Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Few More Comments

I know I've reached my politics quota for this week, but I have a few more comments.  

After the SOTU, scientists were cautiously optimistic about a few things.  But scientists are prone to dissect things, and it turns out that the President's science policy comments are mostly deceptions.  PZ has a quick rundown here, focused on the fact that Bush is not really going to increase the number of math and science teachers.  Instead, he is proposing to retrain existing teachers, without proposing any funding for that.  But perhaps the most egregious foul was noted in the UK paper, The Guardian, and picked up at Cosmic Variance.
Would it surprise you to learn that, when George W. Bush in his State of the Union Address proposed a multibillion dollar initiative to strengthen education and research in math and science, two-thirds of the money is actually not in the form of funding, but rather tax breaks for businesses? In fact, tax breaks that already exist, but are renewed annually, and Bush would simply like to make permanent?
This, of course, is a clever shell game.  He takes credit for tax cuts, then relabels the same legislation and takes credit for it again, by saying he is increasing funding for research.  But it is not academic research he is talking about, it is research that business probably would do anyway.

Now, it is not necessarily a bad idea to give businesses a tax break for research, but if that is what he is doing, he should just come right out and say that.  What bugs me about this, though, is not merely the shell-game aspect of it.  What also bugs me is the fact that it runs contrary to the economic principles that neocons trumpet all the time.  Their notion is that free-market economics should drive everything.  According to that principle, businesses should assess the potential economic benefits of a given research track, and pursue it if the market will reward them for it.  If it doesn't pay off, they should take the risk.  

Under this plan, businesses get a break regardless of whether the business decision was a sound one.  It's corporate welfare, plain and simple.


Update:  Upon further review, the call made on the field stands.  Furthermore, an additional foul was committed.  He says that his goal is to increase the number of math and science teachers.  But the push to eviscerate the public school system inevitably would lead to lower pay for teachers.  Plus, the cuts in student loan programs will make it harder for kids to go to college.  How is it going to help, if students aspiring to become math and science teachers face greater financial hurdles, yet fewer financial rewards, for their chosen career?  Mr. Bush's actions contradict his words.