Roughly one-third of the total dollar amount of research and development in the U.S. flows through or is funded by the state. Estimates of government funding in other nations range from one-fourth to three-fourths of total R & D spending.
Governments all over the world massively finance, control, and regulate science and technology. They do this (i) by levying taxes and funneling the money to favored projects, (ii) by powerful laws, orders, and directives, (iii) by tying science and technology into such political concerns as the military, energy, and the environment, (iv) by favoring and supporting the influence of some scientists and not others within scientific communities, (v) by supporting some interest groups and not others, and (vi) by glossing over the whole process of power by using various media to feed the public distorted views of the science and state alliance.
Can such a widespread state-controlled method of prodigiously funding science and technology be fundamentally mistaken? Can so many human beings in so many nations be investing in science and technology projects in the wrong way, in a way that destroys value rather than creating it, in a way that destroys wealth rather than creates it, in a way that destroys lives rather than saving them? Unfortunately, the answers to these questions are "Yes."
If human beings organized into nation-states can kill each other in monstrous numbers through wars, they certainly can undermine their own well-being and progress through other state activities. Science and technology comprise one such major avenue of state-directed spending and control. Many of the world’s states certainly blundered by banning DDT in 1972 and years thereafter. These bans have killed millions of human beings taken by malaria. They have led to the increased spread of insect-borne diseases such as dengue and West Nile virus. The Food and Drug Administration routinely kills people by such means as forbidding manufacturers to inform doctors of off-label uses of drugs, imposing obstacles on the approval of life-saving medical devices, and delaying the approval of new drugs and treatments. Now, in 2007, using the propaganda of man-made climate change and flaunting the banner of science, states and environmental interest groups all over the world are furthering death and destruction by promoting laws that regulate carbon dioxide and other gases.
Science is a good thing. In the hands of the state, science is a good thing gone bad.
The big picture
Science and the state are tightly linked. To see how and why, it is helpful to step back and see the big picture. In doing this, we notice in passing that the state also wishes to control and/or exploit such fields as education, health, economics, communications, and transportation.
It may be taken as axiomatic that those who run the state wish to perpetuate and enhance its and their powers. This simple truth has broad ramifications. In particular, since the state has a legal monopoly of violence in a given territorial area, its members view everything within that region, organic and inorganic, as subject to their power; and they view all of it, human and non-human, as means to the end of enhancing their control and maintaining the state, recognizing, of course, that they do not possess unlimited power and must act within constraints.
The state therefore views all the land (natural resources), all the labor (people), and all the property and capital owned by people within its territory as being subject to its manipulation, power, and control; and it constantly acts to extend its control over all these resources and use them to hold and expand that power. This relation between state and what it sees as its property explains why states attempt to control vital communication and transportation networks and focal points.
Furthermore, the fact that the state has the power of law over people explains why, in health, education and economic matters, it views human beings as resources, that is, things. It constantly measures their abilities, health, and productivity as any rational slave owner would also do. It routinely views people in terms of their usefulness to the state, as faceless and obedient "citizens," as "productive members of society," as "draftees," as "members of the workforce," as "wage-earners," as "salaried employees," as "employed," as "unemployed," as "troops," as "members of the armed services," and so on. Of course, the state’s propaganda becomes even more dangerous and sickening when it shifts from adverting to people as robotic cogs in a national machine and instead feigns human sympathy and makes itself seem almost human by relating anecdotes that identify individuals by name.
The picture I paint is, of course, diametrically opposed to the perpetual rhetoric of the state with which we are inundated and which makes full-fledged critics appear to belong to the ranks of the delusional. But that is because all of the state’s propaganda and rhetoric is aimed at maintaining a submissive population under its control. The state’s rhetoric is not truth or even a pale reflection of truth. It is solely a means of relaxing the constraints that people’s natural antipathy to being controlled might otherwise impose. Any other view than this simply does not accord with the state’s power and its actions, which speak far louder than its words.
Today is like yesteryear
Let us come now to science. As essential components of its extensions of power and control over its territorial resources, the state necessarily uses science and technology. Pronounced attention to weather, engineering, geography, and the application of technology to military purposes by state powers have a long history. In the case of mapping, we are told by Encyclopedia Britannica that "The development in Europe of power-conscious national states, with standing armies, professional officers, and engineers, stimulated an outburst of topographic activity in the 18th century, reinforced to some extent by increasing civil needs for basic data. Many countries of Europe began to undertake the systematic topographic mapping of their territories." Most of these "have been set up by the armed forces or their responsible ministries."
On Feb. 10, 1807, the ninth U.S. Congress appropriated $50,000 in "An Act to provide for surveying the coasts of the United States." The Coast and Geodetic Survey eventually became part of today’s NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) which is part of the Department of Commerce.
After mapping came state geological surveys. The Geological Survey of Great Britain began in 1835. The U.S. Geological Survey, still part of the Department of the Interior, began on March 3, 1879. We frequently find scientists and science societies intimately involved with these acts of state. Beyond supporting them publicly, they benefit from direct subsidies, employment of scientists, and government preference for the projects that they tout. The supportive science societies are often already linked to the state. Congress created the National Academy of Sciences on March 3, 1863, and this body recommended to Congress that it fund the U.S. Geological Survey in order "to classify the public lands and to examine the geologic structure, mineral resources and products of the national domain."
These early uses of science by the state and consequent involvement of scientists with the state, either by outright employment, association with the military, or by subsidies, go toward the state’s control over its lands and seas, to boundaries, to location of critical masses, to assessment of its mineral and other wealth, to military purposes, and to taxation purposes. They go to questions of transportation and communications networks, often for military ends of control, such as river traffic and telegraph stations. They go toward subduing hostile elements within a country and at its borders. Eventually, the state would recruit all manner of social scientists for similar purposes having to do with human resources. But at the same time, many in the scientific communities willingly enter a symbiotic relationship that provides them with resources they might otherwise have to work a lot harder to secure.
It should therefore come as no surprise that scientists of today, typically located in university departments whose specialities are meteorology, climatology, oceanography, and so on, are pushing for more and more sophisticated and extensive mapping, measurement, and surveying of the earth’s ever-changing geology, surface, ocean surface, atmosphere, climate, weather, etc., using expensive rockets and satellites, all of which are to be paid for by taxes and administered through state agencies. The current propaganda on behalf of these projects involves the rosy-sounding rhetoric of public/private partnerships with ample promises of public benefits. This hides its essential features, which include immorally and coercively extracting funds from unwilling taxpayers and distributing these funds to the proponents of scientific projects, said scientists either being unable or unwilling to fund their projects by other non-coercive means, such as by voluntary contributions, businesses, or philanthropists.
Nor should it come as a surprise that many states are anxious to gain strong footholds in controlling vantage points in space or in knowledge of weather, geology, or climatology that give them advantages in dealing both with their own populations and with other states. Nothing fundamental has really changed in these particular political ambitions. The playing fields may have changed from surveying coastlines to surveying weather worldwide, but the essential motivations of the states are unchanged.
Science and economics
Science is not simply scientific method objectively applied to phenomena, as over-simplified explanations of science suggest. The justifiably high praise directed at science and technology emphasizes that they have value in producing knowledge as a good. In turn, knowledge as a good has value in producing goods for consuming.
Science and technology make our lives better, without any doubt; but they are not manna. Science, technology, and the goods they produce are not free. The production processes of science and technology cost. We cannot attain the values science brings us without using scarce factors like time, labor, capital, and natural resources. If we devote scarce time, labor, capital and resources to scientific stunts like placing a man on the moon by the year 1970, so that several astronauts can spend less than a day collecting 46 pounds of lunar rocks, then we prevent ourselves from other achievements with far greater value.
Science should be viewed in terms of the concepts of market exchange, like demand and supply. Science is a production process. Like any such process, it requires time, labor, capital, and land.
A baker produces bread; a scientist produces knowledge. New knowledge costs. We cannot know everything costlessly. Knowledge is produced. There are costs of producing knowledge. New knowledge doesn’t come free. Information costs. Learning (gaining knowledge) costs. Discovery costs. Inventing costs. Interpreting and understanding cost.
We cannot know everything, nor do we decide to find out everything, even when this is possible, because of the costs of finding out. Doing science incurs costs at every step of the way. We do not want to waste limited resources learning how many grains of sand are on a beach, unless we either envision that the knowledge has value or we happen to get utility from knowing this abstruse fact. Even behind curiosity lie economic reasons for its chosen directions.
We must decide how to allocate scarce resources among the competing possibilities of attaining knowledge. But we already know how to do this in a moral and efficient way, and that is through voluntary market exchanges in which individual consumers buy what provides value to them. The individual purchases and non-purchases of individual consumers provide the signals to producers as to what scientific projects are worth investing in and what are not. Consumers are the only ones who can indicate by their freely-chosen actions what is valuable to them. In possession of freedom, they rule the roost. Any other dictatorial and unfree method, such as paying taxes and subsidizing projects that "experts" want or scientists prefer, is guaranteed not to provide value to consumers. In this case, scientists and politicians rule the roost.
In a free country, science should be subject to the market test. It should pay its way. If it has value, it will be embodied in goods that consumers want and are willing to pay for. There is simply no need or justification for state intervention on behalf of consumers, and such intervention invariably destroys markets, value creation, wealth and lives.
Economics also applies to the relations between the state and scientists. The state needs scientists for a variety of purposes that cement its control. Scientists need money, an infinite amount of money, to fund an infinite number of projects. After all, the extent of potential knowledge is uncountably infinite. Hence, scientists gravitate to the state’s coffers and lobby for money; and their demands must always be indefinitely great. The result is what we see, a heavy presence of the state in science.
If we value human life, science and technology should not be funded by the state. This leads to nothing but the destruction of value and wealth. The cozy relations between the state and science and technology harm us. Each of the billions and billions of dollars extracted from taxpayers and funneled to a multitude of eager scientific hands tears down freedom. Taxpayers are made to pay as a group. As such, they no longer decide as individuals how to spend their own money. Taxpayers are made to pay, and professionals decide. Taxpayers pay, but experts and specialists rule.
Taxpayers are consumers. Left in freedom to spend their money as they please, their buying signifies value creation. As direct consumers of products directly consumed, they cannot be fooled.
The science-state nexus forces wealth out of the hands of consumers, shattering freedom; breaking down the free-market cooperation between buyer demanding value and producer supplying value; replacing freedom with a one-way belt conveying money from consumers to members of the scientific community who need not produce anything of value to consumers but who, posing as knowing authorities and benefactors of mankind, soft-soap everyone in sight with promises of endless wealth and valuable knowledge, breakthroughs, technological marvels, pretty photographs, fancy diagrams, charts, and graphs, stunts, gadgets, marvels, elixirs, miracles, gimmicks, and toys. It is relatively easy for scientists to fool and mislead Congressmen who do not directly consume the products of science. But, on their side, the Congressmen (and other officials) have their own political reasons for wanting to spend taxpayer funds on various projects.
The totally quixotic, ill-conceived, mistaken, and unnecessary movement associated with climate change, an important example of junk-environmentalism, is but one specific instance of the massive potential and actual wealth destruction that the state’s control over science and technology brings us.
Science and technology should not be funded and controlled by the state, but it is. And this will continue because that is in the state’s interest. This long-standing problem, along with similar problems in education, health, economics, communications, and transportation, seriously affect the lives and longevity of all of us.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.