When I entered college, I took a course in introductory economics. Human wants are unlimited, I learned, but resources are limited. Therefore, we have to make choices about what we spend money on. That, I was told, was what economics was all about — how we make choices and allocate resources.
My economics textbook illustrated the point by quoting from Nazi Germany’s Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels who said: “We can do without butter, but, despite all our love of peace, not without arms. One cannot shoot with butter, but with guns.” It was about trade-offs, my professor taught us. There is a trade-off between a nation’s investment in military and civilian goods. In simplistic terms, a nation has to choose between buying guns (invest in the military) or butter (invest in civilian goods). It is, of course, not that simple but as a 17- year-old, I got the point. A government budget has to balance priorities.
President Trump’s budget request to the Congress calls for about a 20 percent reduction in the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and similar deep cuts to the research budgets of the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. President Trump proposes $54 billion in cuts for domestic spending such as research and spending $54 billion more for the military. Incidentally, there are no proposed cuts in the hundreds of millions of federal dollars spent on security for the President’s Manhattan apartment or his Florida golf resort. The President’s budget is not about a trade-off of guns v butter. It’s about guns v life. If we cut the budget for biomedical research, then people will die unnecessarily. We’re not talking about a guns v butter trade-off in President Trump’s budget. We’re talking about an immoral assault on American lives and American values.
Mick Mulvaney, the president’s budget director, says that government-funded health research had suffered “mission creep” and, as far as climate change research was concerned, “We’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that a waste of money …”
“Mission creep”? There is a reason the institution is called the National Institutes of Health. It is because the NIH represents a shared societal commitment to making the health of our children and grandchildren better than ours. It is because the NIH exemplifies our shared belief that the best way to predict the future of biomedical science is to invent it ourselves. It is because we know that methodical and rationale scientific inquiry cures some diseases and ameliorates others. It’s because the NIH represents 75 percent of federal funding for biomedical research. It’s called “Institutes,” plural, instead of Institute, singular, because it made up of 27 different institutes and centers including the National Cancer Institute, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Eye Institute, the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke, and the National Institute of Mental Health. It takes a formidable line-up of institutes to tackle a formidable set of diseases.
“Mission creep”? At New York Medical College NIH-funded research allows our faculty members to find improved treatments for cancer, high blood pressure, and infectious disease. NIH training grants help us educate the next generation of physician-scientists and dental-scientists. Also, to be prosaic, biomedical research is a powerful economic driver of our Westchester and state economy. New York State benefits from over 31,000 jobs and a total economic impact of over $4.6 billion from government-funded biomedical research.
“Waste of money” to do environmental research? Research funded by the EPA helps identify environmental toxins affecting our health and the influence of environmental toxins upon our ability to have children.
In my lifetime biomedical research funded by the NIH has vastly improved the survival probability for premature babies, rendered many forms of cancer treatable and others curable, identified the cause and treatment of HIV/AIDS, reduced the death rate from cardiovascular disease, created organ transplantation, and improved the therapy of diabetes. Which members of Congress will stand before the voters and say they favor a budget designed to prevent the identification of new treatments for these diseases?
“It’s all about trade-offs,” my economics professor taught me. Let’s tell our elected officials that we want a federal budget where the trade-offs support life, not death.
Edward C. Halperin is chancellor, New York Medical College.
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