Economic Lunacy

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It is rumored that the administration is considering another flight to the moon. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, chairman of the House subcommittee on space and aeronautics, announced "The moon can be made into a major asset, rather than just providing light at night." Well, sure it could. Even someone with no real training in economics knows that assets, in our modern enlightened civilization, are debts. With that insight, the moon is a gold mine. Green cheese, indeed!

The Chinese seem to understand this too, since, according to Sen. Sam Brownback, there might even a space race between the U.S. and China, which may put its first astronaut into space soon. The Chinese, who can barely feed themselves, are going to the moon? Sure, why not? Governments create money — always as debt, of course; they can’t create wealth — so they can afford whatever interests them. The people can starve. Since when do a well fed, prosperous people bring any prestige to a government? Hungry people, on the other hand, can be made dependent on government handouts, and employed in flashy government boondoggles.

But seriously, folks, let’s consider some of the arguments for another moon jaunt that are actually proposed by people presumably having reached the age of reason, and not obviously intoxicated.

ONE: the moon can be a steppingstone to Mars. And Mars, of course, is someplace we sure would like to go! The temperature there can vary, at the same location, from 14 degrees at one time of day, to —105 at another. Better bring your long johns. And some sort of pressure suit: the atmospheric pressure there is about 1% of the earth’s. And don’t forget the oxygen: the thin atmosphere of Mars is 95% carbon dioxide, with virtually no oxygen. Can you see why it’s such a desirable destination? Forget Cancun!

TWO: OK, so Mars isn’t exactly Club Med, but it’s still important to get to the moon for mining! The Chinese believe there may be a "cheap" form of helium on the moon. And Harrison Schmitt, once a U.S. Senator and astronaut, thinks private companies might want to get their hands on that "cheap" helium as an energy source. Well, I’m not sure what a "cheap form of helium" might be, but I can guarantee you that the delivery costs will be horrendous. Guess who’ll pay them? And, just offhand, what would we do with the helium? (Establish a federal agency to look into it, I guess!)

THREE: we could set up a telescope on the moon! Honest! And then we could look at stuff. We’ve already got Hubble, of glorious reputation — a triumph of science, finally — but a lunar telescope would be even better, for such obvious reasons I won’t waste your time enumerating them.

FOUR: water! Now we’re talking! Satellite photos suggest that there may be lots of water in lunar craters, although some scientists question this. Let’s find out! We could leave our planet, whose surface is 75% water, and fly to the moon and possibly bring back a few gallons, along with some of that cheap helium, and nifty photos from that telescope.

FIVE: geology. Yep, we could take core samples from the moon and learn more about it. Scientists think that this might give them an insight into the history of the solar system. We could teach this to the kids in school, although cynics might suggest that we teach them American history, since almost none of them know much about it.

OK, so much for the reasons given by the experts. Now let’s get really serious. You’ve seen a graph of the growth of the money supply. It looks like an architect’s sketch of a skyscraper. You’ve probably also seen a graph of the national debt. It is virtually identical, which is to be expected, since the money supply IS the national debt, or vice-versa. The numbers are so large that private industry seems about ready to call it quits: no more borrowing. Believe it or not — and many do not — you cannot borrow yourself out of debt; and at some point, you stop trying. But default means no more interest payments for the money-creators, and my rough calculations put that at about a billion bucks per working day. What a shame to lose that! Besides, if, through some miracle, the debt were paid, our economic assets (debts) would disappear. The money-creators cannot allow default or repayment.

The government is always ready to step in as the borrower of last resort. Expensive as it is, the war on terrorism may not be putting enough money into circulation to keep the economy going. But the moon! Getting there is only the first gloriously expensive step. Then we’ve got to build bases, and supply them. And build that wonderful telescope, and get it there. And mine that helium. Seek out and bring back the water. Pop over to Mars, and do it all over again there!

Space exploration? No government worth its IOUs would pass it up. Buy your tickets now!

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.

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