Musings on Everything

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Posts Tagged ‘money

On Space

So, yesterday, exactly 40 years ago, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed an asymmetrical lump of sheet-thin metal and rocket fuel on the Moon. Their first steps in that gray dust were watched by 450 million people worldwide. Let’s put that into perspective. The global population at the time was 3.63 billion. That means 12.4% of the world tuned in to watch this broadcast. That’s something amazing. Almost as amazing as the fact that there were two guys in spacesuits bouncing around on the Moon. The Moon! It’s really something, huh? This site has the astronauts’ experiences in their own words, if you care to read.

But, when you think about it, that was the end. Since those fateful days in the 60s and 70s, not one agency of any kind has sent more than satellites to the Moon, and a scant few at that. No, instead the space program got sidetracked by other things; the “Cold War,” the “Computer Revolution,” and so on. But I think it’s time to go back there. To space. To the Moon. Beyond that, even. The time is ripe for a new revolution in technology and the world needs something else to focus on besides the constant threat of terrorism and celebrities. And besides, we’re in a recession. There is literally no better time for this to happen than right now.

Now, I understand that some of you may scoff at this, asking how anything could happen when the world is in the midst of an “economic downturn,” as the politically correct saying goes. But hear me out. Basic high school economics teaches you that in order for the GDP of a country to become bigger, you can do several things. You could spur consumer spending and business investment, increase your exports, or increase government spending. You could somehow manage to increase the amount of entrepreneurial ability, or increase the amount of labor, land, or capital. You could increase productivity. All viable methods, from a  purely economic standpoint. But economics is a simulation. Let’s go into the viability of each of these factors in the real world, shall we?

Spurring consumer spending: Our government, from what I can tell, is trying very hard to encourage people to go out and spend more money wantonly like they were doing before this whole “crisis.” Unfortunately for them, it seems the greater American public has learned its lesson. There’s an old Tamil saying that, translated, comes out as, “The only foolproof way to be taught something is to experience it for yourself.” And so it has happened. Gleeful and reckless credit spending has pretty much drawn to a close. Sure, while credit cards may not be going out of style, they certainly are now beginning to be seen as necessary evils rather than as free money. And, for an economy used to that type of spending, it’ll no doubt be a shock to recover from. Anyway, there’s little chance that consumer spending is going to return to the pre-recession levels, so let’s leave that aside.

Business investment: For the time being, at least, it’s much the same story for businesses as it is for consumers. With their counterparts failing left and right, many most firms will be laying off people and cutting costs, attempting to weather the storm. Nothing’s going to change that. They’re not going to save our GDP either.

Exports: Excuse me while I laugh. Increase exports? Yeah, RIGHT. Like that’s going to happen. For the past twenty years, the US has been the world’s largest IMPORTER. Think something like a giant vaccuum sucking in all the goods produced elsewhere. Yeah. Moving on…

Increasing entrepreneurial ability: Already happening. What with the internet, and inspiration by our President’s hope-and-change rhetoric, and just the general trend of entrepreneurs generally coming out of the woodwork during hard times like these (it feels almost wrong to call this “hard times,” when you look at the Great Depression), that step of the process has already begun.

Increasing land, labor, or capital: Again, mostly beyond anybody’s control. Land is land (very much finite, and not quite in demand right now), capital (keep dreaming), or labor (try again in a few years) aren’t going to be viable for a while. This option isn’t happening, either.

Productivity is fine (what? Computers aren’t good enough for you now?), so that really leaves us with one option: Government spending.

We need a massive influx of government money stimulating research and development into multiple areas in order to even STAND A CHANCE of getting out of this recession in anything approaching good shape. Look at the Great Depression. That took WWII to counteract it. While our situation may not be quite as dire, it is still shown that the twin factors of having to rapidly and effectively deploy advanced technology to counter the Axis powers (think tanks and nuclear bombs) was quite the economic stimulator.

We can’t have a war this time around, because we’re already fighting a war, so making it bigger probably isn’t going to help a lot. The problem this time around derives from having to fight with a new strategy instead of bigger guns. Strategies cannot and will not come about from any new technology, so, bugger.

So that leaves scientific advancement. There are, as I see it, two major areas of interest in the science field: computers and space. As the trend of microtransistors becomes the world of quantum computing and nanotechnology, there is plenty of incentive from the consumer market for cheaper, faster, more awesome computers. Which effectively makes it a consumer good, rather than a capital good. Which means that it is all but useless in increasing GDP and spurring the economy. So, once again, circumstances force us to look to space technology. Think about it. The Saturn V rocket cost between $2-3 billion. NASA’s current best hope, Project Constellation, is estimated to cost roughly double that. I can see you now. “That’s a lot of money!” you think. “We can’t afford anything like that!” Au contraire. It would be foolhardy not to spend this money. The US needs every bit of stimulus it can get at this point. $7 billion of government money will quickly cascade through the economy, creating billions more in jobs and resources. I mean, seriously, if the bailout (worth roughly $700 billion) has, as of yet, failed to do much (The New Deal didn’t do much either, remember?), then it looks like alternative means of government spending is our only option.

And besides, it’d be the coolest thing ever. We have all the elements needed; all we need to do is get rolling. So please, Mr. President, increase the budget for NASA. $17.6 billion (0.75% of total budget) isn’t going to be enough. Hell, it took $25.4 billion in 1969 dollars (appoximately $136 billion in today’s money), which was a whopping 5.5% of the total US budget at the time, to even get us to the moon. Put some money where your mouth is, Mr. President. I dare you.

Written by Sri

July 21, 2009 at 12:21 PM

Posted in Musings

Tagged with , , , , ,