Have I mentioned that I hate the Senate?

Before, it was just for their inability to do anything; now, it’s personal.


19 thoughts on “Have I mentioned that I hate the Senate?

  1. Is the question of whether the NSF really deserves a 20% increase in funding not one on which reasonable people can disagree?

  2. Chris,

    I don’t think “deserves” has much to do with it. This is a stimulus bill, and government spending on science has been historically been well-rewarded. I don’t see any good argument for level-funding this NSF when we’re trying to stimulate the economy.

    If you want to argue that we shouldn’t pass the stimulus bill at all, fine. I might suggest that people tread carefully when discussing politics in a math blog.

  3. No One In Particular,

    This seems like a good moment to hate on one of my pet peeves: All graphs of funding dollars vs time should be weighted for inflation. It’s completely idiotic to compare budgets year by year without doing this.

  4. What AJ said.

    Additionally, I think it’s clear from what’s been going on the last few days is not a serious discussion of the long-term value of investment in research and human capital, and that’s what’s really galling. Of course, economics is an uncertain science, and so both the long term cost of borrowing money and the long term benefit of spending that money through the NSF are both uncertain. I think the expected value of the latter is so much higher than the former than that it’s a no-brainer, but it’s true that there are imaginable futures where the inequality goes the other way. But that is clearly not the calculation that is going on here, and that makes me rather angry.

    Of course, I also recognize that there is some selfishness on my part in involved in this. Was it not clear that that was part of the joke?

  5. The 2008 -> 2009 NSF budget increase was allegedly 13.6%. The proposed stimulus increase was over and above that, right? Factor in 3% inflation for A.J., and even without the stimulus that’s still the sort of “level-funding” many would like to have applied to their salaries.

    As for the near-term benefits to the economy of giving X dollars to support basic research in math instead of spending it some other way, I’m just glad I’m not the one who has to make that case. (It is near-term improvement that the stimulus package is alleged to effect, isn’t it?)

  6. It is near-term improvement that the stimulus package is alleged to effect, isn’t it?

    Define “near-term”.

  7. As for the near-term benefits to the economy of giving X dollars to support basic research in math instead of spending it some other way, I’m just glad I’m not the one who has to make that case.

    It’s not really rocket science; you give money to mathematicians, and they spend it on stuff (probably the most important beneficiaries would be airlines and hotels, from conference spending). The velocity of money increases, and everyone benefits. It’s not better stimulus in the short-term than many other things, for example, hiring people to teach school, or build bridges, and write poems. But any particular kind of stimulus spending has diminishing returns, so it’s better to spend it on a lot of different things, and mathematicians are a reasonable option (keep in mind, even under the more generous House bill, mathematicians were getting roughly 1/10,000 of the stimulus package), especially since mathematical research has a long-term upside.

  8. The 2008 -> 2009 NSF budget increase was allegedly 13.6%.

    Huh? Who alleged that?

    As far as I can tell from the NSF budget page, the NSF proposed a 13.6% budget increase, after 5 or so years of being close to inflation or below.

    If that full request came through (which is typically not what happens, but maybe things will be different under a new president), then the last 5 years would average out to a 4.3% annual increase, which is fine, but nothing to be too excited about.

  9. Huh? Who alleged that?

    Bush’s 2009 budget for NSF is at “http://www.gpoaccess.gov/usbudget/fy09/pdf/budget/nsf.pdf”. Are you claiming that Congress didn’t authorize it?

  10. The purpose of the stimulus package is to stimulate the economy i.e. to help it get out of a recession or prevent a more serious recession. Increasing funding for the NSF, while clearly a worthwhile goal, does not really do much in the time frame required for the intended purpose. It would be better to put NSF increases in the main budget in my opinion.

  11. Are you claiming that Congress didn’t authorize it?

    I haven’t seen any evidence that it has. The document you linked to is Bush’s recommendation, not the actual appropriation. I was just going on the NSF budget page, but there might be some lag in putting information there.

  12. My recollection is that Congress didn’t pass a real budget last year, but just a stop-gap measure extending the 2008 spending levels. This was because of the differences between what Democrats in the Congress and then still-President Bush. Given the upcoming change in the presidency, it didn’t make since to fight with Bush’s potential vetoes…

  13. My understanding (almost all of which comes from a talk at the Joint Meetings by the AAAS budget and policy director) is that several years ago, Bush proposed that the NSF budget should be doubled within ten years, averaging to a 7% increase per year over ten years. Of course, another way to accomplish this is to wait ten years and then double the budget, and as Ben points out, the funding increases have not yet come. The 13.6% increase for FY 2009 that Chris mentions is an attempt to get back on schedule towards this goal.

    As Nathan says, the FY 2009 appropriations bill containing NSF’s budget has not passed yet because of other provisions that were causing Bush to threaten a veto, but the passage of this bill should happen soon. Any amount for NSF in the stimulus bill (which I hear has been restored to $1.2B in the Senate version and could conceivably grow — or shrink — again in conference) is, I think, supposed to be over and above the 13.6%. But in the legislative process one should never count one’s chickens before they hatch.

  14. Ben may hate the senate, but what all of you may not know is that he can name virtually all the senators in a pop quiz. And not just the easy ones. You can be all “hey Ben, who’s the junior senator from Alabama” and he’ll know.

  15. All you have to do is watch election night coverage 3 elections in a row, and you will know all the senators. Knowing junior vs. senior is harder. I guessed correctly that Jeff Sessions is junior to Richard Shelby, but I didn’t have much faith in that.

  16. Arguing for a short-term increase in NSF funding on the grounds that it will allow more mathematicians to fly to conferences and stay in hotels during the next two years doesn’t seem a really strong case to me…

    For the long-term health of US science, more important is what funding levels will be a few years from now, at which point the question of what to cut to deal with the huge structural federal budget deficit will be the big issue.

    In the short-term, I think a good argument could be made for funding some “shovel-ready” science projects, where money could be used effectively to keep people at places like Fermilab employed working on something worthwhile. In math, a short-term increase in NSF funding of conferences and summer salary is hard to justify, but more money for postdoc positions and graduate student fellowships to keep people employed as university budgets get cut is something that makes a lot of sense.

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