Political, Antisocial, Dismal Science: Economics Getting Cut Next?

At least among social scientists and their supporters/detractors, there was a fairly active discussion of the House of Representatives version of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, passed back in May.  For example, Christopher Zorn wrote this, Ezra Klein presented a well-intentioned take on the issue, Brendan Nyhan presented this defense, and then there’s this misguided & facile, but highly placed piece by Charles Lane. (Apologies for all of those I did not include here.)

I am not going to defend or oppose NSF funding here.  In my opinion, there’s no “right” position on this, and even if there were, there is little reason to suspect that people would agree even on what constitutes evidence.  After all, there are reasonable arguments for and against the government funding any research or, for that matter, education.

I just wanted to note that the efforts to reduce funding for social science research continue. Specifically, as described here in Science by Jocelyn Kaiser, NIH funding for general social science research and economics research in particular is to be eliminated according to the draft appropriations bill the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations of the U.S. House of Representatives.

In a press release, the elimination of funding for social science research is described as ensuring that “the NIH support only research projects that are highly meritorious, based on peer review processes, and that continue the agency’s historical unbiased position toward specific diseases.

As I said, I don’t take a position on whether social science research funding “should” be cut. I just think it is important to note that the developments make even clearer the irony of sophomoric and facile pronouncements by those who truly don’t have the time,  knowledge, or perhaps the inclination to consider the deeper questions at hand in these budgetary battles.  The use of limitation riders and their ilk has a venerable history of screwing with big politics through the use of disarmingly little screws.

Finally, for those (quite appropriately) more concerned with Big Bird than with Big Science, note that this version of the appropriation bill cuts over $100 million in funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  It also prohibits funding for Planned Parenthood unless it certifies it will not provide abortions, effectively bars implementation of a new NLRB rule regarding union elections, and eliminates funding for the new Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight, a key oversight office for the Affordable Care Act.  This office is responsible for regulating health insurers (like limiting inflation in insurance premiums and like ensuring that insurers provide enough coverage to their customers), and setting up and managing health care exchanges for states that (choose to) fail to do so on their own.

By appearances, this might seem just another mundane appropriations bill (of which there are typically 14 or so through the year).  But appearances can be deceiving.  Accordingly, I leave you with this.