Capitalism – The Key to the Stars

I have a bucket list and one of the things on my list is to stand on the surface of the Moon and look down on Earth.  You can’t die if some thing on your bucket list isn’t done right?  Robert Heinlein was the first I think to postulate that space would be better reached through corporations rather than government agencies.  I believe he was right.

Some would argue –  look the moon was reached by NASA.  My response is — did they stay there?  The answer is of course is NO.  This is very different from how a corporation or entrepreneur would have handled it.  Once they got there such corporations or individuals would have tried to figure out how staying there would generate them money.  They would have discovered something and made it happen.

Government agencies like NASA are for the most part goal driven but they have incredible difficulty redefining goals to achieve new and better results.  There is also the issue funding. A government agency is purely at the mercy of the government to fund it to a certain level.  The problem is funding can change depending on the goals of the administration involved in the government.  This can mean you can be reaching for a goal and then suddenly – Bam! – your funding as been cut and you can’t achieve your objective and have to throw out everything you have done to that point.  This is how government waste happens.

By contrast, a corporation is not  at the mercy of others in these issues.  They set their goals, get their funding and execute.  If funding runs short, the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of the people running the company come into play.  From an ethics point of view corporations are not tied down in some cases to what technologies or philosophies they can use to achieve their results.  This can be alarming to some but the fact is governments are much more concerned with how they are perceived than corporations are.  It is this freedom that will ultimately allow them to lead us to the stars.  It is the ability to create wealth and not be stuck with only one source of income that gives them this edge.

People ultimately act in their own best interests.  If it becomes the best interest of humanity to colonize other worlds, they will be colonized.  The most likely scenario is that humanity will reach out with an eye on profitability.

I hope in the near future to be standing on the moon and looking down at earth, but I strongly suspect that it will not be the NASA logo on the lunar rover that brought me to the vantage point to do so.  More than likely, it will be a corporate logo that has figured out how being on the moon is profitable.

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Lloyd Flack says:

I agree that we have to have private enterprise running transport into space before we can properly exploit it. The obstacle right now is the cost of getting into orbit. The government run space agencies seem to be in a rut. Without a clear goal of advancing exploitation of space they seem to be content to continue refining current technologies. I think it is what they are familiar with and comfortable with. They will continue on that path unless they are given a clear goal. The shuttle was an attempt at affordability and reusability that failed. I think Pournelle is right when he identifies the problems as the lack of reusability and the number of personnel required to work on the vehicles. Private enterprise is more likely to solve these problems if it has the motive.But in the immediate future what is there for it to gain that will justify the expenditure of developing the technolgy, the vehicles and the infrastructure? Private enterprise can’t put huge amounts of money into something that will only pay off in decades time if at all. It needs a reasonably quick payoff. And right now the cost of prototypes and technology development is much higher than it was for air transport.

The huge growth in air transport after the Second World War was facillitated by military spending. After the war there were huge numbers of war surplus militay transports, most of which were adaptions of airliner designs. Also huge numbers of airfields had been created during the war. These were what made the rapid exoansion of air transport after the war possible. The next stage in air transport development was also facillitated by military spending. The technolgy for the successful jet airliners was developed for the Boeing B-47 stategic bomber asn the Boeing 707 shared wings, tail and engines with the KC-135 tanker. With the large cash flow that this expansion brought about, the airlines could finance the development of high bypass engines, the development that made air travel affordable to most people.

All this would have happened wthout the military spending but it would have taken considerably longer. With space travel what will take the place of military spending to bring about the initial technology development and growth? If given a clear direction to do so government agencies can develop the technology. But what will give private enterprise the cash flow that it needs in the next few decades to develop space?

Ed Raby Sr says:

I think if you look at any movement of peoples that involved colonization or settlement, the main factor was a new start or opportunity. It was about the dream of independence and a better life. In a sense, space has already had its early explorer phase at least as far as the moon is concerned. What he haven’t had is something about going ot the moon that motivates people to want to go to it for personal gain or opportunity. The technology to do this then became a matter of necessity being the mother of invention. Heinlein offered severakl reasons to colonize the moon – research, tourism, new resources, land for settlement, etc. Once people embraced these ideas the technology happened.

The cash flow problem is an interesting question, in the Man Who Sold the Moon, the issue was selling the dream and associated “mechandising” to go with it. It actually involved a little carnival huckstering. The idea was — get them to go and stay and then the reality will find a way to be profitable. This idea is what they sold in the book. I don’t know if this would work today, but it bears looking into.

Ed Raby Sr says:

I have no doubt that when things are bleak or in crisis people come together. The problem of course is those annoying long periods of time between the crisises. In the colonization of other worlds though you need a force that can get people to want to do so. I really can’t think of a crisis that would do this other than our own world going to hell in some major way and then that crisis may make it very difficult to pull off. I am a Libertarian but I often vote Republican because I like my vote to count.

While I think that capitalism will win us the stars eventually I never underestimate the human ability to cobble together solutions through government action when the shit hits the fan. World War II comes to mind and the Apollo program of course. When given a defined goal the American people can lead their government to victory with even more enthusiasm and drive than any corporation. Americans can think and act like a team when they are given an achievable goal. That’s one of the reasons I am a Republican and not a Libertarian. I believe in Team America.