Federal spending on research and development has lifted the economy in hard-to-measure ways. The Pentagon, whose role in building what became the Internet is well known, is a major player in government-backed research, with deep pockets. Even so, R&D accounted for just 3.72 percent of U.S. government spending in 2014. That compares with 2.74 percent for transportation and water infrastructure, which is getting lots of attention in this year’s election campaign with both candidates promising to loosen the purse-strings.

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