It seems like the free market is great, except when it comes to government grants where the taxpayer funds your salary.
Senator Tom Coburn, known for his efforts to try to reduce wasteful federal spending, recently cited three robotics projects as being examples of such.
My, my, how shocked — shocked! — and offended some of my fellow engineers are at the notion that perhaps their efforts do not best serve the needs of the taxpayer (“U.S. Senator Calls Robot Projects Wasteful. Robots Call Senator Wasteful,” by Erico Guizzo, 14 June 2011 IEEE Spectrum.
Although the federal government wastes tons of money on projects that are perhaps less worthy than robotics research, why should the government spend taxpayer money on any research? Shouldn’t the private sector be responsible for that, rather than the taxpayer? Let’s apply a little Engineering Thinking to this heretical notion and look at the big picture:
Proposition: Government (taxpayer) spending on research achieves better societal good than private spending.
Analysis: If government-funded research achieved better results, then the old Soviet Union would likely still be in existence, and would be the dominant technical behemoth on the planet. But whoops, no, that grand experiment failed. The Russians have been there, done that, and have the “Socialism Doesn’t Work” t-shirt to prove it. Likewise, socialist-leaning European countries would be kicking our technical butts, but they’re not.
Conclusion: The empirical (historical) evidence is simply overwhelming that the taxpayer — and society at large — is better off with minimum governmental “investments.” That so many of us are willfully ignorant on this — when our salaries depend on us to be so — is just anther example of how easy it is for some of us to be corrupted.