Space Age Stimulus
by Benjamin Studebaker
Over the last few months, a few things have happened that have put space exploration on my mind:
- Newt Gingrich proposed a lunar colony
- NASA sent a new rover to Mars
- Neil Armstrong died
As a result, space exploration’s political implications are the topic of today’s post.
When Gingrich proposed that lunar colony, both the political left and the political right were quick to dismiss it as impractical. Here’s what a few people said:
We run a $1.2 trillion deficit right now … and to go out there and promise great things and big ideas is not a responsible thing…we have to start cutting programs
I don’ think we should go to the moon… think maybe we should send some politicians up there sometimes … I don’t think we need a bigger [space] program. Health care or something else deserves a lot more priority than going to the moon.
I was in business for 25 years, if I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion to put a colony on the moon, I’d say, ‘You’re fired’
A moon base?! Your solution to being accused of grandiosity is ‘give me eight years and I’ll have have a f*cking moon base’?! Did you start with Death Star and got kind of reined in?
I do not have the engineering expertise to judge whether Gingrich’s plan was feasible in his time frame or if it even was the next logical step in humanity’s exploration of space. I do however recognise that this gut dismissal reflected poorly on American civilisation. There has been a lowering of ambitions in the United States. The country that once built the transcontinental railroad, the interstate highways, the Panama Canal, and put a man on the moon no longer even gives serious consideration to difficult or arduous projects. This is a shame, because such projects have historically been the engine of American economic growth and superiority. Superior infrastructure, superior technology, superior science–these are the engines of growth and development in the modern world. The internet attests to the wide variety of technologies contributed to or developed by NASA. Yet, these days, the United States has no desire to invest in itself, with both major political parties consumed with the notion that the size of public debt is too big, and cuts are needed.
Regular readers recall that the chicken little style fear-mongering about the size of American debt and deficits has little basis in reality, with interest rates on government debt under 2%, frequently running even below the inflation rate. At the same time, we have hard evidence that the economy is facing demand-side problems that can be ameliorated with stimulus spending, as both interest rates and inflation rates remain simultaneously very low.
In addition to health care, earth-based science, education, infrastructure, and all the other areas in which the United States could benefit substantially in the process of stimulating its economy, there is certainly a case to be made for more funding for space exploration. Only declining nations abandon investing in themselves and in their people in favour of retrenchment.
Historians sometimes make note of Ming Chinese explorer Zheng He’s voyages of exploration, in which America was discovered by the Chinese decades before Columbus set sail, in what is often estimated as 1421. However, these voyages of exploration were drawn to a close in 1433 due to a belief that they were too expensive and too unproductive. The Americas consequently went uncolonised by China, opening the door to the first age of European imperialism. The immense wealth and technological advancement gained by the Europeans in the course of their conquests gave them a decisive advantage over the oriental nations, China included. Those advantages were eventually used to subdue China via the Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion, accelerating the decline of imperial China.
The Chinese financial concerns may have well been real, and the end of the exploration may well have been unavoidable for 15th century China, but it is certainly avoidable for the United States, which has fictionalised itself a debt crisis in the face of strong evidence to the contrary.
I would hope that, having seen some of the spectacular discoveries of the Mars rover and having been reminded of past American scientific successes through the unfortunate death of Neil Armstrong, the United States would begin contemplating new and superior ways to increase the pace of space exploration, even at high financial cost. Space spending is stimulus spending in the short term, and in the long term it is an investment in American technological advancement.
Woe unto Western civilisation if, instead, it chooses to follow Ming China down a path of fiduciary fear when securing the future remains within reach. There’s an old saying I find appropriate–“you’ve got to spend money to make money”. America, let’s make some money.
Stewart on Gingrich:
End of Ming Exploration: