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August 04, 2005


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You're making the assumption that if the money were all put behind fewer lines of research, the "right" research would get done. That's probably not true at this early stage, when many options should be pursued, by as many independent researchers as possible. Ask around at some research-oriented technical universities and hospitals. I liken it to the development of the Internet - if it had been left up to the communications powers-that-be back in, say, 1994, today the net would represent the best efforts of AT&T and ABC. We'd never have seen the eBays and Googles that came seemingly out of nowhere.

We also never would have seen billions of dollars wasted in bubble companies like Pets.com. I don't think the Internet is a very good example for your case.

I agree that stem cell research is good politics. But the problem is that state-level initiatives are likely to be bad policy: states will end up competing against each other, throwing good money after bad to support research that is still in its early stages.

You mean...that federal spending never spends good money after bad or on two or more counter-productive programs? Wow, color me shocked.

California's initiative has already been plagued with controversy due to a lack of transparency and accountability in the way it will disburse $3 billion in taxpayer funds.

Gasp You mean...you're telling me the federal government never wastes billions of dollars in due to lack of accountability or transparency?

Why is ANY government subsidizing a hope and a wish? If embryonic stem cell research is the gold at the end of the rainbow, why aren't hundreds of private firms chasing it? Maybe because it is not a good idea. Adult stem cell research is more promising and profitable now. The Feds are just throwing money away to slick salesmen who promise cures from a bottle.

Futhermore Brendan, you seem to imply that the internet should have been regulated by the government. But of course that would be ludicrous, so you weren't implying it. However, private marketers know that bad ideas happen, but let the wealthy venture capitalists and dumb non-diversifiers take the hit rather than the consumer. The evolution of the internet is proof that people are freer when PEOPLE control the means of production AND regulation.

I'm not implying that the federal government always spends money well. But a federal stem cell policy is better than even more wasteful competition between states. And as for Steve II's comment, the Internet is regulated by the government. It is not some mystical world where laws don't apply. You can get prosecuted for online fraud, identity theft, etc. And the government played a crucial role in the creation of the Internet, something few people appreciate.

Actually, the 'net is a fine example for my case. Without the failures, at any cost, you cannot achieve the outstanding successes. Weigh the "billions wasted" (if that's what it was) against the many, many, many more billions in productivity increases, job and wealth creation brought about by the Amazons, Googles and eBays (among many others). Then project that over the lifetimes of these companies (here we have to guess, but we know at least how long they HAVE been around). By focusing on what was "wasted" you completely miss what was achieved. Comparing one with the other - well, there is absoluetly no comparison.

The only way the correct technology can be achieved is via many failures. Edison understood this when he created the light bulb. He went through an enormous number of failures, but when he finally succeeded, who cared? His invention (which we now take for granted, but examine a history of life before the electric bulb) literally was a light to the world.

Your logic falls utterly flat again in your assessment of the government's role in the Internet. Yes, the government laid down the roads and regulated them. That's great and essential. Government plays a role. But you are (disingenuosuly) implying that government was responsible for the amazing companies that used that road. You're not fooling anyone except possibly yourself. Yes, government can lay pipe. It can build dams. It can see between points A and B on a map and draw a city grid. It can enforce laws against theft. It's great for the obvious. It's lousy for the intuitive, for the nimble, for the entrepreneurial.

A federal stem cell policy? Absolutely not. Steve's right, and you're defending an indefensible position. No great innovation was ever enabled by government regulation. "Mr. Edison: We're sorry, but we're ending this line of research. You've been at this bulb thing for months now with no results and we believe there are better uses for your time." "Mr. Bezos, sorry, but we've decided to let WalMart handle the online merchandizing business. They already have a sizeable business and will be far more efficient at it. You just won't be able to compete." (Which some people actually did say by the way, but none of them were empowered to halt Bezos.)

Steve's got it down: "The Feds are just throwing money away to slick salesmen who promise cures from a bottle." That is absolutely how the government makes this kind of decision. They award contracts to the most appealing, slickest bidders, and in the area of technology they have NO clue.

I cannot emphasize enough in how many ways and how completely you are wrong. Your problem is that you are looking at this from the perspective of someone studying politics, and as the Japanese say when what you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail.

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