The pernicious influence of this 'Federal technical complex' has led to an entire generation of scientists who believe that the only credible source of funding must be the federal government.
Actually, none of us really believe that. In fact, most of us would love to have more options than crawling back to the NIH every five years, and would also prefer not to worry about whether the hacks in DC will fuck everything up for us. The problem is that the governments really are the largest source of funding and there are limited prospects to replace that. Wealthy philanthropists are great but it's hard to find enough of those to shell out the equivalent of the NIH budget. Companies are rarely interested in spending money on anything they can't turn into a product in the shortest possible amount of time - in the life sciences, only a tiny handful of them do anything resembling "basic research".
The comparison to the "solitary inventor" of the past is irrelevant, because up until recently you didn't need much technology to make some pretty important discoveries. Unfortunately, as science advances, each incremental discovery tends to require steadily greater investments in equipment and infrastructure, which creates a huge barrier to entry. Additionally, the body of knowledge is so immense that it takes years to acquire the technical knowledge to tackle most research projects independently.