Brand X - Xtreme Stupidity

Unfortunately I was awake last night to catch part of an episode of Brand X on FX.  In the course of an incoherent argument, propped up by a Harvard graduate who used to work for congress (yes, you are supposed to be impressed), the host presented the audience with two examples of "the free market".  The basis of the argument was something like America doesn't need a Dalai Lama because we have the president of the united States, Oprah Winfrey and "the free market" to worship.  This is really too asinine to get in to, but who did he present as  models of the free market?  Warren Buffet and Alan Greenspan!  I have previously explained for those who don't already know how Warren Buffet is a poor example of a free marketeer, but Alan Greenspan, seriously?!  Perhaps when he was writing about the use of gold as currency for Ayn Rand's Newsletter that would have made sense, but he is most well known as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve.  The Federal Reserve is a banking cartel affiliated with the federal government and dedicated to controlling the monetary system!   Do I really need to explain how controlling a fiat currency and manipulating the banking system are not actions that can be associated with a free marketplace?  

In the interest of full disclosure, I stopped watching the show at this point, so it is possible that this was an elaborate set-up for a more informed discussion of economics and freedom.  I feel comfortable with the assumption that it was not.  

Penny4NASA Follow-Up

This thought came to me in the shower, as most good thoughts do, and I thought it was a shame I didn't include it in my previous post:

Consider for a moment the capital expended to mass produce the first automobiles.  Now think of how quickly they were adopted, how drastically they changed human activity and productivity and how unbelievably quickly they improved with respect to speed, mobility, style, reliability and efficiency.  All of that was produced with hard-earned capital, voluntarily given in expectation of profit, and a healthy dose of enterprising individuals employed for the same cause.  Now compare this with NASA's history.  The expenditure has been enormous, not to mention it was all taken by force, and the payoff relatively small.  The so-called "spin-off" technologies and secondary externalities created by the agency seem paltry compared to the advances in technology Ford alone developed.  I encourage anyone to look them up.  While you're at it, read Garet Garett's The Wild Wheel.

Freedom, Peace and Liberty - 1
Tyranny, Force and Plunder - 0

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Pennies for Flying Cars - Another Tale of the Unseen
Pennies for NASA - Ignoring Cost at all Cost

Pennies for Flying Cars - Another Tale of the Unseen

Wouldn't it be great if I drove a flying Mercedes-Benz?  I certainly think so!  Wouldn't it be great if everyone else did too?  No doubt.  Of course we would need to nationalize a major car company, but I don't anticipate any obstacles there.

How much would you pay for the universe (of flying cars)?  How do we examine the costs and benefits?

Besides the mere fact that everyone would be flying in style with little concern for congestion, just think of all the stimulative effects it would have on society.  We would probably all save a bunch of time going to and from work.  The ability to fly would eliminate many of the complexities associated with driving and would probably facilitate automating the process.  This would free us from the drudgery of the daily commute and essentially make the world smaller, expanding our zone of employment and improving our earning power.  Besides all that, I certainly would feel better about myself and my status, being a hot-rod pilot and all.  I would probably start dressing better, and maybe I would have the esteem to go for that big promotion at work.  Multiply that by millions of people so effected and imagine the economy purring along like a spoiled kitten.  Children everywhere would be inspired by the wonder of daily flight, as well as the precise engineering, the smooth handling and the attractive contouring that go along with the now ubiquitous, flying Mercedes-Benz.  Just imagine the young crop of overachieving engineers, scientists, designers and artists growing up and really getting after it in an ever expanding world of opportunity!  Beyond all of that, we're bound to happen upon a great many wealth-producing discoveries and labor-saving inventions in our quest to mass produce flying cars.  We can't afford to let go of this dream!  People probably won't go for it voluntarily, so we'll probably need the government to foot the bill.

Foolish, childish ideas and hyperbolic extrapolations?  Absolutely.  No one would ever seriously propose such an expensive, narrow-minded, centrally-planned "national greatness" program simply on the grounds that it would be inspirational or generally stimulative.  First of all, to attribute the life decisions and successes of any individual in an advanced society (let alone that of a group of such individuals) to a single program, stimulus or event is utter foolishness.  Further, to claim that directing that desire toward a particular field in lieu of all others is an improvement on the situation of men is a fatal conceit indeed.  Inspiring a young Sam Walton to design thrusters for the new F-Class would have deprived us of Walmart, which would have been an injustice nearly beyond this author's will to consider.

The rationalization of the program based on the stimulative effects of inventions made in the process is a particularly special pleading based on ignoring the costs of the program itself.  Of course the monetary price we would pay for the program is obvious, but the activities forgone in order to support it will forever be hidden to us.  I am not speaking here of what other great national work must be given up, like the Federal Jetpack Program, though that is a viable concern.  I am considering what activities in the private (or peaceful) market place must be displaced in order to make the flying car dream a reality.  It takes real saved wealth to pull off a project like this, and since the government has none, they'll have to take it away from someone (more likely a whole bunch of someones).  Your guess is as bad as mine as to what that saved wealth would have been used for.  Some of it no doubt would have been saved for consumption at a later date, while some of it would have been consumed right away on things like candy, shirts, smart phones and regular, old-fashioned rolling cars.  So that's simple enough; we're just asking for little Johnny to go without his chocolate for the week, or little Susan to cut back on the texts or 16 year-old Franklin's parents to go for the fixer upper instead of certified pre-owned.  That's not so much to ask of the patriotic citizen for the common dream of flying cars.  If you buy that argument, I guess this is where we go our separate ways, but there is one last thing I would like you to consider - investment.  Some of that wealth would have been invested in a broad array of forward-looking ventures, most of which probably would have had a better chance of turning a profit than the lofty dream of flying luxury cars.  Some, no doubt, would have been massive failures that were either poorly managed or not well thought out or both, but if history is any guide, a great many of them would have been successful, some of them fantastically so.  There would have been some AOL-TimeWarner's and some Betamax's, but there would also be the Amazon's and the Apple's.  Maybe we would be missing out on the next Iphone, Ipad, or hell, the Icar (not flying til generation 4.f).  Maybe Bayer would have cancelled a line or research on some young drug that would have turned out to cure cancer, or AIDS, or diabetes.  Maybe Pfizer pulled back on the next great erection enhancer.  Maybe Kenmore's new dishwasher would have saved us more time at less expense than the flying 'Benz.  The fact is, we'll never know the costs of the great flying machine project because they are simply immeasurable.  So you tell me if you can justify taking your neighbor's wealth by force to support this or any other technological fantasy.

In my previous post on the subject of Penny4NASA, I focused on the fiscal irresponsibility of clamoring for increased NASA funding.  Now I hope I have demonstrated the fallacious nature of the arguments used to present the supposed benefits of increased funding for the program as expounded on said website:

NASA contributes to society in massively huge ways in terms of technological, economical, and inspirational progress. The progress that we have seen in the last 40 years comes largely from the world's extremely talented scientists and engineers. Now, talk to most any scientist and/or engineer of the last 40 years, and we are willing to bet that they were drawn into their chosen field by something NASA related. And more often then not, they refer to the Apollo, Gemini and/or Space Shuttle program where humans were physically advancing a frontier. It's the human spirit of exploration that drives the world's greatest technologists to invent the future, today. We want to see to it that the US annual budget allocation for NASA reflects that hugely important role technology, economy, and inspiration bringer.

I hope my work can be a massively huge inspiration bringer to young thinkers everywhere so that they can root out the legal plunder of the future, today.

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Pennies for NASA - Ignoring Cost at all Cost

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?

I saw the trailer today for the Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter movie today.  The last thing we need is further deification of the presidency in general and of Lincoln in particular.  The concept would seem more silly if it weren't so sickening.

Pennies for NASA - Ignoring the Cost at All Cost

I consider myself a skeptic.  I try to live my life by reason, guide my choices by science and defend my positions without faith.  However, my political philosophy, which I think is rationally derived and is deeply rooted in individual liberty, often clashes with the leftist/statist strain within skeptical society.  This was so exposed on my drive to work this morning as I listened to one of my regular podcasts.   
I think it is relatively clear that the federal government of the united States is in a dire fiscal situation, along with much of the developed world. In spite of this fact, there is a segment of the population clamoring for an approximate doubling of the budget for NASA under the cleverly misleading moniker "Penny4NASA". The gist of their platform is described at the head of their homepage:
NASA’s budget currently represents 0.5% of the US budget, and has been relatively unchanged for 25 years. We are calling for their budget to be increased to 1% of the US budget.
The site contains some links and videos intended to educate the public and gin up support for one of the most universally beloved government programs in history. One of the videos contains the following quote from Neil degrasse Tyson, a widely respected, highly adored and well spoken astrophysicist:

...I’m tired of saying this, but I’m gonna have to say it again, the NASA budget is four-tenths of one penny on a tax dollar. If I held up the tax dollar, and I cut horizontally into it, four-tenths of one percent on a tax dollar does not even get you into the ink! So I will not accept a statement that says, “We can’t afford it!”’

I hate to be the bearer of bad news to Dr. Tyson, but "we" can not even afford to keep NASA's budget the same in our current condition, let alone increase it by any fraction of a penny on the dollar.  "We" are massively in debt beyond what the rosiest predictions indicate "we" will be able to pay back, and the government's ability to paper (literally) over this fact will come to an end sooner or later.  If your definition of "afford" is, "having access to credit without any demonstrable means of sufficient repayment of this or any other debt", then you may think that I am crazy for saying this.  

Granted, the NASA budget is small potatoes compared to the entitlement/warfare/never-ending-stimulus spending nightmare we are in, but that does not mean it can be ignored.  

Ignoring the cost of the program is explicit in the Penny4NASA platform.  At first blush one might think that they are advocating for everyone to give (or rather have taken from them) a penny to support NASA.  That might sound ok, but wait a minute!  They are talking about a penny of every "tax dollar"!  That's a little bit different, especially since most people don't even know how much they pay in federal taxes.  Go ahead and calculate it if you would like; I'll wait here and hold my breath.  Just don't forget to include paycheck withholdings along with the lump sum you might send the IRS in April (ignore any interest you might have earned on the  withholdings just to safe).  While you're at it include payroll taxes that your employer pays that he or she might otherwise have paid you, tariffs and customs duties on all the goods you purchased that were imported or contained components that were imported, estate and gift taxes etc.  It's a little bit more than a penny now isn't it?  It gets better.  The call to action is to raise the funding of NASA from 0.46% of the federal annual BUDGET to 1% of the federal annual BUDGET.  If you just calculated your annual federal taxes based on Dr. Tyson's allegory to the "tax dollar", you calculated your contribution to federal REVENUE.  Do you want to make any guesses as to how that stacks up against the federal  BUDGET?  Not well!  According to The Hill, "CBO has predicted that in 2012, the U.S. will have its fourth consecutive year with a budget deficit over $1 trillion."  I cannot begin to tell you how to calculate your projected increase in "contributions" required to meet an increased budgetary obligation made by an entity that is serially delinquent with its bills, but my guess is, it's more than a penny.   

To further the case for increasing NASA's funding, the group provides this chart of the NASA budget history:
Which may be a little bit misleading if you don't understand that total federal spending during the approximate time frame did this:

When you look at NASA budget history in terms of absolute 1996 dollars as in the following graph (orange trace), which I plucked from Wikipedia, the situation for NASA is a little bit less dire.
NASA_budget_linegraph_BH.PNG (786×544)

There are way more problems with this movement to forcibly take your money for great works of national pride, but I have a day job.  So, I will be back for more later.

Related Post:

Pennies for Flying Cars - Another Tale of the Unseen

An elephant: A mouse built to government specifications. -- Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
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