October 27, 2014 by Liberty
In 1969, the United States government produced one of the most interesting pro-government arguments in history. Apollo 11 landed on the moon less than a decade after John F. Kennedy announced America’s plan. The United States government made something happen that many regular citizens thought would be completely impossible. It seemed like a technology that could change the world.
Sure, government had previously created massive new technological innovations but very few of them seemed positive. The nuclear bomb may have been an amazing invention but everyone could see the blatant problem with the invention. (“Hey guys, I got this awesome invention that can kill lots of people!”) It’s hard to say that the nuclear bomb was a positive invention without a long argument back and forth.
The moon landing on the other hand… Who could possibly say that’s a bad thing? Well… I can. Not only that but I find it to be a great example of why government can’t ever progress science in any meaningful way.
Economic Value Of Subsidized Science
The Apollo project has been estimated to cost 25 billion dollars. In terms of GDP (about ½ a percent) this is not a particularly massive amount but you need to keep in mind that this 25 billion dollars could have been used for other pursuits (like feeding starving children.) That’s just talking about the dollars though. Think about the ridiculous percentage of astronauts that died during the space race too. Not only that, but NASA ended up overpaying for the absolute smartest engineers in our country to do this. For everything good they did for the moon landing, they could have been productively improving something more useful. These were some of the brightest minds available. No, the moon landing was not productive.
There have been virtually no financially viable innovations from that 25 billion dollars. Instead of focusing on useful innovations like making space programs practical for the free market, they focused on short term discoveries that don’t encourage more space pursuits in the future. Sure, it’s great to land a man on the moon but that’s 25 billion dollars for a few intellectually interesting ideas that aren’t even close to as valuable as the lives lost. Instead of using it for economically practical pursuits we used it to prove we were better than the communists.
By the way, what has NASA done since?
This is all to be expected though.
If the space race were economically viable, government’s would not have been the one doing it. Private companies would have already been exploring outer space. The government doesn’t have to worry about economics in the things it does. It receives its funding from taxpayers whether it provides value or not. The only real value it needs to provide is an illusion of power. In the space race that illusion of power was over the Soviet Union.
Progress To Progressing
You might be thinking, “Sure, it’s not economically viable now but when government learns something new, it becomes economically viable in the future faster. That’s the point of government funding.”
Of course, that overlooks the nature of the free market. Economics counts that. There are plenty of people with plenty of money to produce just about any progress desired. If people thought pursuing a moon landing was going to be economically viable in the future after a huge investment, they’d be able to put the money in themselves through investors. Are those people magically dumber than the elected officials? But could investors raise 25 billion?
Sure, 25 billion is probably not a practical amount for any average millionaire or entrepreneur but it was possible even in 1969. Someone could have made it happen if there was economic viability. That being said, let’s pretend it’s an impossibly large amount.
Even if government would be needed to get a man on the moon, it would not be in line with the rest of technology. It would just be one minuscule step in one narrow range of technology. No, the government did not figure out how humans could inhabit the moon. No, the didn’t discover anything major. They just launched a rocket with people on it and got them back. Despite that small discovery, the free market of science could not use that technology productively even decades after. Science is just now using that technology to try and do interesting things with space travel.
Science in the free market plods along dragging old technologies with it. When one discovery is made, it’s made, usually, because it’s economically viable. Since it’s economically viable when it’s discovered. That discovery can be used to progress other scientific pursuits.
For an odd example, the moon landing was kind of like discovering how to make an electric toaster before you knew how to use electricity. (Maybe using a lightning rod.) Sure, it’s wonderful but until you figure that electricity thing out, it’s pointless. Electricity was figured out first. Then, as people mastered that technology and it became cheaper, more people could incorporate it into new areas of life.
The First Generation Of Government Programs
As a slight tangent, NASA is also a great example of what happens in just about every government program. When NASA started, it had the resources to hire the best and brightest engineers around. All these engineers previously worked in the free market. That’s absolutely essential to NASA’s early success.
These genius engineers were trained to work hard like they needed to be productive to stay in business. That led to them coming up with some pretty amazing results. Over time though, the bureaucracy kills even the smartest minds. Layer after layer of this bureaucracy is added every year. Eventually, NASA is, instead of an exciting place to work, just a good place to pay the bills despite the problems.
A certain amount of freedom is required for people to make innovations. Government eventually buries all that freedom. From that day forward, instead of actually making progress, people are too busy talking about progress and avoiding risks. While a free market company would go out of business, when a government program starts showing no results, it just gains more funding. That provides even more incentive for the people in charge to stifle progress.
Science cannot be helped by government. If anything, the government’s funding of scientific pursuits just steals intelligent people from private companies that actually plan on doing something good for the world.
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