I search chemical abstracts nearly every day. What occurs to me is that this vast treasure of knowledge is substantially the result of tax revenue channeled into scientific research by numerous technologically advanced societies. While at the time of any given publication, the value might seem minimal. But over time people like me, people in applied industrial science, consume this treasure for the purpose of generating new goods and services. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we consult the subsidized results of other workers in the field. Subsidies of the past play forward to subsidies of the future. If we can’t lift an exact procedure from the scientific literature, then often we can apply new substrates to known transformation. 

In a very real sense, a resource like Chemical Abstracts is an engine of ingenuity. It’s content provides the means to innovation by outright disclosure or by sparking the imagination.  This work is enabled by government organizations funding people and institutions for the purpose of placing technology into the public domain.

While industrial or private organizations have the ability to generate a knowledge base as substantial and as in-depth, the fact is that the imperatives of private business are not in the direction of public disclosure. The imperative of the private sector is to channel wealth to the ownership. The free exchange of knowledge, in the context of business, is discouraged in that it amounts to the free distribution of cash. 

I hear people saying or implying that all things government are bad and that the private sector is inherently “more efficient” and therefore more meritorious.  What we have gotten from government subsidized science is an everlasting fountain of knowledge available to all to put into practice for whatever lawful purpose they can envision. 

An efficient life seems like a puritanical and regimented life.  And the application of efficiency will always fall under the control of the dominant social order. Is this really so desirable?  

Intellectual property has two sides. On one side, the generators of intellectual property can have the right to a timed monopoly on their art via patents. On the opposite side, the public treasury releases national treasure in order to educate the citizens who then generate proprietary art that is withheld from public use.  This amounts to a subsidy of the private sector.  It is a subsidy that sees little acknowledgement in the politics of today.  But such a thing has actually worked well for generations.  

What we are seeing in contemporary politics is the attempt to vilify and deconstruct government. But government has been central to the technological and consequently the economic expansion in the post WWII era.  The mechanism of collecting resources and focusing them on the solution of certain kinds of problems cannot be matched by the private sector. How would you operate the Centers for Disease Control on a greed based system like capitalism? 

Libertarians are always acknowledging the fundamental nature of greed and how it can be channeled into the efficient use of goods and services. I don’t disagree. What I take issue with is that greed must then be acknowledged as the dominant and true influencing force in society. We cannot allow this to be true. We must make provisions for tight control of greed. It is a useful but savage animal. 

In my view, the generation of knowledge and expertise is time and resource consuming. In order to have a particular amount of practical expertise on any given thing, you have to turn over a great many stones and learn an amount of art that is in large excess of the problem of the day. This actually applies to a definition of expertise- the ability to deal with problems that at first seem to be bigger than you can get your arms around. Expertise brings knowledge in the form of facts and problem solving skills. In order to attain expertise you have to absorb to information that at the moment seems superfluous.  In the end, the expert has a grasp of the length and breadth of a topic in excess to any given problem.

Our national system of scientific discovery and information abstracting serves to provide the reservoir of information that serves users into the future.  This information forms the basis of economic growth well into the future. As we go forward with the seemingly inevitable deconstruction of government, let us not forget what government has given us.

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