Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Coercing Funding of Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Last week, Bill First broke with President Bush and expressed his support for increased federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. John Tabin is puzzled by the praise that small-government types such as Glenn Reynolds, DailyPundit, and Ron Bailey, have heaped upon Frist's decision. Although many libertarians disagree with social conservatives regarding bioethics, Tabin wonders why these libertarians, in their haste to display that disagreement, support an increase in government spending.
The federal budget is in deficit. The choice is not between using tax-dollars to fund research and using the same tax dollars to fund something else. Rather, the choice is between using debt to fund research and not accruing that debt at all. What's wrong with the latter choice?
Tabin's argument against an increase in government funding of embryonic stem cell research brings to mind the fundamental difference between projects funded by the government and those funded by the private sector: government funding requires a gun to the head of every taxpayer; private funding does not. While coercion of the funding of embryonic stem cell research may be especially abhorrent to the 30% of the country that morally opposes the research, it is also controversial among those who oppose coercion.

Take funding of the Arts for example. Most people would agree that the Arts, in some form, merit preservation. One way to preserve the Arts would be to utilize government funds. Yet "utilize government funds" is another way of saying "put a gun to the head of every taxpayer and demand that they pay for the Arts." If, and only if, your commitment to preserving the Arts is so strong that you believe it merits compulsory payments from all citizens, then you should support the government funding option.

An alternative way to preserve the Arts would be to rely upon private organizations, funded by voluntary donations. This alternative has several advantages. First, this alternative does not involve physical coercion of those people who do not wish to fund the Arts. Second, it allows donors to choose the best methods for supporting the Arts. Rather than allotting those decisions to a single un-checked government bureaucracy, this alternative leaves private organizations to compete for donations by arguing that their methods are most effective at achieving the preservation goals of the donors.

The analysis is no different for embryonic stem cell research. In fact, it is no different for any end to which someone proposes using government funds. Ted Kennedy's rhetoric notwithstanding, it is possible, indeed common, for someone to support X while opposing government funding of X. In the case of embryonic stem cell research, there are proponents of the research who oppose government funding of the research. Glenn Reynolds, DailyPundit, and Ron Bailey are not among them.


Anonymous John said...

While we're at it, why don't we leave national security in the hands of private organizations as well? Each citizen can seek funding for their own private bunker, missle defense system, and SUV-mounted long-range pre-emptive mini-nuke. Not only would this eliminate the single greatest cause of the national debt (it is my guess that all the money that would be put towards stem cell research plus all of the money devoted to ecological research would not approach that required to develop one type of bomber), it would also greatly lessen the ties that some politicians (e.g. Cheney) have to special interests (e.g. Iraq redecorating firms).
Government funding is admittedly imperfect, but a case can be made that the foundation it gives to long-term, slow-to-market enterprises like science enables growth that the more inconsistent support of the private sector would not.

11:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post was made at a timely moment for me, my second evening at the annual Ecological Society for America (ESA) annual meeting. I am among the (personally) estimated <1% of the ~5,000 conference-goers who both: 1: voted for Bush, and 2: oppose all current ESA proposals for increased U.S. governmental funding of ecological research. Already this week I have been the recipient of incredulous looks by three conference-goers uttering some form of the phrase: “You don’t want more funding for science??? But you are a SCIENTIST!”. My response has been the same each time: “You didn’t listen – I oppose increased government funding for ecological research.”

In a related note: I would like to thank The Nature Conservancy, Acorn Alcinda Foundation, Friends of the Environment, Bill Baab, and all other groups and individuals outside of the U.S. government who have supported my research. I feel what I am doing is very important, and I encourage increased support for my research program.

10:13 PM  
Anonymous Cathy Princeton said...

I have cousin who needs stem cell therapy and we continously flock the net to know what is latest so that we can guide him. Thanks for your inspirational post, I am going to forward this link to him.

6:47 AM  

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