Save the Scientist, Save the World?

Gordon Brown has already saved the world once, but it didn’t take. So the world needs another solution. i humbly suggest that the way to help save the economy, of Britain at least, is to invest heavily in Science and Technology. In the following I try to justify this as anything other than pure selfishness.

Science is very often one of the first casualties of government spending in a recession. This is because it is seen as a luxury, a good-time frippery that is difficult to justify when times are hard. The reverse should be true, science and technology investment are not disposable because they are the generators of future income, the basis of a future successful economy.

The economy of this country has, for a long time now, been based in the service sector. This keeps people employed, which drives the economy because employed people buy things. But we no longer produce anything of note, we don’t generate significant external input into our economy – except through the financial sector… and I think everyone knows what happened there by now. We reached a point where confidence amongst those employed in the service sector collapsed, so they stopped buying things, this means that the service sector looked to the financial sector for support, but the financial sector, to all intents and purposes, no longer existed, so the service sector began collapsing upon itself. This is self-perpetuating, it leads to job losses, which leads to less buying of things, which leads to further job losses… and so on. (I realise this is a gross simplification of the real situation, and not 100% accurate, but it is pretty close to the real thing, and makes my point).

The government has declared its intention to follow a Keynesian approach and spend its way out of recession, taking upon itself the responsibility of injecting the cash that the economy needs to rebuild itself. This is a well recognised approach, and has merit, the new investment has to come from somewhere, and no institution has the borrowing power of the government. However, we (as a nation) must be able to recover this investment at some future point. This means we have to create wealth that is not already in the system. We have to make something that the rest of the world wants to buy.

So, invest in science, engineering and technology. Reverse the decline in these disciplines, the unpopularity of Maths and Physics in the classroom, the hemorrhage of the talent we do have overseas. Make the product the rest of the world buy into our innovation. Funding research keeps the current generation of innovators employed (the selfish bit), and creates new opportunities for the next generation. And not just for those lucky enough to have the education to pursue this route. Infrastructure is needed to surround research. Newcastle University is one of the largest employers in the North East.

At this point I am clearly in danger of getting carried away, so it’s probably best to wrap up. Since I started writing this particular perma-draft, many things have happened. Gordon Brown spoke in congress, about the need to ‘educate our way out of the downturn, invest and invent our way out of the downturn and re-tool and re-skill our way out of the downturn.‘ The US stimulus package has promised vast investment in science and technology. And just today President Obama unfroze research into Stem Cells in the US. All of these are obviously good things, let’s hope the momentum can be maintained, and the doom merchants don’t win.


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