Leading neoconservative (read “closet Trotskyite“) commentator Charles Krauthammer’s latest Washington Post editorial pays homage to the glory days of NASA and the retirement of the space shuttle Discovery. Titled “Farewell, the New Frontier,” the piece evokes mental images of Uncle Sam losing his international prestige as President Obama scales down NASA’s space exploration endeavors. Much like his incessant urging for war with any nation predominantly inhabited by Muslims, hypocrisy runs high from a pundit who has made a career out of denouncing big government. But then again the infatuation conservatives have with imposing democracy abroad through military occupation and financing brutal dictators has always made the National Review and Weekly Standard crowd look like laughing stocks to anyone with a slight concern for logical consistency.
For decades, the conservative movement has been an embarrassment to those who believe in true free markets, peace, and liberty. Krauthammer’s pity party over NASA is more of the same as it represents the type of economic ignorance and worship of big government that has become a predominant feature of the mainstream “right.” He writes:
As the space shuttle Discovery flew three times around Washington, a final salute before landing at Dulles airport for retirement in a museum, thousands on the ground gazed upward with marvel and pride. Yet what they were witnessing, for all its elegance, was a funeral march.
Who cares, you say? What is national greatness, scientific prestige or inspiring the young — legacies of NASA — when we are in economic distress? Okay. But if we’re talking jobs and growth, science and technology, R&D and innovation — what President Obama insists are the keys to “an economy built to last” — why on earth cancel an incomparably sophisticated, uniquely American technological enterprise?
We lament the decline of American manufacturing, yet we stop production of the most complex machine ever made by man — and cancel the successor meant to return us to orbit. The result? Abolition of thousands of the most highly advanced aerospace jobs anywhere — its workforce abruptly unemployed and drifting away from space flight, never to be reconstituted.
The state, by nature of acquiring its funds through theft, does not have the same concern for profits and loss. This renders those who carry out its operations incapable of economic calculation. In the words of Ludwigv von Mises:
There is no possible way of establishing by an objective criterion whether a district or a province is being administered well or badly, cheaply or expensively. The judgment of the activity of public officials is thus a matter of subjective, and therefore quite arbitrary, opinion. Even the question whether a particular bureau is necessary, whether it has too many or too few employees, and whether its organization is or is not suited to its purpose can be decided only on the basis of considerations that involve some element of subjectivity.
Krauthammer goes on to question the private sector’s viability in achieving profitable manned-space flight.
Nor for the private sector to get us back into orbit, as Obama assumes it will. True, hauling MREs up and trash back down could be done by private vehicles. But manned flight is infinitely more complex and risky, requiring massive redundancy and inevitably larger expenditures. Can private entities really handle that? And within the next lost decade or two?
And as this exhaustive report conducted by Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason Magazine shows, space exploration is being pursued by a number of private individuals and companies. These “Rocket Men” are interested in offering a service at a profit and not appeasing their political benefactors. Their success will be dependent solely on whether the methods and technology they utilize actually enrich the lives of others. It won’t aid in the advancement of the static bureaucracy known as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Mises pinned down the fundamental predicament massive bureaucracies like NASA long ago:
Thus, the characteristic mark of bureaucratic management is that it lacks the guidance provided by considerations of profit and loss in judging the success of its operations in relation to the expenses incurred and is consequently obliged, in the effort to compensate for this deficiency, to resort to the entirely inadequate expedient of making its conduct of affairs and the hiring of its personnel subject to a set of formal prescriptions. All the evils that are commonly imputed to bureaucratic management — its inflexibility, its lack of resourcefulness, and its helplessness in the face of problems that are easily solved in profit-seeking enterprise — are the result of this one fundamental deficiency.
We should have colonies on the moon by now, and more: We should be mining the asteroids and developing real estate on Mars. There should be active homesteading going on out there right now. As you say, the technology for doing it is fairly mature – and would be far more so if the field had been left to the private sector, which always does things faster and more efficiently than the state.