Speaking at the National Academy of Sciences this morning, President Obama declared, “I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than 3 percent of our GDP to research and development.”
The AP reports:
He set forth a wish list for the future including “learning software as effective as a personal tutor; prosthetics so advanced that you could play the piano again; an expansion of the frontiers of human knowledge about ourselves and world the around us.
Like most of Obama’s domestic proposals, the underlying idea is that private enterprise isn’t allocating resources efficiently enough, and that a more active role for the federal government is required to make sure that society’s wealth is channeled toward worthy goals. Sure, the way Obama presents it, who could be against all of these wonderful scientific breakthroughs? The problem is that this idea of setting a target for how much our nation will allocate toward a sector of the economy and goals for what that money will yield was a basic tenet of all of the failed centrally planned economies of the 20th Century.
It’s also worth putting Obama’s numbers in context. In 2007, the most recent year for which I was able to find data, Plunkett Research pegged R&D spending in the U.S. at $360 billion, which was more than any other nation in the world. As a percentage of GDP, the U.S. was at 2.6 percent, second in the world only to Japan. Obama suggested increasing this number to more than 3 percent. So let’s just say we make it 3.1 percent. Given the most recent GDP was $14.2 trillion, we’re looking at a gap of about $70 billion a year that Obama evidently wants government to make up for.
Of course, Obama has a familiar retort:
“At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science. That support for research is somehow a luxury at a moment defined by necessities. I fundamentally disagree,” Obama said.
“Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been,” he said.
And so Obama leads us further down his primrose path.