I was watching an episode of Fareed Zakaria's GPS program the other day, and the thesis of the hour was innovation. One of the points that was made by some titans of business and innovation is the crucial role of government in research funding. Whether we're talking about 60% if not more of cancer research, the internet, the global positioning system, government research money has been behind a lot of the major advances in our society.
The Republicans want to pass budget cuts - and certainly we need them. However, they don't want to touch social security, medicare, or defense. To be politically safe, the GOP is focusing on "discretionary spending". This includes the NIH, the FBI, environmental protection agencies, education, and the list goes on and on.
We're really going to have to think long and hard about our priorities as a nation, because we can't have it all. Do we want to continue to nation build in Afghanistan? Should we continue to accept our role as the world's policeman with a 500 billion dollar military? Should the government continue to pay people to stop working at the young age of 65 (ie, social security). Or, do we want to invest in the future, by putting more money in education, science, and research?
Something tells me that the Chinese won't be cutting their education and research budgets anytime soon. Its OK though. All of the new jobs in the biosciences can be created in China just as easily. Maybe in the future we will import our cancer and other medical treatments from China like we do with toys today. The most intelligent young American scientists will compete to earn a Ph.D. spot in a Chinese laboratory. The top American medical researchers will move their laboratories to China where funding is reliable and easy to get. The pharmaceutical companies might start following the researchers over there.
The research is going to get done. It is just a matter of where.