July 21, 2009

Commies in Space

In a column at LRC yesterday, ?Why I Missed Armstrong?s Walk on the Moon,? Gary North writes something provocative, contrarian, and, some would say, downright ?un-American?:

The “put a man on the moon in this decade” program was the most spectacular and most beloved peacetime boondoggle in the history of bloated government programs. It achieved nothing of lasting value for the taxpayers?nothing that they would have paid for voluntarily.

The Apollo program was funded by tax money extracted from Americans who would otherwise have spent their money on unmemorable goods and services. These goods and services would have been higher on their list of priorities than the Apollo project. That is why it took coercion to fund the program.

The Apollo project was like a huge fireworks display. It was impressive at the time, but it is long gone. Even the tapes of the event are long gone. NASA erased them. No one knows why. What we see today are enhanced versions of video broadcasts.

To assess the value of the moon program, we should apply Fr?d?ric Bastiat’s principle of the fallacy of the thing not seen. ? Americans with television sets saw the first moon walk. What no one saw were the products and services that would have been offered for sale from 1961 to 1969, had the government not taxed the public to fund the moon program. What inventions would have been discovered? We cannot know.

This inherent and inescapable ignorance regarding the paths not taken subsidizes all government programs. Voters do not count the costs of these projects because they do not count the costs of the benefits foregone.

A program is objective and visible. “There it stands!” The costs are subjective, scattered across the entire taxpaying population, and ignored. In the government’s cost-benefit analysis, there are no costs worth counting. There is only the grand collective benefit offered by the government: “There it stands.”
Unless, like the I-35 bridge in Minnesota, it collapses.

The fallacy of the thing not seen makes the moon program look like a net positive value in retrospect. We can view the enhanced but unofficial images of a salaried bureaucrat walking on the moon.

And so on.

Obviously, red-blooded, die-hard American nationalists like Tom Piatak and Pat Buchanan wouldn?t have much use for such an argument. But I must admit, there?s much to it I find myself agreeing with. An interesting thought experiment would be to imagine what we?d have today in terms of intergalactic travel and exploration if NASA hadn?t acquired its state-sponsored monopoly on space. It?s likely that commercial trips to the rings of Saturn would be commonplace and mounds of new books would have been written on the structure of the universe. As things stand now, NASA has become a bloated bureaucracy, launching dangerous and unnecessary missions in spacecrafts that haven?t been updated since the Nixon administration.

All this being said, the Apollo landing was ?an achievement??a goal was set and individuals collaborated to reach it. And it?s unlikely the American government will achieve anything remotely as spectacular as a moonwalk again, not simply due to the inherent inefficiencies of bureaucracy but also the regnant religion of our age?multiculturalism.
As Tom writes,

[The Apollo astronauts] were selected to go into space for the simple reason that they were the best men for the job, a criterion that today is often no longer enough, as Frank Ricci discovered. Today?s NASA seems as interested in trumpeting its commitment to multiculturalism and diversity as in the exploration of space, a commitment that would have struck the men who actually planned and achieved multiple landings on the moon as simply irrelevant to what they were doing.


Over at NRO, Derb chimes in,

Forty years on, multiculturalism and diversity are irrelevant to nothing whatsoever. They are the very first things that must be addressed in the planning of any project, the formulation of any policy. We all know that.

In relation to Gary North?s piece, two relevant political aphorisms come to mind.

? The first,?The Germans?they could make even socialism work.?
? The second is a warning Milton Friedman gave us in 1997, “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.”

The German Democratic Republic was an absolute abomination in terms of its Kafka-esque maze of an economy as well as the state?s disregard for property rights and basic human dignity. But as miserable and backward as the GDR was, it was still a functioning nation-state, one that, without question, would have eventually collapsed, but which was still chugging along (if just barely) when a series of left-wing protests in Leipzig and Hungary?s decision to dismantle its section of the Iron Curtain unexpectedly led to a Drang nach Westen and a national re-awakening. 

Put another way, in East Germany, the inefficiencies and mal-incentives of socialism went up against the Protestant Work Ethic, and the PWE pulled out a squeaker. As bad as it was, the old GDR had the asset of the German nation, which allowed the wretched Commies who ran the place to enjoy a country that was more productive and more socially ordered than a great many other free nations, including Liberia, blessed as it is with a ?democratic? constitution that?s a near replica of the United States?. The East Germans were even able to get Sigmund J?hn in space in 1978!

All this bodes poorly for the United States, whose economy is becoming more like the GDR?s and its population more like Brazil?s.

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