In his call for doubling federal spending on science [op-ed, Oct. 18], Newt Gingrich labeled science Washington's highest "investment" priority.

First, if I purchase stock in a private company engaged in research, that is an investment from which I might earn a dividend. When the government takes my money and passes it out to private firms, it's corporate pork; when my money is spent by federal agencies, it is often wasted.

Second, no indication exists that government bureaucrats do a better job spending on scientific research than do private entrepreneurs. Economist Edward Denison as long ago as 1962 found that government research and development spending does not have a net benefit to the economy. Yes, recipients of federal funds sometimes make discoveries, but the federal government's record of picking winners is poor. It wasted $920 million on a Supersonic Transport plane and almost $2 billion on the Superconducting Super Collider.

Third, federal science spending, like most federal spending, is politicized.

Fourth, many firms that receive government funds -- for example, IBM, Xerox and BP Chemicals -- are hardly in need of handouts.

Fifth, the private sector does spend significant sums on basic research, even when the prospects for economic gain are uncertain. For example, pharmaceutical companies spend almost $400 million and eight years to bring new products to the market.

Sixth, government regulations and taxes drive up research costs. For example, Food and Drug Administration-mandated efficacy tests do not so much protect the public as give work to bureaucrats and deny patients much-needed medicine. And FDA regulations are driving medical device manufacturers offshore.

Mr. Gingrich is correct that scientific research is important to this country's economic future -- too important to be left in the hands of politicians.


Director of Regulatory Studies

The Cato Institute