Some of it is closer to funding propaganda than to welfare.
In Atlas Shrugged, they only needed one State Science Institute, not hundreds. But, although it’s expensive, there are advantages to having a significant portion of society on the government payroll, directly or indirectly, because it helps control those people. Academics cost a lot per person but they’re some of the elite influencers who do books and TV appearances. The media wouldn’t want to let the general public speak, nor to only talk to themselves – they need some semi-independent allies so they can bring on “independent experts” to say things (they also use e.g. some friendly “business leaders” and non-profit CEOs). Having “experts” with intellectual authority over things is useful, especially when you have a lot of influence over their paychecks/grants/careers. Science funding related to climate change and psychiatry are two examples of how the government pushes agendas through non-governmental partners. BTW, banking, K-12 education, healthcare and utilities are some other areas where the government has a lot of control of stuff outside the government itself, some of which is unacknowledged.
“Still, I’m worried. The intellectuals are our friends. We don’t want to lose them. They can make an awful lot of trouble.”
“They won’t,” said Fred Kinnan. “Your kind of intellectuals are the first to scream when it’s safe—and the first to shut their traps at the first sign of danger. They spend years spitting at the man who feeds them—and they lick the hand of the man who slaps their drooling faces. Didn’t they deliver every country of Europe, one after another, to committees of goons, just like this one here? Didn’t they scream their heads off to shut out every burglar alarm and to break every padlock open for the goons? Have you heard a peep out of them since? Didn’t they scream that they were the friends of labor? Do you hear them raising their voices about the chain gangs, the slave camps, the fourteen-hour workday and the mortality from scurvy in the People’s States of Europe? No, but you do hear them telling the whip-beaten wretches that starvation is prosperity, that slavery is freedom, that torture chambers are brother-love and that if the wretches don’t understand it, then it’s their own fault that they suffer, and it’s the mangled corpses in the jail cellars who’re to blame for all their troubles, not the benevolent leaders! Intellectuals? You might have to worry about any other breed of men, but not about the modern intellectuals: they’ll swallow anything. I don’t feel so safe about the lousiest wharf rat in the longshoremen’s union: he’s liable to remember suddenly that he is a man—and then I won’t be able to keep him in line. But the intellectuals? That’s the one thing they’ve forgotten long ago. I guess it’s the one thing that all their education was aimed to make them forget. Do anything you please to the intellectuals. They’ll take it.”
“For once,” said Dr. Ferris, “I agree with Mr. Kinnan. I agree with his facts, if not with his feelings. You don’t have to worry about the intellectuals, Wesley. Just put a few of them on the government payroll and send them out to preach precisely the sort of thing Mr. Kinnan mentioned: that the blame rests on the victims. Give them moderately comfortable salaries and extremely loud titles—and they’ll forget their copyrights and do a better job for you than whole squads of enforcement officers.”