Friday, February 21, 2014

Budgetary Concerns: Why to Invest in Astronomy

The federal government does not spend enough money on the study of astronomy and cosmology. To support this claim there are a few things that should be examined. The first is what is the purpose of government? Do the goals and intentions of astronomy align with these purposes? Secondly, what portion of its budget is the United States paying already to support ventures in astronomy and cosmology? Is that portion adequate to reward those people who contribute to this field? In my opinion astronomers are being largely undervalued.

Everyone has a different interpretation on what the government should be providing. Most of these interpretations are selfish ones. Religious groups want tax breaks for their causes, the military wants money for their wars and weapons, and obviously astronomers want money granted to fund discovery. My interpretation is that the government is in place to serve the society it governs through whatever way appropriate. I believe that the ideas being explored in astronomy are ones that can be used as building blocks for people in future generations. Leaving a legacy for future generations to admire and continue to develop is something that may not have a large financial gain in the short run, but can ultimately, like the introduction of fire, completely change the way people view the world.

While the cost of different telescopes and expeditions might seem very expensive to me, a college freshman who lives off ramen noodles, these discoveries are the foundations to potential huge ground breaking discoveries. For example, if we were to find dark matter, we would be able to understand how everything in the universe is bound together. With that knowledge the possibilities are limitless.

While many Americans believe we spend nearly 25 percent of our budget on NASA, they are incorrect. In 2013, the budget for NASA was approximately 17 billion, which is one half of one percent of our national budget. On the flip side, we spend over 25 percent of all collected money funding wars and different defenses. In Economics last semester I learned that sometimes when there is a positive externality in a market, the government needs to jump in to balance out the true benefits and balance the market again at equilibrium. In this case I think that astronomy provides a large positive externality and the government should provide funds to maintain the positive ‘externalities’ of discovery.

The huge difference between our national spending, and the budgetary spending of other countries is the amount of money we spend on national defense. According to the SIPRI military expenditure database, we spend more than any other country in the world on military by a factor of 4! While there are many reasons to fund our military, the major reason we spend so much more money is so that we can maintain our facade as a super power. We believe that by intervening internationally, we will gain respect from the global community. While I do not think that this is the case, even if it was, typically the military intervention does not leave our posterity with a positive result. Think of wars like the ones in Iraq, and Vietnam. On the other hand, by funding astronomical research, we can ‘flex our muscles’ by showing our capabilities and leave a positive world for the future. When we landed the first rocket on the moon, we were indisputably the strongest nation in the world, and it marked the apex of the age of American greatness. I believe that if we invest more into the ideas of our astronomers, we can once again achieve this greatness.

While I wish I had more words to back up all of my claims, these are the reasons I believe we should spend more on astronomy and cosmology. To sum, I believe that our society will benefit very much from a larger budget for discovery in astronomy and cosmology because it will provide a legacy for our posterity that will lead America to become a better nation.
Connor Moore