Saturday, 23 May 2009

The Myth of Science as a Public Good

The society yesterday hosted Terence Kealey, Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, to discuss his fascinating and controversial arguments against government funding of science. Dr Kealey rejects the conventional economic analysis which declares science to be a public good, that is, one that is non-rivalrous and non-excludable, and therefore necessitating government subsidy. The orthodoxy amongst economists being that science is a public good means that the available research into correlations between science funding and economic growth is limited, but what exists plainly contradicts the theoretical justification for intervention. Front and centre of Kealey's case is a 2003 OECD report which finds "a marked positive effect of business-sector R&D, while the analysis could find no clear-cut relationship between public R&D activities and growth, at least in the short term." It can only be hoped that Kealey's argument is to government funding of science what Coase's was to government taxation of externalities - a thorough empirical refutation of dogmatic assumptions.

The talk and discussion afterwards was extremely stimulating and eclectic, including CERN, the Wright Brothers, public schools, 'Pure' science, the role of philanthropy, tuition fees, patents and pharmaceutical regulation:

Kealey's thesis is expanded on and defending most entertainingly in his recent book, 'Sex, Science & Profits,' wherein he develops an alternative economic explanation of scientific progress through a wide-reaching historical study of the interaction between the government, science and the market.


All-In-All said...

It's good to see that criticism of scientific welfare outside of Penn & Teller.

wes said...

This was a fascinating talk! Thanks for posting it (linked on, btw). I was delighted to hear students forwarding a consistent property rights (aka Austrian economics) argument against ~any~ governmental intervention. Kealey, being a learned and reasonable man, had to concede your astute points (until he reverted back to the "help the poor" mishmash at the end).

~Anything~ people in government do, they do by means of extortion, i.e., taxation (or fiat currency inflation). This can NEVER be just, moral, or economically beneficial.

Reason works--it's the reciprocal nature of free minds and free markets. Coercion, being anti-mind and anti-market, assuredly doesn't (no matter how "well-meaning" its wielders).

It's terribly unfortunate that most scientists don't see the immense scientific (and psychological) importance of the virtue of integrity. Rather than continue to gorge on stolen loot, they should adhere to the process of rationality throughout their endeavors. Respectful profit-making--trading value for value--generates scientific progress and societal advancement. Voluntaryism or cultural bust!


All-In-All said...

I would point out that Austrian economics do not equal libertarianism. In fact, there was a Nazi who was in the Austrian school, if only I could remember his name.

wes said...

"All-in-All" are you kidding? The Austrian school and Nazism are polar opposites! Carl Menger, Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, Ludwig von Mises, Joseph Schumpeter, Henry Hazlitt, Friedrich Hayek, and Murray Rothbard would definitely take issue with your claim that their ideas weren't libertarian (advocating individual human choice and property rights instead of coercion and statism).

Here's a good primer:
And a wealth of scholarly work (much in the form of free media) can be
found here:


All-In-All said...

Austrian economics, as Mises was at pains to point out, is simply the logic of human action. As such it is value-free. Austrian economists may have opinions on political and social arrangements, but that is only informed by economics, not determined by it.

I should know, being a moral nihilist (like Mises).

wes said...

Well, I agree that economics is a certain field of study; it's not ethics or politics. Mises explored it from a praxeological perspective.

Murray Rothbard explored the ethics of liberty from an Austrian point of view (as does Hans Hoppe), because it is perfectly consistent with understanding the nature of human choice, action, and interaction.

Regarding the notion of being free from value-judgments, you might find this examination interesting:
Nihilism: An Examination from Freedomain Radio


All-In-All said...

I think Rothbard is vastly overrated as an economist, and incompetent as a philosopher (like Rand). And Stefan Molyneux is a nitwit.

Obnosis Jones said...

"All-In-All said...
I think Rothbard is vastly overrated as an economist, and incompetent as a philosopher (like Rand). And Stefan Molyneux is a nitwit."


And you, of course, are the wisest woman in the world.....

All-In-All said...

It's possible, but the point is that I think morality is absolutely nonsensical, and everything these people said they incompetently defended.

Which Mises would agree with me, being a moral nihilist and thinking Rand was an 'ignorant little jewish girl'.

These views are in no way confined to me, most libertarians who aren't zealots realise that Rothbard and Rand proved nothing but their own fantastic biases.

Paul said...

can you drop me an email?

paul "at' thebadconscience 'dot' com