Sunday, April 19, 2009

Space Potpourri

I consider this entry from the Space Cynics important reading. Here's the most important part, from a space perspective or a political economy perpsective:

The reason I decided to show this here is not to engage in a “who can spend more like a drunken sailor on shore leave” debate between the righties and the lefties - since both parties have long since given up any semblance of fiscal conservatism, proving once again that the old saying:
“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse (generous gifts) from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy….”

The reader comments afterward also provide good food for thought. When the federal budget balloons to an absurd $3 trillion and human space exploration receives a comparative pittance ($400 million--about the price of a fully-loaded A380), you quickly get the hint that space is not a priority. Most of that money is going toward domestic spending--that is to buy votes--your votes. If you're kept fat and happy through largesse from the treasury, you might not notice that you yourself are paying for that largesse through higher taxes, a weaker dollar, a weaker economy, and slower technological progress.

I return to the analysis I made of a book by W. D. Kay, Can Democracies Fly in Space?, while in grad school. He closed the book by repeating the title question and then answering, "It depends on how badly they want to." Of course Kay completely dismissed the idea of a libertarian, business-focused space effort, but then the book was written in 1995, well before the current round of "New Space" entrepreneurs started working. But Kay's thesis was based entirely on the notion that only national governments can afford to go into space, a premise I heartily challenge. Also, a national space program, as we have seen, has political constraints that businesses do not. Businesses exist to make a profit, that's it. A government-funded program has to justify its existence year after year in a partisan environment where much larger and more expensive concerns are being debated, like war, health care, and (now) business "bailouts."

Maybe I need to go to bed. Reading and thinking about all this is a little too discouraging to read the day before Monday. Ciao.

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