NERV (ČTK): The Czech government's National Economic Council (NERV) says that crisis measures should strengthen science and education. The opposition disagrees. (ČTK)The Czech government’s National Economic Council says that crisis measures should strengthen science and education. The opposition disagrees. (ČTK)

If we didn’t have it, we would need to invent it. This famous statement made by František Palacký about the Austro-Hungarian empire could easily apply to the current economic crisis. Aside from a war, there is no better way to get to taxpayers’ money – at least if you’re a big player on the market.

Extreme times call for extreme measures. So will we help subsidise banks, the car industry or will we give the money to the poor, so that politicians remain popular and retain their position? Or could we combine it all together?

That’s why it’s not so surprising that no one in the Czech Republic has paid much attention to the reaction of Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi when asked what the key strategy of the United States will be in fighting the economic crisis: “Science, science, science and science,” she said.

When billions flow

To be more specific: Out of the record-high USD 800 billion stimulus package, the US wants to spend more than USD 100 billion on research, technology and education. Of that, USD 10 billion will go directly to basic research and research equipment, USD 50 billion will go to schools at all levels, USD 8 billion will go to research into renewable energy sources, USD 6 billion to improving the internet infrastructure…and we could go on and on.

Besides that, billions will go into traffic infrastructure, upgrades of the power grid and other long-term investments.

Let us leave out for the moment the question whether state intervention is a useful tool in fighting an economic crisis. Not only because the current US president stands too far on the left side of the spectrum of the Democrats to share our president’s opinion that the crisis will somehow take care of itself.

Not even those right-wing politicians who subscribe to the most liberal economic schools of thought would dare to let things be. Simply because, face to face with the voters, it would mean political suicide.

But if it’s necessary to spend state money (or, more precisely, the money earned by the productive segment of the population), it is far wiser to spend it on something that will be useful in the long run. Without a doubt this means investing in education, science and new technology, rather than banks and car producers, which, by the way, are the ones responsible for the crisis in the first place.

A catch

The Czech government’s National Economic Council shares this view: Crisis measures should, above all, strengthen science and education. But this seemingly positive piece of news has a catch.

While in the United States this initiative came from the left, and there was a certain degree of agreement across the political spectrum, here it’s coming from the weak centre-right cabinet. The left-wing opposition is using the crisis measures as an election weapon: no money for science, infrastructure and technology – instead, subsidies for new cars, higher pensions and higher taxes, especially for the seemingly wealthy. And maybe a couple of projects invented to generate jobs for those who feel like working.

There is no doubt that this strategy will bring in the votes. Czech voters have shown that they can be bought for as little as CZK 30. The proposed car scrapping bonus would be even more lucrative.

The question is whether a nation that is willing to trade in its future for a new car has any chance to succeed in today’s world. With the help of science and technology, Asia is steamrolling over the United States. Europe is limping along, and we can barely keep up.