Science, Economics, Politics

Introduction

A few years ago, I saw a video clip of a well-known politician complaining about pharmaceutical companies “making billions of dollars in profit.” Profit here being the keyword. This politician, a self-proclaimed “Socialist” was clearly holding to the Marxist concept that a company’s “profit” inherently represents theft from the workers and/or customers.

As someone with a background in biotechnology, I was amazed by the sheer ignorance of this politician’s statement. I don’t say that lightly, and I don’t say it to be insulting (in this case), but the complaint was so out-of-touch with the reality of the situation that there is no nicer way to say it.

At present, it costs around $1 Billion to bring a drug to market. This is due to a combination of factors including the cost of scientific research, clinical trials, and incredibly high regulatory standards.

Just to illustrate a small portion of this process, I used to work in a frozen-storage lab where we received frozen clinical samples that were shipped to us, and a whole crew of people managed the storage, paperwork, and eventual shipping to testing sites at later dates. This is in addition to the work that is done studying cells in test tubes, rodent work, and even the basic research just to understand the biochemistry, genetics and physiology of living organisms that makes modern pharmaceutical efforts possible in the first place.

The time, money, and work that goes into drug discovery is staggering, followed by clinical trials, and high regulations. That is why it costs $1 Billion to bring a drug to market. So yes, with billions of dollars in investments, it only makes sense that we should expect pharmaceutical companies to make billions of dollars in profit. This profit is then used largely to fund future drug research which allows shareholders to make more money.

Of course, if we so choose, the United States government could seize everything that every pharmaceutical company owns. We could just take it. We could take it all, and produce every drug on the market for a few dollars. No one would ever have to worry about affording their medication ever again. We could just steal it all. And while we are at it, we could just sell all of our souls to the Devil.

But if we choose to go down this path, we would be saying goodbye to every drug that would ever be developed in the future. Sure, the incompetent, DMV-style government bureaucracies that take over might produce a drug or two here and there, but nothing like the wealth that the free market would have offered.

A Real Solution

All of this got me thinking. Americans value scientific research on a very high level. For better or for worse, we spend a few billion dollars in the Federal budget each year between NASA, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation.

There is a lot of debate about whether this represents the proper role of government, and whether it is ethical to take money from people by force to send probes to Mars. And those are valid questions that I want to set aside for the moment, since the logic of an article is linear by its nature, and I cannot address every question at once.

All of that aside for the moment, we fund science both publicly and privately, because we recognize that scientific research has a very high value. We recognize that the knowledge and progress that scientific research creates is worth many many times the value of the investment.

Thanks to the space program, we have the technology to put satellites in orbit that allow someone in America to video chat in real time with someone in China. From a purely economic perspective, the scientific research produced even by the government has created wealth with value many many orders of magnitude greater than that which was invested.

So this brought me to a very important question that began to radically change my way of thinking.

Why are we taxing pharmaceutical companies at all?

Pharmaceutical companies produce billions of dollars worth of scientific research. They are key to a flourishing scientific industry of research and discovery.

Amazingly, politicians will place high taxes and costly regulations on pharmaceutical companies, artificially forcing prices up, and destroying competition, and then these same politicians will turn around and attack the pharma and medical industry for the high price of prescriptions and healthcare.

The entire thing is like a scene out of Atlas Shrugged. Politicians create high taxes, and bizarre feel-good regulations, which cripple businesses, and then turn around and complain that the “free market” is not working. Meanwhile, the so called “free market” is managing to move forward, despite needless chains.

These same politicians love to talk about high costs and greedy businessmen. But as the economist Thomas Sowell points out, greed cannot explain the wealth of an individual, since greed alone cannot raise one’s paycheck by a single dime. In a free market, other people have to willingly give someone their money.

Sadly, voters engage in this same foolishness.

The bottom line is this, if we want to create a thriving pharma industry that works for consumers, there is only one best solution, and here it is:

Stop taxing and over-regulating pharmaceutical companies.

If a prescription currently costs $100 (just to give a round number) then this will have a few immediate effects. If $30 of that cost is due to taxes, then perhaps the price will be lowered by $10, while another $10 is put into research and development, and another $10 is put into the pocket of a shareholder, where it belongs. All of this, instead of that $30 going to the friends of politicians.

A number of incentives will happen in the economy as a result. Instead of $1 Billion to produce a new drug, perhaps the cost goes down to $700 million. But even if it only went down to $800 million or $900 million, at first, for the sake of argument, the resulting incentives would still be incredible!

More people would invest more money into pharmaceutical research, and new research and new drugs would be created. New technology would then be developed for scientific laboratories to bring down the cost of research.

I think of a $1 million robot that I worked with in an HIV research lab where I did a short internship. The robot was capable of doing in a few hours what would have taken me months to accomplish by hand. This was a huge benefit to a startup company that had to compete with multi-billion dollar corporations. And no, this robot did not “replace” anyone’s job. There is always more scientific research to be done, and having a robot drive down the cost of research actually creates more jobs for people like me, who work in labs.

Because of this robot, the drugs that will be produced will cost far less to research, and will be on the market years sooner than they would have been. On the other hand, without this robot, these life-saving HIV drugs might never be developed at all.

A conceptually similar robot to the one I used in my lab.

Since robots are a very contentious topic, I plan to come back to them later in this article. But for right now I want to talk about the benefits of pharmaceutical investment to science as a whole. This greater investment into scientific research would mean that more companies would seek to create cheaper and better technology for laboratories.

This is not a point that I can emphasize enough. The human genome project cost around $2.7 billion but thanks to the research that was done, I can now get my full genome sequenced for $849. Furthermore, genetic engineering that would have cost tens of thousands of dollars in mice just 5 years ago, has now been brought down to a few hundred dollars thanks to CRISPR technology (think $40,000 Vs $400). CRISPR being the latest and greatest genetic engineering technology. But more than the cost difference, CRISPR has made things possible that were not possible at all even 5 years ago.

GM mice, Image from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:GFP_Mice_01.jpg

Now think about the implications. The cost of research can easily be reduced by many millions of dollars thanks to just a few technological advances. This means that labs can afford more equipment, and research can expand. Those millions mean that more scientists and lab technicians who are looking for work can be hired in proper laboratories where they belong, instead of working at call centers.

This also means that both big and small investors can increase their profits, and rightly and justly make more money for themselves and their families. Meanwhile, economics is not a zero-sum-game. Billions of people become richer as a result of the new medicines that are created, and countless lives are saved or made better.

Wealth is not the “fixed pie” that so many people seem to think. In the past 20 years, extreme poverty around the world has been cut in half. Since 1970 starvation-level poverty has fallen by 80%, even while the World population has increased. And in the United States, the rich are getting richer, but the poor are also getting richer.

On a slightly tangential note, I went to an event at my alma mater a few years ago, and had the pleasure of seeing something that very much intrigued me. Students were doing a research project where they were using 3D-Printers to create a custom part for rockets that would normally have taken an entire day in a machine shop to create (possibly two if the machinist made a mistake).

The cost of creating this part with a 3D printer was less than a dollar’s worth of 3D printer ink. This was incredible! … A full day’s labor vs less than a dollar!

Now consider the implications for satellite technology, and space travel.

Keep in mind that this is probably not the only custom part that can be 3D-printed. Now more rockets can be built for less cost in terms of money and labor. And yes, if this technology could get off the ground (pardon the terrible pun) then one can only imagine how many jobs would be created as the direct result of this automation.

Bringing down the cost of space travel might put the moon within range for industrial mining operations. That might sound like science fiction, but keep in mind that space technology is not merely the realm of fiction anymore. We use satellites everyday, and we went to the Moon in 1969. Space technology has existed for a long time. The main barrier to space industrialization is the cost.

Now consider the implications of 3D printing parts like this for life-saving medical devices in the developing world.

This 3D-printed part is just one example of how scientific research in one area can have widespread benefits.

The Threat of Greed

Bringing this back around to pharma, I want to address the main concerns that I think most readers would have.

A few years ago, there was a controversy when a company chose to raise the price on a life-saving medical device for injecting insulin. This is a device that diabetics, including children, are often dependent on. As a result a lot of people became very angry, and understandably so. In their anger, I saw people on social media point the finger to the evils of “greed” and “Capitalism.”

After all, many people are often quick to point out that in countries with socialized medicine, health treatments are free. If you need medicine, you can readily get anything you need just by walking in. The governments of these generous countries simply pay for the cost of healthcare with unicorn magic.

The reality is that these “roads paved in gold” stories about other countries either fail to describe the full picture, or are simply false. That’s why people with access to this “free healthcare” will spend many thousands of dollars, if they can afford it, to fly to the United States to receive healthcare, which they gladly pay for, knowing they would have died under their own country’s Socialist system.

They come to America, where there is a little bit of freedom in terms of the medical industry, and where medical advancements are still being produced.

But let’s say that we have a “greedy” corporation that wants to charge outrageous prices for pharmaceuticals and medical devices. I would suggest then, that the solution to this problem is more freedom, not less.

That medical device I mentioned. This is produced by a field that is very highly regulated by the government. If some of these government chains were loosened, I would suggest that more companies would be able to produce competing life-saving devices.

In such a free market, this company would be free to request any price they want for their device, but consumers would also be free to take their money elsewhere if they don’t like how business is done.

This is why merely being “greedy” cannot raise a man’s pay check by a single dime in a free market. He can decide to charge a million dollars for a pack of gum if he wants to, but everyone else is free to buy their gum elsewhere.

And more importantly, in a free market, healthcare costs would naturally be driven down, as new technologies create new treatments, and competition keeps “greedy” companies in check.

Insulin Prices

Taking the example of insulin itself, this is a product that only a few companies are licensed to produce. New and better forms of insulin are constantly being produced, which is part of the reason costs are so high, but as someone with a background in biotechnology, and a basic understanding of economics, I can’t see why the price is going up instead of down.

From what I’ve read of the production of insulin, the cost of production should be extremely inexpensive. Most of the key techniques can be readily performed by undergrad biotech students. Once the cost of research is covered, then the prices (in a competitive market) should drop like a stone.

(I will openly say that even though this is my field, perhaps I am missing something. Perhaps I am wrong, because of something that I’ve overlooked, and I would be very happy if someone is able to correct my misunderstanding in this area. I don’t know everything, and since I am human, there is no reason to pretend that I am never wrong.)

The only explanation that I can see to explain this is that we have a market environment where only a few companies are licensed to produce this product. This oligopoly means that there is very little competition, and companies are free to artificially raise their prices without fear of backlash from the free market.

Imagine what would happen if chains were loosened, and more competition was allowed. Imagine if more companies were allowed to produce insulin, perhaps older version of insulin that are no longer under a patent.

I am not saying that there should be zero legal barrier in terms of entry into the medical marketplace, but I am saying that if companies are capable of basic hygiene and safety standards, then we should allow them to produce insulin.

The threat of competition alone is often enough to curb any temptation to raise prices, less a competitor gain even a momentary advantage.

In a free market, men are not forced to do business at the point of a gun, but if they choose to charge unfair prices, they will face the natural consequences from customers who choose to take their money elsewhere.

A company producing a life-saving medical device for delivering insulin would be free to charge whatever they like, but another company might come along within a week, and have a better competing device on the market for far less. (Or perhaps this will be within a month, as safety testing is performed.)

But after that week or that month, the corporation that charged prices that their customers deemed unfair would loose a lot of ground, and possibly go out of business as a result.

Other companies that are tempted to overcharge will see what naturally occurs, and will be very careful about taking advantage of their customers.

Unchaining The Economy

After considering all of this, other scenarios came to my mind. Why stop with pharmaceutical and medical companies?

If research and development are so valuable, as they clearly are, then why not encourage scientific progress by making all research tax exempt?

After all, we want new medicines, new sources of energy, faster and more powerful computers, so why not simply unleash the free market on the problem?

In terms of medical devices, the development of 3D printing technology has made it where custom prosthetic arms can be produced for around $50. Traditionally a prosthetic would cost thousands. Of course, there is a slight “apples and oranges” comparison here, because volunteers actually assemble these $50 arms, but the advantage in terms of cost is still clear.

Politicians often complain about the high cost of healthcare, so why not set the market free to find cheaper and better solutions that people could readily afford?

As industries are set free, more wealth can be produced with less money, and fewer resources. Scientific progress would not be confined either. Better computer technology can have implications for genetic research, as just one example. A lot of what is done today would not have been possible in decades past.

The increase in wealth would result in new jobs being created, and new economic opportunities. Diseases that plagued past generations could be eradicated, more food could be grown, and the reduced cost of computers would bring education to people in the poorest corners of the Earth.

But then all of this brought me to another question:

Why are we taxing businesses at all?

The United States takes a lot of money from businesses by force to pay for welfare and entitlement programs that could have been used by businesses to produce more trucks, apples, pharmaceuticals, and new sources of energy.

On a personal note, after graduating from college, and living in a very Left-wing state, I had a very difficult time finding work. I had to be on government assistance, because there was a lack of work available. And I resented every penny of it, knowing that the money spent on welfare was stolen from companies that could have hired me, for however little money, and helped me to build my resume.

Instead I lived in a state with politicians who openly curse businesses, and seek to create a dependent welfare class.

So what is my advice to my fellow countrymen? Simply this:

Stop taxing and overregulating businesses

When businesses are free to operate, and to grow, they create jobs, and they create wealth. They produce that which people need and want. Politicians can spread money around all day long, but money does not create wealth, and in and of itself, money is worthless.

Money VS Wealth

This is a topic I addressed in depth in a previous article, but it is necessary that I touch on it here, and that readers understand a point that too many people easily miss.

Money and wealth are not the same thing.

A lot of people know that money is simply paper bills printed by the government that has no actual value, but then they fail to understand the economic implications.

Again, I can point out that money itself is just paper, with no value, and people will nod in understanding. But then the next part of that is so simple that it deceptively flies under the radar.

The thing that matters is not money, but wealth. The government could print a hundred trillion-dollar-bills and burn them all on the front of the White House Lawn, and there would be no loss, except for hour it took to burn the paper.

A country can have all of the green paper with big numbers that it wants, but without bread, or milk, or wine, the whole thing is useless.

One could easily imagine a country with very little money, but lots of bread that does just fine. On the other hand a country with a lot of money, but no bread is not doing so well.

One cannot eat money.

What matters is wealth; bread, milk, electricity, wine, computers, clean water, books, houses, roads, and education, just to give a few examples.

The baker trades his bread to the farmer for his apples, money just makes the process easier. But if one were alone in the wilderness, a billion american dollars would be of no value to them, except for insulation and kindling.

The Wealth of Nations marked the beginning of modern economics, because it recognized that a nation’s wealth was not in the gold that it had, but in the goods and services that the people created, and had access to.

This might seem like a simple concept, but its one that politicians and voters fail to understand, and the result is economic devastation.

Politicians, on both sides of the aisle, will greatly concern themselves with the distribution of money, but will fail to understand that the money itself is not what is important.

Robots — A Job’s Best Friend

This is one of the areas where people fail to understand the implications of Money VS Wealth.

Whenever a new form of automation is invented, people fear that it will “replace jobs.”

A lot of people fear that as technology gets better and better, robots will gradually replace all of the jobs, leaving nothing left but a super-rich elite that owns all of the production.

These fears are, of course, very understandable. No one wants to see other people loose their jobs. But it also fails to take into account the effect of creating more wealth for fewer resources.

Consider the printing press. When this amazing, revolutionary piece of technology first came out, people were afraid that it would take jobs away from monks who copied books by hand. But look at the wealth that was created as a result. Look at how many jobs have been produced.

Or look at the digital equivalent. I publish books through Amazon Kindle. Everything is delivered wirelessly to electronic devices at virtually no cost. I get to keep around 70% of the revenue, while Amazon keep around 30%. The buyer wins, the author wins, and the publisher wins.

Now flip this around, imagine a world where tomorrow digital books became illegal in every country on Earth, and a physical printing press was outlawed. After all we don’t want to take jobs away from people, and monks should have the right to eat.

How absurd would that be? Imagine how prohibitively expensive the cost of knowledge would become to “save jobs.” Imagine how impossible it would be for more than a handful of people to ever buy textbooks for medical school, let alone children’s books.

But that is exactly what we are demanding when we oppose robots and automation.

The irony of all of this concern, which goes back centuries, is that automation always creates more jobs than it takes away, even if those jobs are created elsewhere in the economy.

Now consider the automobile. People often worry about auto-manufacturing jobs being taken away by machines. But what if we could perfect the process of automation, and create a printing press for the car? Imagine how many millions (possibly billions) of people would now have access to jobs who currently don’t have access to reliable transportation.

Yes, a few jobs would be lost, but as with the printing press, orders of magnitude more would be created.

But what if machines took all of the jobs? What then?

First off, machines are very limited in what they are actually capable of. As one article I read pointed out, machines are electronic savants. They are usually very good at one thing, and nothing else. They might be able to process data, or build things in a factory, but when it comes to tasks that require out-of-the-box thinking and flexibility, machines are not up for the job.

Consider again that million dollar robot that could perform thousands of experiments in an hour. A robot like that could never replace a scientist, because a robot can never understand. It can never reason. It might be able to generate data, given proper programming, but it can never understand what that data means.

But let’s take things to the next level. What if machines replaced all of the manufacturing jobs in every factory? What if they could operate warehouses with indoor farms with minimal human influence? What if they could produce a thousand times more ore from mining operations?

What if they create an enormous abundance of wealth? What then?

The answer is that this would be wonderful! In fact, let’s take it one step further.

In the popular Star Trek franchise, there are devices called “replicators” that someone can walk up to, and order virtually anything that they want. Food, machine parts, and just about everything else can appear out of thin air. No need for a factory, or workers.

Sounds scary.

A replicator in Star Trek Voyager creating a “cup of coffee” — just not in that order.

But if a market like this were free, then people would still have a lot to trade. Instead of copying books by hand, one would be free to write a novel, or compose music. Instead of working on an assembly line, a man would be free to become a scientist or a software engineer.

People would have all of the “things” that they need, and jobs would be widely available. But yes, these jobs would be more of man’s mind than physical labor. That said, I don’t think the jobs of this affluent society would be so impossibly intellectual and esoteric as to put most men out of work. I think that even someone with Down Syndrome would be able to sell their time and ability for a premium.

People aren’t simply going to want to eat food from the replicator, and sit around contented. They are going to want to do other things, and they are going to be willing to pay people for it.

They are still going to want to go hear live music, or buy an original oil painting. Scientific research will still need to be done, and computers will still need to be programmed.

The work week itself may go from 40 hours down to 30 or 20, very easily.

Ironically, this is something that Karl Marx recognized in a way. He understood that automation would create more wealth, and that this had the potential to create more leisure time for people. But even more ironically enough, it was Henry Ford who decided to give his employees Saturdays off. Later, this became the social standard.

My dad tells the story of a relative who was not happy when the work day on the railroad went from a 12 hour day down to an 8 hour day. Apparently the man wanted to work longer hours to make money.

Assuming a 12 hour day for past generations, and a 6 day work week, that is a 72 hour work week, cut almost in half down to 40 during the 20th Century, thanks to better technology.

At the end of the day, no, I am not worried that automation will destroy jobs. I am worried about the jobs that will be destroyed by preventing companies from creating automation.

Quite the opposite, I think we will reach a point where there is so much wealth produced so readily by automation, that jobs that only humans can do will become a premium. In other words, automation will create a strong economy to the point where there is a “labor shortage” due to the abundance of jobs available. That is why I think that even most people with a low-IQ will have a higher standard of living than what we are used to today — and that this will be earned with dignity, not charitably handed to them.

Machines can process data, but until machines can think, feel, and reason, there will always be a need and desire for that which only humans are capable. People always want “more” and they are willing to trade their wealth for it. The apple farmer and the baker are both made richer by the trade.

For the sake of argument, perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps “this time” it is different, and machines will take all of our jobs, so that there are not enough left for humans. What would we do?

I honestly don’t think that is possible. But perhaps the answer is “Whatever we want.”

The machines would still be under our control, and we could use them to start building cities across the solar system.

That might sound like science fiction, but keep in mind that just a few generations ago, the Shale Revolution was written about in the science fiction novel Atlas Shrugged. This was decades before the technology became economical.

No one has a crystal ball. No one knows what kind of future new technologies will unlock. But personally, I say that we continue to let science develop, and create new technologies. Life gives us no guarantees, but I say this is a path that is worth going down, and that I want to see where it leads. I think the bigger risk is standing still.

A True Free Market

I have spent a lot of time in this article arguing for the effectiveness of a free economy, but a free economy is also the only moral system.

In a free economy men trade value for value. No one is forced to do business with anyone if they don’t want to. If one man chooses to trade with another, they do so by mutual agreement, without force, and in no other way.

A lion is meant to be free. In the same way, man was created to be free. Even if Socialism could work, and even if it could feed a man, Socialism is a cage. We tolerate putting lions in zoos in order to preserve an endangered species, but Socialism is a cage that not only fails to care for human need, but also crushes man’s spirit. And perhaps that was the goal all along. Perhaps Socialism did not “fail” but accomplished exactly what it set out to achieve — death, destruction, and soul-crushing poverty.

My proposal is that we create a truly free economy. No taxes on businesses, and only minimal regulations in terms of safety and honesty. The government should step in if a man claims his snake oil can cure cancer, but that’s about it.

Take the breaks off the economy, and let businesses create wealth and jobs. But even if they don’t create jobs, let them operate freely. Unchain them, and let the economy run to its full potential. No more taxes on businesses — none, no more subsidies, and get rid of virtually all regulations that don’t immediately apply to safety and honesty.

With regards to taxes, I propose that the only taxes that should exist are a flat-rate income tax. The rich and the poor can both pay 10% of their income, and that’s it. If they own a small business, they can operate that business as a separate tax-free entity until they choose to harvest their profit from it.

I am well aware that these are very broad ideas, but that is okay for now. I am seeking to lay out broad concepts, not to figure out all of the details in one article.

In terms of price controls, minimum wage, and tariffs, get rid of them.

Minimum wage actually hurts the poor, by preventing unskilled workers from getting the opportunity to build their resume. As Thomas Sowell explains, when he was a black teenager in the 1940’s a young man in his shoes might get a job flipping burgers in January, but come December, they weren’t going to be flipping burgers anymore.

The sick irony is that it is doubtful any demographic has been harmed more by minimum wage laws than poor, young, black men. Yet those Democrats who have the most to gain by keeping young black men poor, declare themselves to be the heroes of African Americans, and millions of voters fall for it.

I also want to see school choice. If the government is spending $10,000 per student on education in public schools, the parents should have the right to take that same $10,000 to send their children to any school they choose.

Dr. Thomas Sowell on Charter Schools

In the long-run, I would like to see the government out of education entirely. And I think that within 2 generations at the very most, there would be no economic need for the government to subsidize education whatsoever.

There is a lot more that I would like to say, but I digress for now.

The Case for Socialism?

Socialism promises the world, and delivers only death and poverty. Capitalism promises nothing, but offers freedom, and time and time again delivers wealth that could not even be imagined in anyone’s wildest dreams two centuries before.

Socialist politicians surely see this. Surely they have seen under the Trump administration that a little bit more freedom creates a stronger economy (whatever one may think of the man himself).

Every fourth grader knows that Socialism has a history of failure. But even if a politician were to fall for the misunderstanding that Nordic countries are “Socialist” they ought to do a little research to confirm their information.

I honestly don’t understand what goes through the heads of a lot of people, politicians included, but it is very telling that politicians will often recognize basic facts at one point in time, and will later suddenly shift with the winds of popularity.

Income Inequality and The One Percent

Despite the overwhelming evidence that even the poor are better off under “Capitalism” (i.e. Free Markets), there is one mantra from politicans on the Left that is very telling. They often complain of “income inequality.” One can point out all day that people in free market economies are better off, and that the poor are rapidly climbing the economic ladders under Capitalism, but to no avail.

The concern here is not with the poor, but with the “rich.” They are not complaining about poverty, but about economic “inequality.” And they demonize an imaginary “One Percent” that has nothing to do with any actual top 1% in the real financial world. In real life the “One Percent” is not a class, but a group of individuals that changes every year. This includes people who just happened to sell their house that year and will be using the money to buy another one.

Based on their words, these people do not hate poverty, but success and affluence. (Somehow they blame poverty on success, but they spend more time focused on complaining about the success.) But it’s not even that they hate the rich in general. Celebrities in the entertainment industry are praised, even when they make $20 million, but a CEO that creates new forms of wealth, and hires thousands, while making $5 million is seen as being seeped in a Social Justice sin.

Left-wing politicians worth tens of millions (HOOOOWWWW did that happen????), along with rich Left-wing celebrities, condemn men who open up a successful business.

Science and The Role of Government

One of the core views of Objectivist philosophy is that the only role of government is to protect individual rights, particularly to protect the individual from the threat of unjust force by others. The police, military, prisons, and courts are part of the role of government, but not much else.

For those unfamiliar or who want to know the details, I suggest the work of Cody Libolt and Jacob Brunton.

Interestingly, in talking with Cody and Jacob, I have often asked how these views on the role of government would apply to science, but it has become clear that the person who was best to ask this question among us was myself.

To be clear, I am unsure of to exactly what extent I agree with Objectivists on their view of the role of government. Whether roads or fire departments should be funded, as a matter of practicality, I am uncertain. While I agree with the ideal, I also want to know if a system will work empirically.

When it comes to science funding, I think things get a little more interesting. And that is not a bad thing.

If military defense is a proper role of government, then military research is necessary in order to have a functional defense department. This can include researching better weapons technology such as guns, drones, airplanes, and submarines, but it can also include less obvious areas of research.

I once interviewed for a lab at a university that had a military contract to investigate certain types of injuries in rats. The purpose was to help treat soldiers with injuries from the battlefield.

On the other hand, there are areas of research that are clearly inappropriate for government funding. So-called “origin of life” research that seeks to figure out how the first life could have arisen naturally, (but only ever imply the opposite) may have value, but are not the role of government. In the same way, I think it would be cool to find life on Mars, but that is not the role of government.

There are areas of research that I highly respect, and would like to see more of, but the government’s role is to protect the rights of individuals, not to fund every “good cause” that comes along.

Research into pancreatic cancer, aging, and Alzheimer’s are all very important, but clearly they are not the role of government. These are the role of private businesses and private charities.

Yaron Brook pointed out in one of his talks that people are more generous than we often want to give them credit for. He pointed out that for those people who are genuinely in need, he would be willing to donate money to charity by his own free will. Government coercion has no place in it.

I would say the same applies to scientific research. People will choose to donate money to that which they see as having value, including research. But if they choose not to donate to science, it is not the role of government to coerce them.

There are clearly other areas where the government’s duty to protect individual rights makes their role in science a clear necessity. Claims against “fracking” are a prime example. A documentary called GasLand spread the claim that drinking water has been contaminated as a result of fracking.

Multiple government agencies investigated these claims, and showed that the claims of drinking water contamination were scientifically groundless. While a number of individuals might “feel” that their water was contaminated, the tests and data clearly did not support their claims.

My conclusion has been that the claims of GasLand were intentionally fraudulent. You can read my article on this topic here:

In contrast to what I said earlier about pancreatic cancer, certain areas of disease research might fall under the role of government. Defense against bioweapons would one example. But we should also keep in mind that the 1918 flu pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people around the world. Pancreatic cancer is a terrible disease, but it does not threaten the existence of civilization. An aggressive flu virus, on the other hand, might be much much worse.

There are other areas that I could point to, such as the popular “asteroid” theme from several movies in the 1990’s where NASA had to stop an incoming space rock from destroying all life on Earth. These might not represent threats of force from aggressive individuals, but there is a clear threat to individual rights. (And the collision with the Earth might represent “force.”)

These might be a valid use of government resources. A futile search for bacteria on Mars is not.

Clearly there are areas where the government has a role to play in science. These include military research, and claims of violations of property rights. There are also areas where I think there are open questions that should be considered.

When it comes to funding government organizations like NASA, the NIH, and the NSF, I don’t think the amount of money is the primary issue. I am open to doubling the funding, in fact. But I do think that it is necessary to change the focus of our research so that it lines up with the appropriate role of government, and not just every “good cause.”

Conclusions

Men should be free, and economies should be free.

So where do we go? Do we take the chains off, and allow people to be free? Should we take the breaks off the economy, and allow companies to produce? Or should we act in fear, rejecting Reason, operating based on the unjustified beliefs that somehow someway anchors and chains are the best way to move forward?

Shall we continue to build robots, creating unprecedented wealth, or should we operate based on the fear that somehow someway unthinking machines will take all of the jobs away from thinking men?

Let’s unchain the World and let men be free.