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President 45 has chosen a cabinet, with senate confirmation, that outwardly seems chosen specifically to deconstruct the large scale structure of the federal government. This has come out in the open by admission from the likes of Steve Bannon, but serious dialog about the consequences of this has only just started.
If you step back a bit and think about what role the federal government has had in modern US culture, you might realize that the federal governmental superstructure has provided a framework and a shelter for many things citizens and businesses have come to rely on.
Some science oriented services the federal government has provided-
- Funds for industrial expansion in 2 world wars
- DARPA, which funds for the development of advanced military hardware, including aviation, communications, orbital platforms, electronics, robotics, computer technology, and more. All of this has spillover benefits to the nation at large.
- A military establishment that countless young men and women joined that helped them build a career for life after enlistment
- The GI bill post WWII credited with aiding the formation of the American middle class
- The FAA regulates the operation of a large scale civilian aviation system, including organizing the airways, aviation safety, air traffic control
- NIST, which provides for common weights and measures as well as the definition and standardization of many other units of measure for science and industry
- CDC, which monitors and aids in the identification and containment of diseases
- NOAA, which provides a large array of satellites and computer capacity for weather forecasting
- EPA, that agency much maligned by pollution-generating industry, is charged with oversight of surface waters of all kinds as well as the purity of the air we breath.
- The NIH which serves as an effective national resource for the advancement of medicine in research and in practice
- The NSF has for many years funded basic scientific research, and in doing so provided many generations of scientists and engineers for industry and academics
- NTSB is charged with investigating transportation accidents and promoting transportation safety
- you get the picture …
I am not entirely sure what the slogan “Make America Great Again” really means. It is a brilliant piece of propaganda in the sense that it stirs the emotions of voters, but cannot be pinned down to any one meaning. The image of greatness is in the eye of the beholder.
When I think of this greatness business, my mind naturally goes to the source of our vast science and engineering prowess. The US evolved a unique and effective system of research and development. The American university/government R&D machine has over many years provided breakthroughs in technology, but also it provides a constant supply of valuable scientific and engineering talent for any and all who need it.
Another benefit of our scientific establishment is the treasure trove of knowledge it leaves behind for posterity. Working in an R&D heavy manufacturing environment, I have at my finger tips the largest collection of international scientific references in the world. This is the CAS registry at the Chemical Abstracts Service and it is in fact national treasure.
I use this resource almost daily to uncover known technology and substances dating back to the late 19th century. A great resource to have because in business, you can’t afford to reinvent the wheel. And a lot of wheels have already been invented. Highly detailed information can be retrieved to provide the knowhow to solve problems encountered in industrial R&D today. Information that is in the public domain. Even better, because of the practice of peer-review, the information usually can be considered highly reliable.
Our government/university R&D complex is the goose that laid the golden egg. It is part of the engine of ingenuity that drives our economy.
Industry benefits from tremendously from a constant supply of talented engineering and scientific talent graduation from the best university research establishment in the world. It is this way in large part because of financial input from federal government funding agencies. Yes, there are monies available from private organizations. But I don’t think it compares in magnitude and breadth to funding from DoE, NSF, NIH, etc.
When I see that the present crew of republican elected officials and their appointees gunning for the large scale teardown of government agencies and reductions in force, I am naturally worried about the future of our education and R&D apparatus. I have trouble believing that the present congressional majority and the White House have the knowledge and intellectual bandwidth to comprehend the consequences of their actions.
This whole deconstruction of the federal government in favor of state control has the smell of a return to confederacy. Ask yourself how a confederate states of America would function when challenged by China or Russia militarily. How would the disunity by strong state control of resources respond in the case of an incremental land grab like the Russian takeover of Crimea. What if China takes over Taiwan and threatens hegemony of the Pacific?
The present political regime in DC threatens to do great harm to a civilization that used to be the envy of the world. Opportunity, wide open spaces, modernity were an attribute of a productive, unified nation. Do a majority of the citizens want what amounts to the libertarian dream of personal responsibility in the form of isolated bubbles of humanity? Does every aspect of our lives have to be a potential profit center for someone? Competition thrives with individual choice. But civilization requires cooperation. I vote for civilization.