On Fox & Friends this morning, Fox News host and former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee called for substantial government funding to cure diseases, explaining that since the private sector can't make a profit doing that, the government needs to step in.
It's interesting that a commentator on Fox News is pointing to the critical role of the federal government on medical research. But Huckabee's comments are also a great rationale for government spending on a host of other progressive priorities.
During his Fox News appearance, Huckabee explained that "our health care system is based on treatment" because "there is money to be made in treating a disease" and "if you cure it, there is no money to be made." He concluded that we need a Manhattan Project for health, focusing on finding cures for heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes, since treating those diseases puts a heavy burden on the economy. And according to Huckabee, "that has to be largely government funded 'cause the government is the only entity that doesn't have to have a return on investment. You put it in the hands of the private sector like a lot of people suggest, sounds good, doesn't make sense because there is no money long-term if you cure the disease."
Huckabee's logic that the public sector should step in to solve problems that are unprofitable for the private sector to deal with makes sense, but it also applies far beyond the field of medical research.
It's not profitable for the private sector to provide health insurance to the elderly - because seniors need far more health care than the average person, insurance policies would need to be extremely expensive to be profitable. But there's a public interest in ensuring that seniors have access to quality health care, so Medicare was created to provide government-funded health insurance.
It's not profitable for the private sector to provide health insurance to the poor because they can't afford to pay for it, but because there's a public interest in ensuring that people have access to health care regardless of their ability to pay, Medicaid was created to provide government-funded health insurance.
It's not profitable for the private sector to fund next-generation clean energy technology, but there's a public interest in building a new U.S. industry to provide sources of energy that have less impact on the environment, so the government provides loans and grants to companies that are working on those technologies to make that work feasible.
There's a public interest in clean water and bridges and police and safe food and educated children and a host of other areas where the government has stepped in because it's not profitable for the private sector to deal with the problem. Fox's recognition of this obvious principle is welcome, if unlikely to last for long.