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I would like to interrupt the parade of anteaters, crowns, demons, and obscure colors for a brief but important political polemic. It seems likely that the Federal budget sequester will take place tonight and that is very bad news.
As almost everyone now knows, this artificial crisis was created as an attempt to make America’s hostile and antithetical political parties work together to cut spending and balance the budget. Unsurprisingly creating (another) arbitrary deadline failed miserably to accomplish this task–so unstructured cuts will hit big parts of the Federal budget. Defense spending is slated to be cut by 13% and the rest of domestic spending will be trimmed by 9%. The sequester will not touch entitlements like Medicare and Social Security (which make up the majority of the budget), because doing so would be political suicide for national politicians.
Some people are ok with this, and argue that the Federal budget is out of control and needs to be reined in by some means. Nine percent and thirteen percent are not big numbers. The American military is still the largest in the world…etc…etc… This is the wrong way to think. As this article outlines, many of the budget cuts insidiously strike at our research budget which will direly impact the future not just of the United States but also of the other nations (and maybe the ecosystems) of the entire world.
The sequester will hurt basic science research. Greedy Wall Street moguls will be just fine and (most likely) people at the bottom of the economic scale will be ok too, but, in twenty years humankind won’t have nanotechnology, space elevators, immortality potions, or whatever incredible thing today’s research was meant to foster.
Private companies, the Chinese, James Bond villain billionaires…all other entities capable of fundamental research are small potatoes (other than universities—which receive much of their science money from the government). The US Government is the world’s largest source of funding of basic research money…by a lot.
Fundamental research is the one thing America is good at (well maybe we can still make pizzas, scammy software, and dumb action movies, but we can talk about that another day) and that’s okay because research is the most important thing. Nations do not become superpowers because of indomitable spirit or cool national symbols, but because of engineering, science, and innovation. Research is the critical underpinning of economic, military, and cultural greatness. It is also fundamental to humankind’s quest to understand and manipulate the universe (before it kills us and everything we care about). Social security does nothing to further that objective!
The sequester cuts resemble a farm plan which leaves out the seed corn. And what is the point of even running a farm then? So, politicians, go ahead and make cuts to the budget. Raise taxes even. National leaders, do what you have to do, but please don’t cut the most important part of the budget because it is most abstract and lacks special interest lobbyists. That is stupid…and it is what we are doing by default.