A recent letter to the alumni from MIT President Susan Hockfield says it better than I can:
As we know well at MIT, in any scientific or technical field, innovative solutions that reach the marketplace represent the flowering of research seeds planted years or even decades before. In the last quarter century, America has reaped the rewards of two innovation revolutions, in information technology and biotechnology. These revolutions launched entirely new industries, created millions of jobs, vastly improved our overall productivity and produced virtually all the technologies that account for our modern quality of life.
Where did those revolutions spring from? From the seeds of basic, federally funded research. Today, America badly needs another innovation revolution—perhaps more than one—and funding basic research will once again pave the path to the goal. These arguments are obviously in the interests of MIT, but I believe they are absolutely central to restoring America's long-term prospects as well.