It’s been on my back burner to respond to this diatribe by Dana Milbank, claiming that NIH Director Francis Collins was telling the truth when he said that there would have been an Ebola vaccine but for budget cuts. Milbank goes on and on about the horrible budget cuts that NIH supposedly suffered from, defends origami condoms, etc. But this passage really got my attention:
Even hard-core libertarians tend to agree that medical research and public health, like national defense, are among the few things that should be a federal responsibility. Eric Cantor, the recently deposed House majority leader, made a big push for government funding of medical research.
I’m sorry? Milbank is citing Eric Cantor as an example of a “hard-core libertarian”?? Let’s review some of Cantor’s super-libertarian record:
Cantor helped usher the 2008 bailout to passage. He was the Chamber of Commerce’s most important ally in reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank in 2012, and was expected to play the same role again this year. He voted for the insurers’ and drug makers’ beloved Medicare prescription drug bill in 2003, and for the Republicans’ pork-filled energy bill in 2005.
I was suspicious of Milbank’s claim because the “hard-core libertarians” I am familiar with don’t even necessarily believe national defense should be handled by the government. (I disagree with them.) So I suspected they would not be big fans of federal funding for medical research.
I decided to look into the views of one fairly prominent “hard-core libertarian”: Ron Paul. Guess what? He believes medical research should be done privately. (Sorry, it’s a Prison Planet link, but that’s the only place I can find it.) Here’s Paul:
The issue is not whether the federal government should fund one type of stem cell research or another. The issue is whether the federal government should fund stem cell research at all. Clearly there is no constitutional authority for Congress to do so, which means individual states and private citizens should decide whether to permit, ban, or fund it. Neither party in Washington can fathom that millions and millions of Americans simply don’t want their tax dollars spent on government research of any kind. This viewpoint is never considered.
Federal funding of medical research guarantees the politicization of decisions about what types of research for what diseases will be funded. Scarce tax resources are allocated according to who has the most effective lobby, rather than on the basis of need or even likely success. Federal funding also causes researchers to neglect potential treatments and cures that do not qualify for federal funds. Medical advancements often result from radical ideas and approaches that are scoffed at initially by the establishment. When scientists become dependent on government funds, however, they quickly learn not to rock the boat and stick to accepted areas of inquiry. Federal funds thus distort the natural market for scientific research.
It’s impossible to know whether Milbank is just lying — or whether he really believes what he said, and has no idea what actual libertarians think. Either way, he is badly misinforming his readers.