What is the Objectivist stance on the moon landing and project Apollo? I know even AR had a bit of a mixed message on it: on one hand I think she abhorred the idea of government projects funded by taxpayers that stepped outside the "proper" roles of government. On the other hand, it was clear to see that she really admired the Apollo astronauts and the tour de force of American ingenuity that Apollo represented.
What do you think of large projects like Apollo that had very little to do with capitalist profit and were done for [what I would contend is one of the most dangerous] statist motivations: national prestige? Would man have landed on the moon if it were not for "public good" programs like Apollo ? Would objectivists prefer that man have restricted himself to the purely profitable ventures in space like, perhaps satellite communications and maybe defense-related projects like GPS?
Aside: it is really encouraging to see companies like Scaled Composites and SpaceX creating a space business in front of our eyes so perhaps we will see the answer to my question in our own time although I think these companies are thinking about orbital space vs. deep space.
asked Sep 04 '11 at 12:31
Praise the technical achievement and bravery; condemn the government involvement. It's really that simple.
As much as many of us look to the Apollo missions as examples of heroic ingenuity and courage, we should also recognize the immense violation of property rights and waste of capital that the Apollo missions represent.
Yes, some practical inventions came out of the space program (not Teflon, actually) -- whenever a difficult problem is solved, there are many sub-problems which get solved the solutions of which may find another application. But this is not an excuse to commit untold private wealth to a goal which private industry would not yet rationally choose to pursue.
Because NASA existed, many unseen great and useful things did not come into existence which would have. People always focus on the technical benefit of NASA, ignoring its drain on industry.
Now that NASA is gone, we are finally seeing companies like Virgin Galactic come into existence. Without NASA, however, these companies would have been on the scene sooner. Some may argue that NASA set an example of the possible, leading the way for private space flight. I disagree. Private industry does not first need an example funded by confiscation. It only needs confidence that government will not impede private progress, or confiscate capital.
It's like public schooling. While government schools exist, confiscating capital and drawing away customers who would otherwise pay for a quality product, private schools languish. Government programs are wasteful. Private industry survives by its own efficiency.
But still, there are those who argue: "Government funding can achieve things which private industry cannot." That's because government literally has a license to steal, while private industry must earn its capital by demonstrating the value (i.e. profitability) of every business venture.
Just remember that everything that government "achieves" is at the expense of a greater amount of private achievement. Rushing a technical advancement by means of government funding does to an economy what a war does: it forces people to specialize in the government's priority, at the expense of what would be their own ambitions. And when the war is over, everyone must adjust, and rediscover his own priorities -- i.e. find a personal, profitable, peacetime economic goal.
Do not celebrate the power of collective funding. Mourn, instead, the unborn private greatness which NASA has prevented.
"Would Objectivists prefer that man have restricted himself to the purely profitable ventures in space . . ." "Restricted," here, is a poorly chosen word. The restriction goes in the exact reverse direction: forced funding of NASA constituted a genuine restriction on private ambition. To imply that NASA "freed" man to pursue a non-profit space venture is to give freedom a bad name.
answered Sep 05 '11 at 09:47
John Paquette ♦
As to your question: "What do you think of large projects like Apollo that had very little to do with profit, and were done for statist motivations?"
Apollo is a bit tricky, in that one can argue that you have to get to space for military defense. Certainly the Apollo program spawned a lot of top secret military space missions, which were necessary to defend against the Russians doing the same.... That said, "big science" projects are always a boondoggle. For multiple reasons. But a common argument made in their defense is "the private sector wouldn't do them." Ostensibly because they are too expensive, and not immediately profitable. The irony however, is that just because they are too expensive today, doesn't mean they'll be too expensive tomorrow.
If you look at the history of big science in my lifetime, this bears itself out in numerous examples.
Apollo, We are now getting to space commercially. it would have happened a lot sooner except for the NASA monopoly on space.
Hubble Space Telescope: Adaptive Optics is a technique that is making most earth based optical observatories competitive with Hubble.
Cyclotrons: Femto Second pulse lasers are online now, which means physicists can do experiments in their offices now, that 30 years ago required huge cyclotrons to perform.
Mapping the human genome. Nothing more to say on that one.
answered Sep 09 '11 at 22:52
John Hoffman ♦