Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Elitist Entitlement Whining

As I’ve said before, money is putting three quarters and a nickel into a vending machine and getting back a pack of peanuts. Getting Goldman Sachs to lend you $600 million dollars to buy a company that “has never posted an annual profit and has lost a total of $194.6 million since it was founded” is finance.

Cash flow through the modern economy is a complex journey through the fusion of market exchange and non-market gifting. What concerns many of us is the size of the grant economy distributing our tax dollars around. Wisconsin is firmly committed to creating a biotechnology economy so it is worth noticing how entitlement mentality develops when government grants prime the pump.

California Scientists Sound Alarms: The California Healthcare Institute (CHI) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) today released a report, "The National Institutes of Health: Fueling Healthcare Innovation in California," urging legislators to support increased funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — the backbone of the biomedical industry in California, which employs more than 267,000 people in high wage jobs. Without a sustained commitment of funding, scientists, academicians and leaders in the biomedical industry in California profiled in the report fear the biomedical ecosystem in California, made up of universities, research institutions and industry, will lose its capacity to produce the next generation of inventions to treat and cure disease.

However, as the federal deficit soars and legislators pare back discretionary spending, the NIH has come under intense pressure. In the first true budgeted reduction in NIH funding since 1970, the 2007 budget represented a 0.1 percent decrease from 2006

According to the … Supplement Survey, … the competition for peer-reviewed grants is rising and investigators must revise proposals several times in order to receive grants that are oftentimes lower in amount and shorter in duration than requested. Funding constraints prohibit faculty from maintaining sufficiently staffed labs and limit them from hiring qualified younger researchers.

I can imagine the indignant conversions as researchers sip on fine Merlot and sample award winning California cheese. It strikes me that the purpose of taxpayer financing is ultimately not to sustain 267,000 people in high wage jobs until some product emerges that can be sold to Wall Street. It’s also hard to work up tears just because finances get tight and you can’t have every toy you desire and all the minions you want. There are too many people struggling with unnecessarily expensive gasoline and punitive regulatory restrictions to empathize when academic lifestyles are asked to share the social pain.