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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new paper makes the case that the social returns of investing in innovation are enormous.

Why it matters: Things seem not great, to say the least, but humans have faced far worse material challenges for most of our existence. That changed largely thanks to the innovations brought about by science, which is why we need to ensure they keep coming.

By the numbers: In a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers and Northwestern economist Benjamin Jones attempt to calculate the social returns of innovation investment.

  • They write that "even under very conservative assumptions, it is difficult to find an average return below $4 per $1 spent. Accounting for health benefits, inflation bias, or international spillovers can bring the social returns to over $20 per $1 spent."
  • That's one reason why per-capita income in the U.S. has risen by 25-fold since 1820.

The catch: Government spending on R&D is currently at a 60-year low as a percentage of the federal budget.

  • Corporate R&D spending is making up for some of that, but it is far less likely to be allocated to basic science — the foundational discoveries that must be made before we get the cool stuff.

The bottom line: We may obsess over politics, but scientific innovation is the engine that moves us forward. We fail to fuel it at our peril.

Go deeper

Oct 7, 2020 - Health

Trust in science rose during the pandemic: survey

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Skepticism toward science fell globally during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new survey data commissioned by 3M.

The big picture: Science is having a moment as researchers race to create COVID-19 vaccines and treatments and people seek information about how to curb transmission of the virus.

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

Satellite view of the bomb cyclone swirling off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and the atmospheric river affecting California on Oct. 24. Photo: CIRA/RAMMB

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest — triggering widespread power outages and flooding.

Why it matters: The strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is causing Northern California to whiplash from drought to flood.

“You blew it”: GOP activist turns on corporations over vaccine mandates

The chairman of the American Conservative Union said on "Axios on HBO" he accepts "Joe Biden is my president, and I want him to succeed," but predicted Republicans retake the House and Senate in 2022 — with greater than 50% odds Donald Trump runs in 2024.

The big picture: In a joint interview with his wife, Mercedes, Matt Schlapp also refused to share their vaccination status. And he told corporate America "you blew it" by embracing vaccine mandates and liberal social stances that have alienated GOP voters and politicians.