Funding for stem cell research has crossed the top of the government's agenda again. The arguements have followed the same pattern as before: the nature of the human embryo, the benefits of scientific progress for society, and the morality of using tax dollars to fund a controversial program.
Both sides of the debate fail to address a more basic question: why should the federal government be funding medical research at all?
This type of government program represents a gross distortion in the contemporary understanding of the role of government. Rather than protecting the right to life (i.e. the right not to be murdered), the government is seen as a device to maintain people's lives at another's expense. While scientific research may be a more useful than other aspects of the modern welfare state, the substance and moral implications are the same.
Capitalism provides a far superior mechanism for funding medical research. If companies are free to profit from the fruits of medical research, research will be done.
Tax dollars appropriated by Congress, in addition to being unethical, will probably be ineffective. While there are rare exceptions like Bill Frist and Howard Dean, few politicians have any medical training whatsoever. Most people voting on what to dole out funds to have no idea whether the program is scientifically worthwhile or not.
They are more likely vote money to a program that will earn them good press or direct funds to their own constituents than to one that will yield useful and cost-effective results. See the Inspector's latest post on hybrid car subsidies at Intellectual Watchman for another example of this sort of behavior.
If you are really serious about promoting medical research, you would be well-advised to fight to get the government out of the medical industry than to put more tax dollars into it. Investors will be far more careful and honest with their money than Congress will ever be with yours.
"Whenever peace-conceived as the avoidance of war-has been the primary objective...the international system has been at the mercy of the most ruthless member... Whenever the international order has acknowledged that certain priciples could not be compromised even for the sake of peace, stability... was at least conceivable."