There has been little discussion about what $700 billion would buy if the federal government were not spending it on the bailout. Maybe we're too shell-shocked by this huge dollop of borrowed money to go through this exercise of "What if...?"
For the sake of argument, however, here is a short list of what $700 billion would buy in the realm of science and technology:
- Five complete Apollo space programs, which put 12 men on the moon between 1969 and 1972. Cost of Apollo program in 2005 dollars: $135 billion.
- 23 years of funding for the National Institutes of Health. The 2009 fiscal budget is $30 billion, the same as 2008.
- 259 years of funding for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, an independent research agency within the Department of Defense that has funded some of America's major innovations, including key elements of the solid-state electronics revolution.
- 304 human genome projects at $2.3 billion apiece.
- 653 MacBook laptops fully loaded with software for every child on Earth between the ages of 4 and 18.
- 1,850 years of funding for the Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is on the front lines of developing alternative sources of energy. The lab's budget was increased in 2007 to $378.4 million, from $209.6 million in 2006.
I could go on, but you get the idea: Even a modest sliver of the Wall Street bailout could dramatically increase government support for research and development of science and technology in the U.S.
This may be exactly what we need right now, to pitch a little cash toward a major effort to support and speed up our non-defense national research-and-development expenditure—which now accounts for less than one-half a percentage point of G.D.P., the lowest in nearly 50 years.