Real vs. Political Innovation

Lessons from the Human Genome Project.

A $3.8 billion investment became $796 billion in economic impact, created 310,000 jobs and launched an innovation revolution.

This, obviously, was not an Obama administration investment (spending) program that ignited this flood of innovation and economic success. It was the outpouring from “the largest single undertaking in the history of biological science and stands as a signature scientific achievement,” in the words of Simon J. Tripp.

He is senior director of Battelle Memorial Institute Technology Partnership Practice.

Tripp writes of the economic progeny of the “genomic revolution.” The Human Genome Project (HGP) ran from 1990 to 2003 to unravel the human genome. It determined the sequence of 3 billion DNA base pairs. While advancing medicine and science, the “genomic revolution” is aiding development of renewable energy, industrial biotechnology, agricultural biosciences, veterinary science, environmental and forensic sciences, studies in ecology, and studies from anthropology to zoology. But little has been written or analyzed until now regarding the economic impact of this historic undertaking. The new report includes specific examples of “genomics in action,” highlighting application of tools, technologies, and knowledge in fields such as health care, agriculture, industrial biotechnology, and even security and justice.

In his State of the Union speech in January, Obama, in a stunning acknowledgement, declared, “Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation.” But, he added, “throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need.” He said, “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.”

Basic research has long been the role of government, with national labs and universities funded largely by government. But government also has an essential duty to assure policies and a regulatory environment favorable to innovation and entrepreneurship.

After Obama shocked many listeners when he admitted our free enterprise system drives innovation, he quickly reminded his audience that “throughout history our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they needed...because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research.”

Then, the president launched into his shopworn, fantasy-world. He revealed his plans to throw taxpayer money at the impractical and wasteful while penalizing free-market innovators. He over-promised: “We can break our dependence on oil with biofuels and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 [which no realist in the industry thinks is anyway near possible]...eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies," and "by 2035 [have] 80 percent of America’s electricity” come from “clean energy sources.” Another wishful plan to be attempted with federal subsidies.

While initially disguising himself as a Chamber of Commerce free-enterpriser, he transformed into what scholar Murray Sabrin said resembled what Mussolini stated succinctly: “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” Sabrin is professor if finance at Anisfield School of Business, Ramapo College of New Jersey.

“Over the past decade or longer, U.S. innovation stalled in almost every sector except information technology and agriculture, say scholars who study innovation," the Washington Post reported after the president’s address. It quoted Obama’s exuding: “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.” But in a deflating counterpoint to Obama’s soaring rhetoric, the Post story said: “Evergreen Solar [a symbol of "green" technology] announced this week that it plans to cut 800 jobs, shutter its Massachusetts plant and move to China.”

The famed economist Ludwig von Mises opined that the path to prosperity is “through the work of savers, who accumulate capital, and of the entrepreneurs who turn capital to new uses.” Sabrin said Obama “is governing in the tradition of all interventionists...using the cronycapialism toolkit at their disposal—deficit spending, regulating, subsidizing, inflating, and funneling money to a humongous military–industrial complex.”

The National Journal in its July 9 edition published a roundup of experts on innovation. It said, “One of the nation’s most troubling economic developments in the past few years” was that our Patent and Trademark Office “issued more than half of its patents to inventors outside” the U.S.

In Simon Tripp’s analysis of the economic impacts of the human genome project, he wrote that from the time of the project’s start until 2010, research and industrial activity generated an economic impact of $796 billion, personal income exceeding $224 billion, and 3.8 million job-years of employment.

The federal government invested only $3.8 billion between 1988 and 2003. This shows a return on investment (ROI) to the U.S. economy of 141 to 1. So, every $1 of federal investment has resulted in $141 in our economy.

This doesn’t sound like Obama-land, where according to a March 3 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report, the Obama, Pelosi, Reid stimulus package cost us $228,000 per job and added $821 billion to the national debt. When the government subsidizes one segment of the economy, it typically penalizes other sectors.

In 2010 alone, Tripp wrote, the genomics-enabled industry generated over $3.7 billion in federal taxes and $2.3 billion in state and local taxes.

While the Obama administration was bragging about all the jobs it had created with its Keynesian spending programs, and unemployment kept creeping upward, the human genome sequencing projects and associated research in 2010 alone generated $67 billion in U.S. economic output, $20 billion in personal income for our citizens and 310,000 jobs.

One of the key benefits of the remarkable genome sequencing [unlike any Obama program] is “that its usefulness is perpetual,” Tripp writes. While other major projects have a life-certain, the human genome sequence will not wear out or become obsolete.

It is a “perpetually useful fundamental platform for understanding and advancing science.”

Ahead, for instance: increased agricultural productivity for an expending population, cellulosic biomass convertible to scarce chemicals and cheap fuels, and medical advances that will make ObamaCare look like a sick puppy.