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Spending That’s Too Useful for the Stimulus

by on October 7, 2009

Money?  Good.  Fighting cancer?  Good.  But money intended to aid the cancer fight could be spent ineffectually despite the astoundingly noble goal.  The Buffalo News carried a recent story about a federal grant that’s by default more useful than every other project that has been or will be funded by the stimulus:


Researchers at the University at Buffalo will get an additional $9.7 million from the National Institutes of Health under the stimulus allocation, while scientists at Roswell Park Cancer Institute will receive $6 million.


Of course, this is a project whose cause every single human supports.  But there’s a better financial strategy for attacking cancer.  Sapping money from the economy via taxing or borrowing is ultimately detrimental: it adds a government-controlled layer which experience shows us acts like a parachute on growth and achievement.  Such funding further demonstrates the deep confusion experienced by certain presidents regarding how the economy works:


“I’ve long said, the goal of the Recovery Act was not to create make-work jobs, but jobs making a difference for our future,” Obama said in announcing the grants. “There is no better example than the jobs we will produce or preserve through the grants we are announcing this morning.”


But these grants are by definition a one-time jolt, especially considering that they’re adding to a deficit that at this rate will be paid off in approximately never.  Our grandchildren would undoubtedly prefer it if we don’t let China bankroll any more projects.  Besides, such jobs aren’t permanent unless the president’s strategy is to call for a new stimulus bill every year.  Um, we shouldn’t give him ideas.


More importantly, the private sector is best suited to wage non-combat wars.  Research corporations are superior at battling cancer for the same reason that customers prefer FedEx to the Post Office.  Private-sector efficiency should be rewarded whenever possible, unless we oppose companies getting rewarded for inventing disease-countering remedies.


Of course, the present administration doesn’t seem particularly pleased with how doctors are compensated, so there’s no reason why research soldiers should be treated differently.  From the president’s perspective, curing us is apparently enough of a reward.


But, as with physicians, those attempting to whoop cancer should be making at least mini-fortunes.  These are people who deserve to drink Dom Pérignon out of beakers after their shifts.  Best, there’s a way for citizens to help counteract the disease and enrich cancer-assaulting warriors: buy stock in companies and donate to hospitals.


Unlike the ahead-of-schedule road repairs that seem to compose about 98 percent of stimulus spending, the research grants are examples of useful projects on their own:


Roswell Park will do additional cancer research with its new federal funding. Cancer in children, prostate cancer and lymphoma are among the many areas to be studied.


But the point is precisely that they are beneficial.  There’s an absolute need for such ventures, but that only means it should be easy to attract non-governmental dollars.  As with, say, paying medical expenses for the needy, people would be willing to help if only given the chance.


Cut taxes, and the feds might discover something remarkable: Buffalonians, and Americans, would be more than willing to either purchase shares of companies engaged in the good struggle or donate money to places like Roswell Park.  It’s too bad they don’t trust us enough to cut out the middleman.

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