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This week has brought us new images from Mars, as NASA’s latest mission gets underway on the red planet. While a few media pundits are reporting on the mission’s progress, not a single one is soliciting or encouraging debate on the existence of the agency itself.
Students of government know perfectly well the truth of the following maxim uttered by the pre-presidential Ronald Reagan:
No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth! (Ronald Reagan, via Quoty)
Since its inception, so-called leaders in government have been quite fond of this un-Constitutional agency. NASA’s $17 billion annual budget is a taxpayer black hole of astronomical proportions, providing scientists with the resulting bounty of legalized theft. Max Raskin eloquently portrayed the NASA problem thusly:
Is there really anything incredible about giving billions of dollars to a bunch of rocket scientists and telling them to have fun? It doesn’t take the aforementioned rocket scientist to know that people behave differently when they aren’t spending their own money. They will take unnecessary risks, pay themselves greater salaries, and have no way of verifying whether what they are doing is cost-effective. Private entrepreneurs who actually have to work for their money and convince others of the worthiness of their endeavors are much more honorable. They do not rely on the the coercive arm of government and do not force others to subsidize their mistakes.
And it is this system of private enterprise that the government discourages most. When the government taxes income, it taxes success. When the government prevents competition, it prevents progress. When the government regulates, it discourages innovation.
The billions of dollars that get funneled into the black hole that is NASA are siphoned off from the productive private sector. However interesting one finds space travel, one must recognize that forcing other people to pay for one’s interests and hobbies is wrong.
Raskin notes here the economic malfeasance taking place at the bidding of federal officials. Any intervention by central planners (namely, government officials) to alter the economy stifles progress and rewards those who are politically favored by the current establishment. Incompetence is thus allowed and rewarded, and the drive for innovation at the heart of all entrepreneurial endeavors becomes extinct.
But ethical issues aside, is NASA a waste of money?
Certainly there are positive results from NASA’s taxpayer-funded ventures. We have learned a great deal about the universe, and have been presented with many (hopefully not Photoshopped!) photos of celestial bodies. But despite the apparent rewards, it is impossible to ignore the heavy burden imposed upon citizens of this country. I can think of plenty of better ways to spend $17 billion this year, can’t you?
The argument always made in favor of any policy or department created by our elected leaders is just that—we’ve elected these people through the democratic process, so if we don’t like what they’re doing, we’re free to vote them out of office. This concept, though, is intellectually and Constitutionally hollow; we do not have a democracy, nor are our leaders entitled to pass whatever laws they choose. Though the vast majority ignore and abuse it, our elected leaders have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution, which gives our federal branches of government enumerated (specific and limited) powers. This means that even if every single official in Congress was in favor of NASA, it is still illegal (since the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, as we all learned in school) to allow the federal government to have anything to do with it.
Spare me all the platitudes of exploring God’s creations, learning more about ourselves and our planet’s history, and propelling humanity into the future. Any defense of a government-run space agency holds no water unless authority for such an initiative can be demonstrated. Instead, common sense and history both teach us that private enterprise will always succeed far better than any government-created enterprise, and at far less of an expense.
Is the knowledge we’ve gained about our neighboring galaxies really worth $17 billion annually? Perhaps. Is it worth taking $17 billion in taxes from U.S. citizens each year by force? Absolutely not.