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Big Government Science Spending. Bigger Economic Benefits

David Callahan

President Obama's proposal to spend $100 million next year mapping the human brain, as part of a larger multi-year project, is already drawing firing from critics of government spending. 

But if there were ever a clear payoff from government spending, it's spending for science. Consider a the findings of a 2011 study of the economic benefits of the government's massive Human Genome Project, which took 13 years to complete.

The economic and functional impacts generated by the sequencing of the human genome are already large and widespread. Between 1988 and 2010 the human genome sequencing projects, associated research and industry activity—directly and indirectly—generated an economic (output) impact of $796 billion, personal income exceeding $244 billion, and 3.8 million job‐years of employment. 

The federal government invested $3.8 billion in the HGP through its completion in 2003 ($5.6 billion in 2010 $). This investment was foundational in generating the economic output of $796 billion above, and thus shows a return on investment (ROI) to the U.S. economy of 141 to 1—every $1 of federal HGP investment has contributed to the generation of $141 in the economy.

In 2010 alone, the genomics‐enabled industry generated over $3.7 billion in federal taxes and $2.3 billion in U.S.state and local taxes. Thus in one year, revenues returned to government nearly equaled the entire 13‐year investment in the HGP.

Wow: $141 for every federal dollar spent. Talk about a good deal. 

It's a good thing that this Congress is strongly guided by a sober analysis of Return on Investment whenever it considers any spending priority. I'm sure that $100 million Obama wants will sail right through both chambers.