NASA: Exemplary of Government Waste
by Alexander Villacampa
It is quickly
becoming the natural state of affairs that citizens are no longer
working for themselves but are instead laboring in order to fill
the greedy coffers of the State. Most individuals in the United
States have about half of their yearly income taken away by the
government and this percentage is steadily growing. A majority of
the citizenry may believe that these funds are being funneled into
important social projects but in fact most of this wealth is simply
wasted by opportunist politicians and bureaucrats. There are an
endless number of government programs that would increase the wealth
and productivity of the citizenry if they were only dismantled.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), with a
requested 2007 budget of almost $17 billion, is a government program
that is nothing short of wasteful.
claim that a majority of NASA's funding is spent on the exploration
of new useful technologies. The citizenry views the government as
an entity that can fund and perform research in order to uncover
technologies that would be beneficial to the market. There is no
reason to believe that corporations, with patent laws in place,
would not be more than willing to research more efficient ways of
creating products. Yet, even if it were the case that government
research in technology was necessary or beneficial, NASA is funding
scientific studies that are far from useful to the market. Much
of NASA's funding is spent directly on extraterrestrial initiatives
that study the solar system, space exploration, and methods of improving
shuttle performance. It is also a myth that NASA created such technologies
as Velcro, Tang and those famous memory-cell mattresses. In reality,
the maker of Velcro was a private engineer with a bright idea, Tang
was created by the General Foods Corporation, and the Tempur-Pedic
company developed those memory-cell mattresses for use on NASA flights.
These were all private initiatives and not outcomes of NASA’s technological
research efforts. To their credit, NASA did develop freeze-dried
ice cream but who likes those things anyway? NASA dedicates over
two-thirds of its budget to space exploration and extraterrestrial
research. The government agency has spent close to $150 billion
dollars simply on the shuttle program, which calculates to about
$1.3 billion per launch. This is a decent sum considering that the
space shuttle program was sold to the taxpayers as only costing
$5.5 million per launch. The question then arises, “should the United
States citizens continue to pay for such a costly program?” In the
end, it is always the citizenry who pays. Naïve individuals may
believe that the Federal government has an endless spring of wealth
from which it draws in order to fund its operations, but this is
not the case.
continuously let down the United States citizens and is nothing
but a wastebasket into which the government throws our hard-earned
wealth. The NASA shuttle tragedies are an outright shame, not only
because of the precious lives lost, but also due to the immense
cost of these shuttles. The costs of these space ventures are steep
and the rewards reaped from these explorations are close to nil.
The Mars Observer, that was lost in 1993, cost the taxpayers nearly
$1 billion dollars. What the government can not understand is the
profit and loss mechanism that is so ingrained into the market.
Private entrepreneurs produce goods in a way that minimizes costs
in order to obtain a high profit margin. Government programs, such
as NASA, continuously spend without giving any benefit to the public.
One may say that the simple existence of shuttle programs are a
psychological benefit to society but this does not justify the coercive
collection of taxes from citizens who may or may not be willing
to donate to such a program. When government collects tax revenue,
it does not allocate the funds to where citizens demand but instead
the funds are spent where politicians desire. Not to mention the
fact that much of this funding is lost in the shuffle between citizen
and program and wind up in the golden pockets of pork-barrelers.
all government programs, becomes increasingly less efficient as
time goes by and its purpose becomes less clear. The space shuttle
programs may have once accomplished significant scientific discoveries
but this is no longer evident. In addition, the social reward of
these programs, regardless of what scientific feats they accomplished,
are to be measured by a cost-profit analysis and not arbitrary merit.
NASA's space exploration programs have continued to fail and this
is only understandable to those aware of the lack of incentives
present in the public sector. Government, unlike the capitalist
market, has little incentive to strive for successful output and
may often times overlook the many systematic failures present in
the execution of these programs. The public sector inherently has
less of an economic incentive to keep costs low and profits high.
NASA knows that funding will continue, at least for the coming year,
and pushes on promises rather than accomplishments in order to receive
funding. On the other hand, the private sector functions on accomplishments,
the achievement of its goals, and keeping costs at a minimum while
maximizing profits. The failure of the NASA program is inevitably
tied to the fact that it is not a private company; it has much less
of an economic incentive than those companies that are furthest
away from the government’s grasp.
the current President, with a projected 2007 fiscal budget of $2.8
trillion, has shown no sign that the government will decrease spending
in the near future. President Bush stated on June 16, 2004 that
we will explore
space to improve our lives and lift our national spirit. Space
exploration is also likely to produce scientific discoveries in
fields from biology to physics, and to advance aerospace and a
host of other industries. This will help create more highly skilled
jobs, inspire students and teachers in math and science, and ensure
that we continue to benefit from space technology, which has already
brought us important improvements.
hopes are sadly misplaced, there is no evidence proving that NASA
funds improve technologies in any marketable industries. Any jobs
produced by NASA funding will simply be a misallocation of labor.
It should be up to the market, with its profit and loss mechanisms,
to decide were labor should be properly allocated including the
labor of highly skilled scientists. In addition, $17 billion dollars
should not be arbitrarily spent in order to "lift our national spirit"
through space exploration but should instead be given back to the
taxpayers and allow them to lift their own spirits with the wealth.
the problem of NASA overspending and endless mishaps is, like all
government programs, privatization. If the citizenry, through the
market process, find it profitable to invest and consume products
that are tied to space exploration, so be it. In such a scenario
no individual is forced to pay for products that continuously fail
to meet their expectations. In addition, private companies that
take on the task of space exploration will be doing so at a profit
and trying to minimize cost. This is significantly different from
the wasteful practices of government and public sector programs.
Whenever costs outweigh profits, precious resources have been wasted
in the production of that good or service. In the private sector,
entrepreneurs quite literally pay the price for having misused resources
and the costs will cut into the entrepreneur’s income. If this occurs,
either changes are to be made in order to cut costs or the entrepreneur
will need to shut down the business. When public sector industries
waste resources, often times no direct harm is done to their ability
to continue the misuse of funding. Any punishment comes down from
the legislature and usually comes with multi-millions of dollars
in addition funding. It is a time-proven fact that when a private
sector company fails, they go out of business yet if a public sector
industry fails, they get additional funding.
to save the taxpayer from having to pay the increasing costs of
a hopeless space exploration program, simply disband NASA and allow
the market to decide if such practices are needed in society. If
the market decides that these services are in fact desired then
it will take hold of these projects while trying to reduce the use
of valuable resources. This is becoming evident in the success of
SpaceShipOne’s flight in 2004. SpaceShipOne showed the world that
the market can do marvelously what NASA has, time and time again,
continuously failed to accomplish. The success of SpaceShipOne also
spurred the creation of another private space exploration program,
Virgin Galactic, that intends to send private individuals into space.
Currently, the price of travel into space with Virgin Galactic is
$200,000. That is right, $200,000. Not only is Virgin not doing
this at a cost (if they were it would quickly fail) but they are
allowing private individuals to take part in an experience that
was only granted to government scientists. In addition, the risk
of these spacecrafts will, in time, diminish as corporations feel
an increasing need to secure their customers or else suffer heavy
loses. Safety is a hefty concern for individuals who are risking
their lives and money in order to partake in an emerging industry.
Space shuttles Columbia and Challenger illustrate that even though
NASA engineers might only want the best for its passengers, safety
has not been such a prime concern as to prevent any of these tragic
moments from occurring.
in order to roll back the growing tide of government spending, the
most wasteful programs must be cut first. What is needed from such
public sector failures as NASA is not increased funding and wasteful
behavior but full privatization. Only when this occurs will resources
be used efficiently, will there be increased emphasis on consumer
safety on extraterrestrial flights, and an end to the coercive sequestering
of funds from taxpayers to prop up a failed program. It is time
to put the industry of space exploration to the ultimate test: that
of the market economy. The market, not the government, will be the
true decider as to the existence of such an industry. It seems that
the market is declaring that space exploration can be not only profitable
but safe. If this is so, then so be it; it might be possible one
day for all citizens to afford flights into the far reaches of space.
What is important is to allow consumers, not bureaucrats, to decide
where precious resources should go. It is time to end the government
finance of wasteful public space exploration and to forevermore
Villacampa [send him mail] is a sophomore in economics
at the University of Florida and summer fellow at the Mises Institute.
© 2006 LewRockwell.com