which covers the budget categories from 1965 to
1995. The slow but inexorable "crowding out" by entitlements is
patently obvious. The data also support the thesis that the peace
dividend from the Vietnam War was cast into the entitlement budget,
back in 1972. I also read that increases in entitlements (according to
"normal", programmed growth) ate up every cent of the post-Cold War
peace dividend.

Jim




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