Wasteful ‘Endless Frontiers Act’ won’t counter China’s rising influence
The Senate will soon consider a package of bills intended to counter the growing influence and capabilities of China. One of these bills, in yet another wasteful spending package, is known as the Endless Frontiers Act.
The sponsors of the legislation claim they are boosting the United States in several areas — among them, technological research, development and investment. But, let’s imagine if we had put Congress in charge of tech investment, research and decision-making 40 years ago. It’s hard to believe that the likes of Apple or Google would be around today.
Instead, our thriving tech sector of today would be a mess of waste and inefficiency. Political considerations would replace sound investment decisions, and companies would be accountable to Congress, instead of investors.
Why on earth would we actively pursue this policy? Congress cannot match the efficiency or effectiveness of the private sector. It doesn’t even come close.
Government lacks the profit motive, and is inherently less efficient than the marketplace. Congress has doled out money again and again, only to see that money wasted decade after decade to the National Science Foundation (NSF).
In 1975, Sen. William Proxmire, a Democrat, criticized the NSF for spending $84,000 to try and find out why people fall in love. Now, about 45 years later, the NSF is still spending money, $585,000 to be exact, to find out how people fall in love, studying online dating habits.
The late Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) similarly criticized the NSF for wasting money. I’m sure we all have heard of the infamous “shrimp on a treadmill,” the nearly $700,000 project to run a shrimp on an underwater treadmill.
But that’s not all. Another $700,000 was designated for autism research to study whether Neil Armstrong, when stepping on the moon, said “one small step for man,” or “one small step for a man.” They couldn’t figure this one out either.
So, what does this all have to do with China?
Well, some in Congress want to pour tens of billions of dollars more into an expanded NSF, putting it not only in charge of “science” research, but also “technology” research. All with the goal of countering China’s tech innovation and expanding influence.
How well will they spend this money? Let’s take a look at what they do with the money they already have.
$1.5 million to study how to improve the taste of tomatoes. Researchers determined adding sugar would do the trick.
$188,000 to study why Americans won’t use the metric system; $30,000 to study gambling habits in Uganda; and let’s not forget about the $500,000 to study if taking a selfie makes you happy.
Unless studying selfies is somehow a deterrent to China, what Congress is doing with this new effort is supercharging the next generation of government waste.
Increasing dollar amounts and expanding mandates is not the answer. We need government accountability to unleash private investment, and get Congress out of these funding decisions.
If not, we’ll just keep borrowing money from China, hoping that our debt to them will stop their rising influence. This is hardly a remedy for success.
Paul is the junior senator from Kentucky.
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