November 10, 2004

Bush v. California

Justin Katz

Froma Harrop walks a strange line between liberal and conservative principles in a recent column about economic differences between the Red States and the Blue States, and the tax-cut implications thereof. It's a thick topic, even when it isn't encumbered by an underlying theme of pinning something undesirable to President Bush's back. Consequently, I'm not inclined to take it up, just now.

However, something that protrudes from the column almost as a tangential distraction strikes me as telling, and in a way that's relevant to the rest of the piece:

California seems poised to profit from both Bush's tax cuts and his moral disapproval of embryonic-stem-cell research. We speak of California's vote Tuesday to spend $300 million a year on this promising field. The sum makes a mockery of the measly $25 million Bush doled out last year -- and only for work on existing stem-cell lines.

This investment will make California the stem-cell champ of America, if not the world. Biotech centers in other regions now fear a brain drain to California. And economists say the program could bring the state a bonanza in jobs and patent royalties worth hundreds of millions.

What, precisely, is Harrop's understanding of federalism? Ethics aside, is it the federal government's role to invest heavily enough in lucrative research so as to prevent any given state from dominating the market? Moreover, is it the government's role to put ethics aside so as to give states a fair share of the profit from endeavors of which their citizens want no part?

I'd be surprised to learn that there's a subindustry of Tupelo biotech companies now fearing the loss of faculty because Cali has become the place to do immoral research. And as far as I know, California's decision to fund the research isn't the result of some loophole that's not available to other states. Red-State Americans can invest in ESCR by way of their governments, just as they can invest in it individually. That's another distinction that Harrop loses:

No one has made a connection between the Bush tax cuts and the research, but someone should. The tax cuts have made California $51 billion richer. So Californians can think of the $3 billion they will spend over the next 10 years as found money.

Correction: the tax cuts have made Californians that much richer. That's not the same thing. If the citizens of the Golden State choose to process their research-funding dollars through a corrupt bureaucracy, that is their right. At least the poorer citizens of fly-over country aren't being forced to devote their hard-earned money on Blue-Staters' hot-flash quest for immortality.

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Another factor relevant to this conversation is that I heard a report that most Californians who voted to support the embryonic stem cell research didn't realize that it also meant the California State Government funding it to the tune of $3 to $6 billion in bonds and up to $3 billion in interest payments for 10 years. My source for figures is here, I can't find where I heard the anecdote regarding the voters being unaware of the cost.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at November 10, 2004 7:18 AM

I heard a similar anecdote, saying that it was the 'most misunderstood ballot measure in history', or something like that. A lot of people just said "Hmm, stem cells - sure, sounds good to me!" without knowing what stem cells are, what they were voting to spend their tax dollars on, or how much they were voting to spend. I don't think anyone realizes that the money will be overseen by a board not accountable to the voters, and not the legislature. There is likely to be a backlash, unless the research produces some spectacular results fairly quickly.

Posted by: Mike S. at November 10, 2004 9:22 PM