Gingrich’s Disturbing Affection for Government Intervention in the Private Sector

May 2, 2011 04:27

There is no objective evidence to support the argument that government must keep money flowing into scientific research in order to maintain the pace of worthwhile discovery.

By Chuck Rogér

In 1994, Newt Gingrich complained vigorously about a Democrat-controlled Congress’s fiscal irresponsibility. Representative Gingrich led a successful campaign by Republicans to take over the House and Senate in the 1994 Election. At the heart of the Republican game plan was the Contract with America, a key element of which was the Fiscal Responsibility Act, in which Gingrich promised:

A balanced budget/tax limitation amendment and a legislative line-item veto to restore fiscal responsibility to an out-of-control Congress, requiring them to live under the same budget constraints as families and businesses.

While Republicans did indeed satisfy most of the language of the Contract by bringing its individual pieces to House votes, they failed to deliver on the core commitment of the Contract, which was fiscal responsibility. The spending binge engaed in by the Republican Congress starting only two years after the Contract’s implementation is well-known.

“We must stop the irresponsible spending,” Gingrich wrote in a recent email to supporters. So the former speaker is again complaining about Washington’s fiscal madness. But there’s a problem with Newt Gingrich 2011, who now makes it clear that he wants to continue to grow federal “investment in science and research.” The man is sounding more and more like just another big-government Republican. Gingrich slams the reduced research subsidies in Representative Paul Ryan’s budget plan for being

…essentially like saying, I want to save money on your car, [so] we’re not going to change the oil. And for about a year I can get away with it. And then the engine will freeze up and we’ll have to replace your engine. But if I have a CBO that scores oil but doesn’t score engines, I can annually replace the engine for free, because it won’t count as a budget cost.

In this analogy, the federal government keeps the “engine” of scientific research from “freezing up.” But scientific breakthroughs needn’t depend on government subsidies. Mr. Gingrich has revealed himself to be no more fiscally responsible than the progressive Democrats whom he criticizes for fiscal irresponsibility.

In the current-day version of Gingrich, Republicans have a man who goes out of his way to play nice-nice with progressives. Gingrich is prone to embrace nutty and economically destructive progressive ideas. Three years ago, he sat on a sofa with Nancy Pelosi to push expensive and worthless solutions to the non-problem of “global warming.” As I reported in February, Gingrich also kowtowed to “green energy” fanatics and Republican farm subsidy lovers to push the continuation of expensive corn ethanol production subsidies.

First, irresponsible global warming spending, then irresponsible biofuel spending. Now Gingrich is making a “deliberate, fundamental argument against the entire current [health care] delivery system,” claiming that government “investment” in research can create a better health care system. There are fundamental problems with Gingrich’s rationale.

The Gingrich argument assumes that government can be trusted to select funding recipients for scientific research. Michael Levi (fellow at the Brookings Institution) once observed that “it’s difficult to blame members of Congress” for advocating research in convoluted or dead-end areas. “Congress, after all, has no source of information it can turn to for objective technical analysis—there is no equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for arbitrating scientific disputes.” Levi was correct. In many cases, government “investment” leads to money and effort being allocated to advance ideological or corporatist agendas. Witness the massive, grant-chasing, global warmism complex to name just one such agenda.

The free market is powerful. Because profit is the motivator, private-sector-funded research also occurs with far less waste than government-funded research. There is no objective evidence to support the argument that government must keep money flowing into scientific research in order to maintain the pace of worthwhile discovery.

Where did Gingrich make his ”investment” pitch? Why, at an event hosted by the Brookings Institution, a progressive think tank.

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