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Subsidizing Vision
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Spirit appears to be working extremely well, while the Beagle II appears to be lost.

Some people, however, are not impressed:

Negative responses to my anti-space rantings seem to have taken three major forms. One is that I "just don't get it" and, indeed, I do not. The other is that I have bad taste in television shows. Perhaps. One gentleman seems to feel that my position is that the government should only finance things that I find entertaining. To the contrary, I think the reverse, that the government should not finance things (missions to Mars, say) simply because many people find them entertaining. True, if the government is going to finance entertainment I think they should spend the cash on entertainments I enjoy rather than space travel, but all else being equal I'll take spending on schools, health care, tax cuts, whatever before space exploration.

Ah, the old, tired, "the money would be better spent down here" argument.

I especially liked this quotation from Yglesias' comments section:

Finally, with respect to the Mars exploration program in particular, I'd quote Robert Wilson, the first director of Fermilab. When asked what high energy physics projects would contribute to the defense of the country, he said, "Absolutely nothing, except to make it worth defending."

The point is, by funding NASA, the government isn't just subsidizing basic research (though that's part of it), or entertainment (though that's part of it, too), but vision. We're collectively funding exploration that no single private enterprise could undertake, simply because there is no direct profit incentive.

The queston then becomes: Should governments invest in low-direct-yield, dangerous, experimental pursuits?

Obviously, some liberals such as Yglesias think not. Better to spend that money funding social programs. And I assume most libertarians would rather just have the tax cut option (this is one reason I'm not a libertarian, along with their views on guns and drugs).

The thing is, all major industrialized governments have space programs...China, Japan, Russia, the EU. Are they all stupid? Are they all needlessly favoring pie-in-the-sky exploration at the expense of the needs of their citizenry?

Well, most of them realize the investment in national security returns, in terms of military advances from propulsion, communication, computer, and satellite technology, and the indirect resultant national pride that comes from accomplishing something daring and difficult. And then there's simply the fundamental human impulse of curiosity...wanting to know what's over the next hill.

All that considered, it's really not that hard to get. You may still disagree with wanting your tax money to go towards it...but it's just not hard to figure out why others would.

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