Saturday, December 25, 2004

A couple of interesting overlapping developments that seem to help clarify the Republican position on how they intend to improve the economy and help give America a boost. The current fight over how to handle new developments in biotechnology, and wether Missouri will be participating in its future growth is going to be one that we will be watching during the coming months.

A larger problem for the future of research in sciences in the United States is one that has a direct impact on Missouri as well as posing a large, if underreported, problem for economic and technological growth in the U.S. Two policies enacted under the Bush administration are likely to cause Universities to see the level of new research as well as future financing decline in the coming years.

The most baffling and short-sighted policy, especially coming at this happy time of year, is the administration's decision to reduce financial support for college students. As Garance Franke-Ruta said over at Tapped:
You might think that reducing aid for young people to go to college would negatively impact the nation's economic future by reducing pathways into the middle-class and the number of skilled workers in the labor force. But it's quite essential to the ongoing Republican effort to re-educate the American public toward a more individualistic philosophy of government that the citizenry be taught early that they can expect no outside assistance and that as soon as they leave the parental nest, they are really and truly on their own.
Read the whole piece, the details are startling. Instead of investing in education, supposedly Bush's personal crusade and which could have a much larger long-term economic return, he is more interested in saving $300 million by reducing pell grants for over a million students. With a deficit of over $400 billion dollars, it is good to see some cots cutting by the supposedly fiscally responsible Republicans.

This type of emphasis on ideology over reality as well as common sense has been seen in Missouri often enough. The recent attempt to force biology textbooks to discuss alternative theories to evolution, as if these theories have any basis in science or any reason to be in a textbook other than to satisfy someone's ideological viewpoint.

The other perhaps more major problem is the declining number of foreign students coming to the U.S. to study and do research in fields such as biotech, computer science, engineering and most of the other "hard sciences". This is mostly due to immigration policies which make it increasingly tough for foreign students to come to the U.S. as well as policies that force many of the students that are here to leave the country after graduating their programs. From Kevin Drum at Political Animal:
I suspect that a lot of Americans have no idea just how dependent we are on foreigners to fill our graduate schools, especially in technical areas. Without Indian immigrants, for example, Silicon Valley would practically be a ghost town and the dotcom boom would have been stillborn. The biotech industry would be devastated. Engineering schools would be depopulated.

If we're lucky, this recent drop is a temporary reaction to 9/11. At the same time, though, the absolute decline in the number of native born Americans who are interested in graduate work in the sciences is kind of scary. One of these days we're going to have start pulling our own weight again. The rest of the world isn't going to be willing to subsidize us forever.
In the long run, nothing good will come from this. The United States' position in the world as a technological leader is threatened by developing industries in India and China (to name two). Unless this administration begins to put actual progress and growth ahead of political gain, we can expect it to become harder and harder for American technology and science-based businesses to compete and a slowdown in the area of the economy that has been the engine of growth since the early 90's.

On the local level, Missouri can help fight this trend by encouraging growth in the science sector and providing financial aid to offset the federal cuts, or it can sit back and tempt evolution. After all, even Republicans believe that the strongest survive.

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