Basic Research

BASIC RESEARCH….Extending the R&D credit may have been just a sop to his corporate pals, but George Bush’s call in last night’s SOTU to increase spending on basic research and encourage more kids to take AP math and science courses was a good idea. A small idea, to be sure, but at least he’s acknowledging that declining interest in math and science and reduced R&D funding are problems that needs attention ? though they’re problems partly of his own making since Bush’s most recent budget cut funding for science and assigned most of what research funding remained to applied research. As Ben Wallace-Wells pointed out in the Washington Monthly last year:

For decades, the United States ranked first in the world in the percentage of its GDP devoted to scientific research; now, we’ve dropped behind Japan, Korea, Israel, Sweden, and Finland. The number of scientific papers published by Americans peaked in 1992 and has fallen 10 percent; a decade ago, the United States led the world in scientific publications, but now it trails Europe. For two centuries, a higher proportion of Americans had gone to university than have citizens of any other country; now several nations in Asia and Europe have caught up. ?Those competitor countries…are not only wide awake,? said Shirley Ann Jackson, the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, ?but they are running a marathon…and we tend to run sprints.?

Super-alert readers will also remember that Thomas Friedman’s chapter on this subject was just about the only part of The World is Flat I liked.

Ben suggests that the answer is not so much to pick and choose winners by investing in specific industries, but to improve what he calls “microeconomic policy” by “making investments, regulatory changes, and infrastructure improvement to spur the economy forward, creating new industries and giving new tools to old ones.” Read the whole thing if you’re interested in some ideas for accomplishing this that are a little more serious than Bush’s call to set up yet another advisory council.