It’s hardly surprising, as the News & Observer reported today, that the North Carolina beneficiaries of the eight “stimulus” grants highlighted in a report from Sens. John McCain and Tom Coburn would defend their projects. Consider:

Anne McLaughlin, an assistant professor of psychology at N.C. State
University who is overseeing a four-year study on the benefits of video
games for the elderly. “Me? Really? Nationally? I mean, who doesn’t want
to help older adults maintain their independence?”

Milton Friedman launched a robust debate over the use of taxpayer funding to underwrite even basic research 30 years ago, when he wrote “Why Government Should Not Fund Science.”

But set that aside for now. Let’s stipulate that public funding of research is a worthwhile endeavor, and that the grants paid for passed peer review and deserved support.

They aren’t stimulus projects. They would not satisfy the most basic definition of a stimulus program, as, for example, this one from the University of Michigan’s online economics dictionary:

Economic stimulus: A tax cut and/or an increase in government
spending, so called because it tends to increase aggregate demand and
therefore the level of economic activity in the short run.

The recipients of these grants could not argue that their research would put people to work immediately who would build roads, repair bridges, or complete the sorts of public works projects that enhance the delivery of goods and services, improve transportation generally, and jump-start a sluggish economy. That’s not what basic science does.

And that’s why McCain’s and Coburn’s criticisms are on the mark. They aren’t stimulus projects.

(Besides, “coked-up stimulus monkeys” is my favorite phrase of the campaign season.)

Carolina Journal‘s Anthony Greco reported on the stimulus projects here: