"there are cosmologists doing really great inquiry into the origins of the universe. That doesn't have any real benefit to the economy"...
Until string theory ('cos it's good for gravity - but who needs to study that, we all know it sucks), for example, possibly pie-in-the-sky, nonetheless produces mathematics that has ended up having serious applications to condensed matter which might lead to novel, innovative,etc. devices, technologies, etc., etc,. etc. of economic significance.
Yes times are hard, all budgets need to be re-considered and the least meritorious (reluctantly) put aside, but for god's sake don't elevate being economical with scare resources into a guiding principle of research etc.
If the long-term economic process (agricultural - industrial - service...) is indeed leading the most developed nations towards a "knowledge based economy", i.e. where the what is known, in all generality, can be valuably applied on behalf of others, this approach will merely turn artists into craftsmen and then into mere jobbing workmen. Welcome to the future Britain of pure Polish Plumbing in which we do nothing particularly well but we're cheap and available.
How about finally reforming the agricultural subsidy system (slash other waste bucket of your choice) and investing more in a sphere of activity that can only return greater rewards the more you put into it.
If this is a Vision of the Future it's the vision of a cataract ridden, short sighted, blinkered, photophobe.