Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ex Nihilo, Ad Nihilo?

Seven hundred billion dollars:,2933,425663,00.html

Wow. And I was raising hell earlier about $85 billion? Heck with that. The Latin translation of "Let there be light" is Fiat lux. Without explaining where the light came from (the Big Bang?), the statement simply means that a higher power has called something into being, and it was so.

Along similar lines, "fiat money" means that a higher power (in this case, the government) has said, "Let there be money," and lo, there is money. However, financial reality doesn't quite work that way. The federal budget is already bumping up against $3 trillion. This bail-out of financial institutions will kick it up around $4 trillion, or higher. Where's the money going to come from? There are a few possibilities: the government will print more money, the government will raise taxes, or both. This will make the dollar worth even less than the high-tech fibrous stuff it's printed on. Actually, my buddy Karl pointed out that it's probably been that way for awhile.

Just to put this foolishness back into space terms (I can do little else): in 1989, NASA proposed the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) architecture to Congress. It would have created a massive in-space infrastructure for building and maintaining spacecraft in orbit; built a permanent base on the Moon; and built a massive interplanetary vehicle for sending astronauts to explore and establish an outpost on Mars. The total price tag was $450 billion over 30 years! Congress choked, laughed, and told NASA "Fuhgeddaboudit!" They weren't going to pay that much for a 30-year space program, no way. Not worth it.

Now look at us. The government has just committed to spending nearly twice as much in a single day. For $700 billion, we could probably build a string of solar power satellites around the Earth; free ourselves of petroleum; build Discovery-class vehicles to explore the moons of Jupiter; design, test, and build a reusable launch vehicle; and build and launch the first interstellar probe, in addition to the current space program and the $450 billion program mentioned above. And we're using that money to do--what? Bail out a few banks? It's absurd and it's obscene. one of those banks MINE? Maybe. I don't even know. I haven't heard that it's having trouble. But good Lord, where does it stop? One must ask where all this heading: socialism, fascism, or something worse? Ayn Rand states the differences between the two succinctly:

The main characteristic of socialism (and of communism) is public ownership of the means of production, and, therefore, the abolition of private property. The right to property is the right of use and disposal. Under fascism, men retain the semblance or pretense of private property, but the government holds total power over its use and disposal. . . .

So what does one make of a federal "bailout" (takeover) of a large chunk of the economy--in fact, many of the very financial institutions that keep the economy working? That certainly constitutes public ownership, and hence a diminution of private property. However, we also theoretically still hold to the pretense of private property until we screw up in some fashion; then the government claims the right to take over and dispose of someone's property if they use it in a way that does not meet with the government's approval (e.g. building houses on "wetlands" or in places that are home to endangered species).

Or, rather than use politically loaded terms like socialism or fascism, we might as well say that the welfare state has just run amok. And who is willing or able to stop it? After all, it might be YOUR oxen that need rescue from goring next time--we mustn't upset the system. But really now: if the government can conjure up that kind of money ex nihilo (out of nothing), wouldn't it be nice if that money at least didn't GO ad nihilo (toward nothing)?

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