Governments as the only funders of scientific research

In any advanced country there is a constant rumbling argument going on between those — generally on the left — who believe that government funding of science should increase and those — generally on the right — who  believe it should be left to the universities, private foundations and themselves on the basis that only private industry can soss out worthy ideas better than governments.

The rumbling argument has erupted to a higher level with the recent publication of a brilliant book by Professor Mariana Mazzucato, of Sussex University, The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs.Private Sector Myths. She had also written an article in the Guardian.  She is saying that government spending on scientific research produces more innovations than from other funders.  While Mazzucato is more correct than otherwise, she spoils her case with her political alignment.  She ought to pitch her case on more fundamental grounds.

As advanced governments become increasingly tax-competitive towards one another — in order to attract profitable multinationals — they will have to become more efficient and thus slim down towards their bare bones.

These will be internal and external defence, of course, but also more efficient national, regional or city-wide infrastructures, whatever sort of future governments there may be.  Because private industry leaves infrastructure development alone, except as sub-contractors, governments alone will have to be responsible for funding infrastructure research.

But because private industry is also leaving basic scientific research alone then, if governments desire a top-rank economic future, then they will be responsible for that, too — leaving any development of it to private industry which has its own additional personal incentives and thus drives more immediate competition in sifting the good innovations from the bad.

Note also that as increasingly fierce competition cause multinational profits to decline — and thus their R&D also — they are going to be increasingly dependent on break-through fundamental research ‘on a plate’.  All the more reason why governmental  funding of scientific research will have to increase.  Any government which is doing its job properly and not pandering to the immediate selfish wants of its electorate will be doing so.

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