Governmental-Educational Complex

We have had various warnings from leaders over the history of our nation.  It started with Washington in his famous Farewell Address when he warned of many things but among them was the danger in “foreign entanglements” and to avoid them.  At that time and place it was pretty sound advice for the young nation.  We were still very small potatoes in the world and needed the peace and quiet to grow and prosper.  Washington rightly worried that treaties with too many other nations and with too many conditions would inevitably lead to conflicts if not outright war and that would be devastating to the budding Republic.    Indeed as we know from our history we did have several wars during our first 15 years or so after his departure.  There was the undeclared war with the French over trade, the also undeclared war with the Barbary pirates and Muslims on the north African coast and the declared war with Britain in 1812.  Along the way we also had some tussles with the Spanish here and there.   It would have been difficult to pick the right partner during those times and not having a formal alliance with one or the other probably was the smart play.

About 150 years later Eisenhower came along to warn us about the industrial-military complex and the perceived power and influence it was having on our national policy and the skewed effects on our economy.  Again, the advice was probably not too bad at the time.  Many thought the advice was odd coming as it did during the height of the Cold War.  It was believed that we needed a very strong industrial base to support our military operations to hold back the advance of the Communists.  They had been very aggressive in announcing their intentions to take over the world.  They even had organizations for that purpose controlled from Moscow.   But Ike was concerned that the industry supporting our military needs was too strong and could thwart national and international policy with its lobbying in Congress.  That the agenda was more about preserving market share than it was the national interest.   We did need a very strong military presence at that time.  You may recall that one of the key elements of the Kennedy victory in 1960 was the alleged “missile gap” between ourselves and the Communist.  Although there was in fact no missile gap and Kennedy knew it he continued to pound on the subject and it found a receptive chord with the public.  This was the era of Sputnik and the rocket and space race and SAC and the beginnings of the ICBM’s.   Generally, Ike’s advice was not followed and probably it was correct not to do so as the Communists were relentless during those years with their aggression around the world.   We may have overdone it some but better to have too many weapons that are never used than too few when desperately needed.

Today I wish some leader would bang the tocsin with a clarion call to cut back on the governmental-educational complex.  All our major universities and colleges that do any research are in a constant competition for Federal funding for their programs.  You cannot find a single large school that does not receive millions, if not hundreds of millions, per year for directed research.  This has been true for some time but has accelerated during the last 25 years to truly gigantic proportions.   You can bet that many of the scientists and academics at these schools spend as much time preparing their grant request as they do actual research.   Lots of the large schools have either full-time staff that do nothing but this or hire specialists to prepare these applications.   The amount of money going to the educational system is staggering.  Just recently there as been the Race To The Top funding grant with gazillions at stake and in this case it is the States themselves that are seeking the money.  

The department of commerce hands them out, the department of transportation, the department of Energy;  the EPA is a huge contributor, and even the Pentagon doles out grants.  The behemoth of course is the department of Education.   Naturally what gets lost in the shuffle is that education is not a federal concern at all.  We all want a good education for our children and a sound educational system but the Constitution does not provide that as a Federal area of authority.  The States are in control of education along with the private schools.  We also seem to forget that all this money doesn’t come from the Government, Inc., it comes from us.   We get taxed to the hilt and ship that money to DC and then some pointed-headed bureaucrat makes rules, regulations and mandates and then magnanimously return a portion of  it to our state with strings attached by people far away.  

Too many academics are in the “business” of applying for grants just as are too many of the community organizations that apply for and receive these funds.  If a school has a great idea for research they should ask their alumni or private industry to fund the program.  If it is meritworthy it will receive it.  It will be judged on its use and usefullness to society rather than some political agenda from Washington.   That competition between universities would be a good thing.  It would more likely be a competition on merit rather than political connections.  You really think the applications for Iowa State receives the same consideration as the one from Harvard?   Have you checked lately how many Harvard grads are in the current administration?

All of those grants should be cut off root and branch.  Let all that money stay with the citizens of the respective states and let them decide which schools and universities should receive which funding.   Make them compete for private money, not political sway.  The research would be better.  We don’t need an entire industry built on applying for grant money and the lobby that supports it.  It is not productive.  You want transparency then lets start with this whole area and take a look at the numbers and the results and specifically at the players who benefit.  You want more ACORNS to be getting your tax dollars or more research on the alleged decline of some obscure fish in the tago tago river in El Somewhereland?  If those things are useful they will find the money elsewhere.

Is there anything better on a crisp fall morning than a cup of coffee in your backyard and looking up to see a flock of geese heading south?  That dependability of cycles is reassuring in our sometimes hectic world.  http://www.olcranky.wordpress.com

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