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Home / Tim Worstall /It’s the how, not the how much, that needs the attention

It’s the how, not the how much, that needs the attention

Summary:
A certain coordination in demands upon the taxpayer wallet here:From climate change to health, spending on research pays for itselfSo, therefore, government should spend more on research.To be a science and tech superpower we need to invest moreSo, therefore, government should spend more on research.These calls coming separately from the head of the Royal Society and of the National Centre for Universities and Business. The representatives of those who would get to go spend any more government money allocated to research. Well, as the rumoured not-to-be-a-lady once said, they would, wouldn’t they?The problem with the call being that they‘re concentrating upon how much money is to be spent. That’s their target, a rise to some specified level of GDP. Which isn’t what we’re interested at all.

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A certain coordination in demands upon the taxpayer wallet here:

From climate change to health, spending on research pays for itself

So, therefore, government should spend more on research.

To be a science and tech superpower we need to invest more

So, therefore, government should spend more on research.

These calls coming separately from the head of the Royal Society and of the National Centre for Universities and Business. The representatives of those who would get to go spend any more government money allocated to research. Well, as the rumoured not-to-be-a-lady once said, they would, wouldn’t they?

The problem with the call being that they‘re concentrating upon how much money is to be spent. That’s their target, a rise to some specified level of GDP. Which isn’t what we’re interested at all. We want to know what is the output and that’s not something directly linked to that level of input. As they both point out, showing that the UK does put in less than many other countries but also gets more out.

So, any sensible analysis must start from the point that we are more efficient. So, why are we? Our own inclination being to suggest that as we do less of this inefficient government spending in this area therefore our system is overall more efficient. If that is the answer - note we only suggest it - then increasing the government portion of spending simply reduces our overall efficiency.

This is before we get to the logical problem here. The argument in favour of government spending is that such knowledge is a public good. Very difficult to make a profit from therefore the private sector doesn’t do enough of it. But if that’s true then it doesn’t matter which government does it, because it’s the production of a public good anyway. The argument being tried on here, that government must do the spending and also that it must be our government that does, fails in its own logical confusion.

Special interest groups and their begging bowls will be ever with us but that doesn’t mean we’ve got to listen to their pleadings.

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Tim Worstall
Tim Worstall is a British-born writer and Senior Fellow of the Adam Smith Institute. Worstall is a regular contributor to Forbes and the Register. He has also written for the Guardian, the New York Times, PandoDaily, the Daily Telegraph blogs, the Times, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2010 his blog was listed as one of the top 100 UK political blogs by Total Politics.

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