The next presidential election in the U.S. is just a year away, and the blustering about the momentous importance of the outcome—including with regard to technology—is well under way. “This is an election where extreme positions have become the norm, and the implications for science and technology may be huge,” said Patrick Thibodeau at Computerworld. But despite all the campaign promises (where’s the Federal Trade Commission when you need it?) and policy statements, Congress is the entity that creates laws. As such, the identity and even party of the future president make little difference if the legislature doesn’t support that individual’s policies. Republican or Democrat, one thing we can be sure of is that not a one of them will cut spending or abolish any federal agencies if given the chance. Recipients of science and technology funding have little to worry about: their gravy train will roll on.
In particular, Thibodeau cites Republican nominee Ted Cruz: “The Energy Department, which Cruz would eliminate or ‘wind down,’ funds the U.S.’s largest supercomputers, $100 million-plus systems that are beyond the reach of most private corporations.” (Let’s not forget that Apple has some $200 billion in cash squirreled away—we don’t need governments to build supercomputers.) But apart from the fact that even if Cruz is elected, the likelihood is that political pressure and bureaucratic foot-dragging would ensure that no federal agency would be shuttered.
A tremendous irony, however, is Thibodeau’s description of the supercomputing program: “The U.S. supercomputers are housed at the federal government’s four national laboratories, where scientists conduct research on nearly every field of human endeavor.” One wonders whether economics is included among those endeavors—particularly, how the government plans to face the dual problem of zero interest rates that must eventually rise and a burgeoning debt that will explode when they do. When that reality sets in, the gravy train may finally derail.
The election of a new president will do little to change the status quo. Every term, we hear about how this election is the most important, how various programs depend on it and blah blah blah. The fact is that regardless of the name and even the party that occupies the White House, the government and its largesse (including to science and technology) will continue—until, as with the erstwhile Soviet Union, reality finally slaps everyone in the face.
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