22 October 2008

Who cares about the space race?

What [President Eisenhower] hadn't seen was the way his enemies and vested interests within the aerospace industry and military would be able to use Sputnik as a stick to beat him with. Throughout the Cold War, fear of communism had been exploited less by governments than by self-serving minor politicians and bureaucrats like Senator Joseph McCarthy and the Machiavellian FBI director J. Edgar Hoover.... Moon Dust, Andrew Smith (page 130)
It's all too easy for events to be used and abused to derail governments - under the current system. Whether the fear of the USSR or communism was genuine or not, it provided a pretext for the diversion of prodigious quantities of US government funding into its space programme. And whatever one thinks of the value of that programme, there's little doubt that the US people were not consulted about the reallocation of scarce resources:
It is sometimes argued that concealing the development of high tech industry under the cover of "defense" has been a valuable contribution to society. Those who do not share that contempt for democracy might ask what decisions the population would have made if they had been informed of the real options and allowed to choose among them. Perhaps they might have preferred more social spending for health, education, decent housing, a sustainable environment for future generations...as polls regularly show. Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy, Noam Chomsky
Space exploration became an end in itself - for the US Government. One huge advantage of Social Policy Bonds over the current system is the clarity it demands about ends and means. Another is the stability of those ends over long periods of time. Under a bond regime, if there were consensus that, say, the eradication of poverty had a higher priority than moonshots, then fears of losing the 'space race' would miss out, at least when it came to public sector funding. The continual chopping and changing of government means and ends, with their different and ever-changing priorities, is one reason why, in the richest societies that have ever existed, poverty, illiteracy, crime and homeless remain.

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