Big Government Libertarianism

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An August 9, 2005 article by John Tabin on TechCentralStation.com criticizes ACSH president Dr. Elizabeth Whelan and ACSH co-founder Dr. Henry I. Miller for encouraging government spending on stem cell research:

The federal budget is in deficit. The choice is not between using tax-dollars to fund research and using the same tax dollars to fund something else. Rather, the choice is between using debt to fund research and not accruing that debt at all. What's wrong with the latter choice?

Last year Elizabeth M. Whelan and Henry I. Miller offered this response in a TCS column:

Some on the right of the political spectrum argue that the private sector, not the federal government, should fund expanded [embryonic stem cell] research...But the reality is that, for decades in the United States, fundamental, pre-commercial scientific research of this sort has been dominated by funding from the National Institutes of Health; and if the United States is going to compete in the worldwide race to find stem cell-based cures NIH funding...will likely be necessary.

It's true enough that NIH has long loomed large in funding this sort of research. But must it be so? Consider the larger research and development picture. About two-thirds of American R&D is now funded by the private sector, with taxpayers picking up the tab on the remaining third. As recently as 1970, the figures were reversed: Two-thirds of R&D funding came from Washington. Meanwhile, total R&D funding has in recent decades grown sharply. It should be no surprise that when government support stays relatively flat, the private sector more than picks up the slack. Is there any reason to think that research on embryos should be different?