Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the author and Ohio University Students for Liberty. They do not reflect those of The New Political or its editorial team.
By C.J. Fogarty
Just last year, scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory found a way to synthesize ethanol using nanotechnology. This discovery was made accidentally, according to the researchers, as they were attempting to use a catalyst consisting of tiny spikes of carbon, copper and nitrogen to essentially reverse the process of combustion.
The researchers remarked the significance of this discovery, which took basically common elements, restructured them using nanotechnology and yielded ethanol. While not a replacement for corn products, the scientists were assured that nanotechnology-created ethanol could balance an electrical grid with what they deem is a renewable energy source.
This unique advancement should be celebrated as an achievement of the hard-working men and women of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Yes, given its name, one is correct in assuming that it works for the U.S. government, specifically the Department of Energy. For long-time science aficionados, the Oak Ridge Laboratory will ring a bell as being the place where, in 1943, the Manhattan Project developed the atomic bomb and the process of nuclear energy.
A detailed look into the organizational structure of these supposedly “governmental” agencies, like NASA and Oak Ridge, showed is that they are, in fact, privately-run agencies. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory is only managed for the Department of Energy by not just a single board but, in fact, a large nonprofit corporation known as Batelle. Unlike the U.S. National Parks or the Internal Revenue Service, this means the Oak Ridge Laboratory is run by people who are accountable for their jobs by what they produce and the advancements they make.
If this is truly the case, why not have the money for scientific research be the result of concerned investors rather than taxpayers? Is government the wisest distributor of taxpayer dollars to begin with? Would we rather have the progress of our scientific advancements subject to irresponsible financial planning?
This site advocates for public research on the grounds of the success of government-funded programs that have provided us with life-changing advancements in the past. By contrast, a more privatized system would be subject to the interest of the marketplace, which would not lead to universally-beneficial technology.
However, even this article concludes that in the wake of declining federal funding, the government should make it easier for grants to be made available to development programs supporting innovation at the local level. But the money that would be going to scientific advancement has to be measured against the government’s many priorities.
So, should citizens get government out of scientific research? If we are to view government through the eyes of public choice theory, it may very well be that the agencies currently employed for the government simply see a federal contract as the most economically-sound choice after having chosen among private donors and NGOs. When people trust all our scientific advancement to federal funding, then it is subject to all the inconsistency inherent in such a dependency.
One recent move made by NASA’s board has been to consider selling the International Space Station to private buyers, citing the desire to increase low-orbit economic development. Of course, this isn’t a guarantee that average people will be walking on the moon anytime soon.
Better it be the ambitions of those who look up at night and see humanity as venturing into the stars and making that the priority of their lives — rather than have all our ambitions curtailed by the slow crawl of advancement permitted by bureaucracy. Let our greatest advancements be the result of our own investments.
Students for Liberty is a 501(c) nonprofit. While student members do not participate in political activity, they seek to educate people on Libertarian principles.