Tag Archives: tax dollars

Our Money, Our Information

There is a very interesting op ed in this morning’s New York Times from an academic who does medical research, opposing a bill that has been introduced in Congress that would “protect” academic medical journals.

Protect them from what, you ask?

Under current practice, when the NIH or other tax-supported government agency funds research, the peer-reviewed articles that are subsequently written about that research are made available on-line for free. The journals want to change that practice, so that anyone interested in the results will have to buy their journals (which are, by the way, very expensive). The op-ed’s author believes–and I agree–that research funded by taxpayers ought to be freely available to taxpayers; it doesn’t seem fair to make the public pay for something that is then given to private parties who can profit from it.

It is interesting that our debate over healthcare reform has ignored the fact that this is a widespread phenomenon in medical science. Representative of “big Pharma” talk endlessly about the money they spend on research, and what constitutes a fair return on that R & R investment. They talk a lot less about how much of the essential research is funded by taxpayers, and how much more it would cost to develop drugs if that were not the case.

When I was doing some research for a paper a few years ago–before the Affordable Care Act–colleagues from the medical school shocked me when they explained that taxpayers were shouldering between 60% and 70% of all costs for medical care. From public hospitals like Wishard, to programs like Medicare and Medicaid, to underwriting scientific research, We the Taxpayers have paid most of the tab for many years.

Whatever the merits of “private enterprise,” it doesn’t exist in medicine, and hasn’t for a very long time. Perhaps if policymakers understood that, we taxpayers would get some respect–and a return on our investment.

The Tortoise and the Hare

Okay–this isn’t a very good analogy, but it’s the best I can come up with on a rainy Monday morning.

Today’s Star editorial–with which I strongly agree–reminded me of Eric Hoffer’s observation that the true measure of a civilization isn’t what it builds, but how well it maintains what it builds. Maintenance requires the skills of the tortoise–a steady, persistent attention to what needs to be done. Not flashy, like the hare, but reliable.

The editorial contrasted the money and energy being expended on Georgia Street upgrades for the Super Bowl with past projects like Pan Am Plaza that are now suffering from neglect.  Not too long ago, I commented here about the deplorable condition of the canal–another expensive and important amenity that is suffering from deferred maintenance, despite the fact that it is heavily used.

We are heading into political season, and we’ll hear a lot from candidates about their new ideas and bold plans. We need to hear from them about their intentions to polish existing jewels, and how they will propose to maintain what taxpayers have already built. To put it bluntly, I’m much less interested in building a faux Chinatown than I am in repairing the deteriorating bridges along the canal.

It’s not glamorous, but I’m with Hoffer–it’s the real test of leadership.