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Both the Republicans and the Democrats strongly favor making the Research and Development Tax Credit permanent. The idea is that this tax break will spur technological innovation. The Republican platform says, "We support federal investment in basic and applied biomedical research." Why? Because such funding is supposed to boost America's global competitiveness and lead to innovative cures.
The Democrats declare, "Over the past eight years, the current Administration has not only failed to promote biomedical and stem cell research, it has actively stood in the way of that research." Actually, the Bush administration's support for the National Institutes of Health has held steady at around $30 billion per year. However, the Democrats pledge, "We will increase funding to the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the National Cancer Institutes." By how much? "We will double federal funding for basic research," the progressives promise.
Both Democrats and Republicans clearly recognize the centrality of science and technology in driving economic growth, and also believe that the government has some responsibility for managing the cultural disorientation that technological progress can induce. But was Vannevar Bush right? Do we really need a national research establishment funded and, to some extent, directed by the federal government to engender economic growth? Perhaps not. A 2003 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report, The Sources of Economic Growth, found "a marked positive effect of business-sector R&D, while the analysis could find no clear-cut relationship between public R&D activities and growth, at least in the short term." While the Republicans express a bit more skepticism than the Democrats, the platforms show that both parties still buy the vision of a government-funded science-industrial complex.
Ronald Bailey is reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.