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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.

A new Washington

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Image

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Friday that the city should expect a "new normal" for security — even after President-elect Biden's inauguration.

The state of play: Inaugurations are usually a point of celebration in D.C., but over 20,000 troops are now patrolling Washington streets in an unprecedented preparation for Biden's swearing-in on Jan. 20.

Mike Pence calls Kamala Harris to offer congratulations and help

Mike Pence. Photo: Chip Somodevilla via Getty

Vice President Mike Pence called Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on Thursday to congratulate her and offer assistance in the transition, the New York Times first reported.

Why it matters: The belated conversation came six days before the inauguration after a contentious post-election stretch. President Trump has neither spoken with President-elect Joe Biden, nor explicitly conceded the 2020 election.