Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Hubristic Largesse

Deval Patrick’s new front-page $1B state bio-tech initiative consists primarily of funding for academic brick and mortar, with $50M per year in state-sponsored research grants, administered by a panel of state hacks friends of Deval. Here is the pith of the Boston Globe story:

Over 10 years, the state would issue $500 million in bonds to pay for [new] capital investments at public institutions and other facilities. It would also spend $25 million a year on direct research grants and offer $25 million annually in tax credits to biotech companies that promise to create jobs in Massachusetts.

Coincidentally also in today’s Globe is a story about the condition of past state investments in academic brick and mortar:

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst, already in the middle of a building boom, still needs an additional $1.8 billion in the next decade and beyond to keep aging buildings in shape, to add new facilities, and to maintain its infrastructure, according to a report released yesterday…The report, prepared by UMass, states that half of the 140 academic and administrative buildings at UMass-Amherst require immediate attention for various problems, including leaky roofs, malfunctioning heating systems, and out-dated laboratories and classrooms.

And in Deval Patrick’s Boston Globe Op Ed column today about his new plan we read:

Finally, when an idea is ready to become reality, we will help guide it to the marketplace. Breakthroughs are often lost in investment gaps typical of the movement from early academic research to industry development. We will designate grants to translate discoveries into applications and support partnerships to move new ideas along.

“Often lost in investment gaps”? Huh? Governor, what do you think all the venture capitalists and private research labs dotted all over Boston are doing? Playing tiddly-winks? All the biotech venture capital firms in the Boston area (not to mention the Bay Area) will now have to compete with Deval Patrick’s Life Sciences Board. They are shaking in their boots at the prospect, no doubt.

The $1B would be better spent improving maintenance on the MBTA or filling potholes. Venture capitalists and biotech researchers won’t do that, but it will benefit their work.

5 comments:

Chris said...

The dirty little secret in Massachusetts is that if you fix potholes and bridges, they are fixed. Which means, eventually, an end to the gravy train. Better still to simply point at the potholes and bridges, say you need money to fix them, get the money to fix them (but divert it elsewhere), and then not fix them. It's a lovely scam, which we here in NH laugh at as part of 'Messachusetts.'

Ramon Amore d'Hombre said...

I do not underastand where you're going with this one Harry. Is there then no role for goverment funding of scienctific research? Are you suggesting the market could do this better?

Harry said...

Ramon,

The Governor wrote in his Boston Globe Op Ed today that:

“Breakthroughs are often lost in investment gaps typical of the movement from early academic research to industry development.”

He is flat out wrong. This statement is simply laughable. There are no such “investment gaps”. This state is crawling with venture capital financed firms and private research labs full of very bright people many of whom spend 18 hours a day trying to turn academic research into commercial breakthroughs. These VC firms do not lack funding. Rather, many believe they have access to too much capital and now supply it too freely to venture businesses that will never become viable…but it is private INVESTED CAPITAL they are using, not our state revenue which is what will be dispensed by Deval’s new Board.

Out Governor also wrote:

“when an idea is ready to become reality, we will help guide it to the marketplace.”

With all due respect, Governor, the VCs and their firms don’t need your help guiding ideas to the marketplace. That is unless you want to help them by fixing the mess that is the T, improving the product quality of public schools, and improving the financial position of state government. All the rest of us would also benefit if you did this, but I’m not holding my breath.

Ramon enculait said...

well I still have no idea what "investment gaps" are, and I'll have to research this a bit but if I could make a list of things I wouldn't mind paying taxes to support scientific research would certainly be one of them.

John said...

The problem with our good governor's idea is that he is trying to "pick winners". Several nations, including Japan, tried this with no success. High Definition television, a telephony standard called ISDN, the examples of these technologies that government thoght were sure fire winners abound. A far better use of this money (assuming, of course, that our "looming financial crisis" has somehow magically disappeared)would be to streamline business regulations, lower overall business taxation, fund new charter schools...in short, make the entire system more business friendly...otherwise, we are bound to wake up some morning ten years from now and realize that stem cell research really wasn't as promising as once thought and we missed the boat on the really exciting technology that no one foresaw in 2007. Change the entire environment, don't pick technology winners.

Of course, if the governor just focused on lowering taxes, and the cost of living in MA, loosening zoning rules, enhancing infrastructure, making it an all round more attractive place for business to locate, that would do the trick.

Let the market pick the winners.