Health R&D still getting top priority

A quick look through Obama’s proposed 2011 budget shows that nondefense health R&D is still getting top priority over nondefense nonhealth R&D–that is, pretty much everything else.  Take a look at this chart:

The Obama budget continues the trend of the Bush years–a rising share of GDP going for health R&D,  while federal nonhealth nondefense R&D is basically flat as a share of GDP.   Nonhealth R&D includes space,  energy, environment,  information technology, physics, chemistry, and pretty much the whole range of science and technologies, outside of the life sciences.

Since FY 2001, funding for health R&D has exceeded funding for nonhealth nondefense R&D, and the gap has been growing.   The President’s proposed budget for 2011 calls for nondefense health R&D to exceed nondefense nonhealth R&D by 31%.

Given that the Obama Administration has made green technologies a priority, it’s worth looking at federal funding for potentially ‘green’ R&D:  Transportation, energy, natural resources, and environment. 

This chart shows federal nondefense R&D spending in these key areas, as a share of GDP. Certainly it’s on an uptick compared to the 2006-2008 lows.  But even then, the 2011 level of funding for  transportation/energy/environment R&D, measured as a share of GDP,  is roughly half where it was in 1992.  

If you believe that the U.S. is falling behind in nonhealth science and technology,  these charts suggest one reason why.


  1. Only if you believe that federal R&D spending actually does much, as opposed to generally throwing a bunch of money down the drain. Considering how much of a boondoggle all that green tech nonsense is, it’s good that its R&D spending has been dropping, even if the Democrats are idiotically trying to push it up. Rather than lazily posting the overall spending levels, you’d be better served making a case for where the money should be spent, or where it’s being spent in a worthwhile manner today. I bet any real analysis of such R&D projects would find most of that money being shit away.

  2. On the one hand, I am disappointed that health care continues to command so great a share of limited resources, because I see evidence that we are reaching the point of diminishing returns, and may even have lost sight of what the goal should be.

    On the other hand, since all problems must be solved by starting from where we are, not by crying about how we got here, I recognize that throwing medical researchers onto the streets is not likely to solve anything right now. Even my outrageous health insurance costs, paid to people who take a substantial share without adding any value whatsoever to me, serve (in FDR terms) to keep the dollar rolling.

    It takes only the most simplistic math to project that the entire U.S. economy will be consumed by health care industries within just a very few decades, if nothing changes. The ridiculousness of that observation strongly suggests that we are already well into the next bubble — health care — and we are fighting harder to avoid recognizing it and containing it than we did the last one.

    • This, of course, guarantees that something will change. And as with most such forced changes, the sooner it occurs, the gentler it will feel.


  1. […] and Obama’s latest budget continues that trend, as I showed in these two posts, here and here.  That can’t continue. By becoming increasingly focused on healthcare research, the U.S. is […]

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