January 21, 2004

Mission Priorities


FoxNews reported yesterday: Analysts Debate Costs of Bush Space Vision.

Now, I love the idea of space exploration as much as the next nerd. But there are at least two problems with President Bush's proposal to put men on Mars. The most important is, as the cartoon suggests, that the government is already charged with a crucial mission: the War on Terrorism. Just think how far $1 billion would go toward equipment and weapons that make our soldiers safer and more effective. This is not just a matter of quibbling over who should get government largess. It's a matter of what is appropriate for the government to do, and protecting us from our enemies should be its only priority -- particularly after 9/11.

The second problem with Bush's plan is that it is a basically socialism for space companies. A mission to Mars should be a private venture. If there are enough investors for such an idea, then it will not need government handouts. Certainly a private initiative would be more efficient than a government one. For an examination of how a private, capitalistic Mars venture might work, see Ron Pisaturo's op-ed Mars: Who Should Own It.

It has often been said, even by vocal proponents of free enterprise who claim to hate government subsidies, that while private citizens are good at settling or homesteading, the government is good at exploring. They argue that we have always needed the government to do the exploring, to pave the way for the private settlers. My reply is: Recognize private property for exploring, and you will see that private citizens make better explorers than do government employees. [...]

As a capitalist and a lover of technology, I judge the Nasa space program and a Nasa mission to Mars to be morally a far better government expenditure than welfare-state programs such as Medicare, public housing projects, etc. At least NASA is creating something of value that benefits all Americans, instead of just taking money from producers and giving it away to non-producers. And I idolize American astronauts and NASA engineers for their heroic achievements. But we will never know what these same heroic achievers would have accomplished if NASA had been a private company with a chance to own the moon -- and if all the money the government spent on NASA had remained in the hands of private citizens and had been invested in other equally heroic ventures that we will never know about; we will never know about these other ventures because they were not allowed to happen -- because the money needed to finance them was taken from their rightful owners.

Posted by Forkum at January 21, 2004 07:55 AM