• NASA: Exemplary of Government Waste

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    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, u201Cshould the United
    States citizens continue to pay for such a costly program?u201D In the
    end, it is always the citizenry who pays. Nave 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.

    NASA has
    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.

    NASA, like
    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.

    In addition,
    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.

    The President’s
    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 solution
    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.

    In order
    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 summation,
    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
    dismantle NASA.

    20, 2006

    Villacampa [send him mail] is a sophomore in economics
    at the University of Florida and summer fellow at the Mises Institute.

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