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MSNBC "The Rachel Maddow Show" - Transcript

Interview

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Joining us now is a man who knows a thing or two about high-tech, the nuclear physicist who beat IBM`s computer at "Jeopardy," Congressman Rush Holt of New Jersey.

Congressman Holt, it`s nice to see you. Thank you for being here.

REP. RUSH HOLT (D), NEW JERSEY: Rachel, it`s always good to be with you.

Do you think there is a lesson to be learned from the leaps and bounds we have experienced in military tech over the last 10 years fighting these two years that can be applied to revitalizing what we invent and what we make in the civilian world?

HOLT: Well, sure, the lesson is that research and development pays off. They pay off big -- not just in nifty devices, not just in better understanding of our universe, but really in dollars and cents and jobs.

It is our seed corn. It is the engine for innovation. You can describe it various ways.

But the investment in research, economists will argue whether you get a -- you know, a 2-1 return on your dollar or a -- you know, a 75 percent return. Whatever it is, it`s huge. You never know exactly what it`s going to be, which is why sometimes the -- it`s hard to sustain. It`s hard to sustain the support for it.

And in fact, over the last four decades, the federal investment in research, the government spending on research, has measured by -- you know, as a percentage of our gross domestic product has fallen by about two-thirds.

Now, defense has stayed pretty flat during that time. So what it means is the civilian R&D has fallen quite a bit.

You know, the slashers in Washington, the budget slashers are saying -- well, but the private industry has grown during that period but not enough to make up for the loss in the federal spending. And furthermore,
the private industry, as you were saying, just doesn`t do sometimes as well or the same things that have been done with federal support.

MADDOW: Because defense has had almost no budgetary -- really not even almost -- defense has had no budgetary constraint whatsoever for most of my lifetime, particularly for the last 10 years and some of that is understandable because we`ve been in two big wars, neither of which is over. Because they`ve had essentially unlimited funds, you can sort of see what a maximalist investment in defense can produce.

And I do think there will be some civilian uses for some of these kinds of things, these gee whiz things that we`ve been talking about in this segment. But I wonder if we should be cautious about extrapolating
from the military example because there are some things that the military does better than other sectors can do. Are they particularly good at this?

HOLT: Well, the military spends a lot more on development than on research. More on the D than the R. And so -- but they do a lot of other things, too. I mean, you know, they certainly help the war fighter, the
soldier do the job more safely, more efficiently.

Now, not all products of research are equally helpful to people. I mean, just because we`re able to kill people remotely more efficiently doesn`t mean that we as a country should do that. But the Defense Department has maintained a research budget and is one of the principal research funders for breast cancer, for ovarian cancer, for prostate cancer. It is one of the biggest funders for computer science and engineering research.

So, there are a lot of other things that come out of the defense. It`s probably not the most efficient way to improve people`s lives because some of that research is kept secret. It makes it -- you know, if scientists can`t communicate freely, they can`t be as innovative.

So, the lessons that we can learn from defense research and development are limited but they`re real. And again, back to my previous point. The yield to the investor in this case, the society at large, the taxpayer, is really huge. And we really should reverse this decline that we`ve seen over decades now in the federal investment and research.

I think we`re under-investing in research in almost every sector.

MADDOW: It is cool that we are -- have produced some of the things that we have produced because of our overinvestment in military tech, but if we can even keep up 10 percent in nonmilitary tech, I think we`d be a totally different country with a totally different economic future.

HOLT: You know, overall, we`re investing only about a percent of our gross domestic product in research. Other countries set a goal of 2 percent or 3 percent. They sometimes meet that goal, sometimes fall short.
But we`re far short of that.

MADDOW: Physicist and Democratic Congressman Rush Holt of New Jersey -- Congressman Holt, it`s always a real pleasure and honor to have you on the show. You have insight on subjects like these nobody else has. So, thanks very much.

HOLT: Can I watch the turkey trend now?

MADDOW: Yes. You can stick with us for the turkeys. Absolutely.

HOLT: Thank you.

MADDOW: All right. Still ahead, as promised, you and Rush Holt can watch local TV news coverage of the scourge of rampaging turkeys. Don`t say I never gave you anything.

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