NASA; A Waste of Money?

Alright. I admit it. I am a space nerd! I love all things space. The exploration and hopefully one day colonization of Mars; Mining near earth asteroids; Hopefully populating other star systems within the next few hundred years. All of this is incredibly exciting to me. Few things are as neat to me as space exploration. I mean really, when is the last time you saw deer blasting off into space, even a raccoon talking about warp drive? The human species is special, extraordinary, and space exploration is just  one instance of this fact.

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But, many people don’t like NASA right now. They look around at the economy, the looming fiscal cliff, and think to themselves: “What a waste of money!” I can understand this thought process. NASA spends A LOT of money. But, let’s explore the fundamental error in this thought process.

How can you possibly “waste” money? You see, money isn’t like the gas in your car. It doesn’t get used up and disappear. You could even try to call it “money mismanagement.” You’d be hard-pressed to defend that claim though. To understand this, we can look at the latest mission to Mars; The Curiosity rover. This latest mission cost the United States $2.5 Billion. That’s a whole lot of money. For what, you might ask? Let me explain.

In an economy where we are ever worried about job creation, and not just any jobs, but well paying jobs, NASA employs hundreds, if not thousands of people. And, that’s not it. People who think that the government is taxing us at too high a rate should be happy with programs like NASA. Essentially, NASA received $2.5 Billion from the government, with which they invested in products made by privately owned companies. This federal money was handed to NASA, which they put into privately owned business, who paid their employees payroll, which they used to buy food from privately owned grocery stores, who paid payroll to their employees… You get the point. Money cannot be wasted simply by spending it.

It isn’t like once money is spent it disappears. Actually, economies thrive when money is circulated in this fashion. The more money moves, the better we are. This is why the current administration, and perhaps its predecessor, spend money the way they do. It’s called Keynesian Economics. There is certainly more to it than this, and has not been practised correctly by any Presidency that I am aware of. Once the economy starts to do better, you need to raise taxes to pay for the debt collected during the times of high spending. No president has done this so far, because nobody like taxes (no matter how good they are for the economy.).

But, I digress. 🙂

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5 thoughts on “NASA; A Waste of Money?

  1. So I guess this would mean it doesn’t really matter what we spend money on as long as it keeps people employed….even if the probability of it being a useful endeavor is questionable. So keep spending America, it is good for us. I think this is how the government thinks so I guess they are doing a good job.

    • Well, you are close. I was fairly clear as to why the government isn’t doing a good job. In Keynesian Economics, large amounts of money are spent to get the economy back on its feet. In modern day, this has taken the form of bailouts. In the past, an example of this would be World War II. The United States was deep in the Great Depression, and didn’t start to recover until the enormous amount of Federal spending took place. However, once recovery begins to take place, taxes need to be raised to pay off the debt accumulated in deficit spending. If you could determine one beneficial outcome from WWII for the United States alone, other than economic recovery, your claim about space being useful would hold weight. That simply is not the case though.

      With our current national debt, I don’t think that anyone, including myself, would dare to say the government is doing a good job. Keynesian Economics is traditionally viewed at the Democrat’s economic plan, but that has not necessarily been the case as of late. George Bush was much more of a Keynesian than Bill Clinton ever was. Let’s keep in mind that Bill Clinton actually balanced the books, and George Bush was the first to issue modern bailouts.

      As with anything, You have to spend money to make money. This is often coined as :”the cost of making money.” Modern day space exploration is not that much different that the discovery and exploration of the “New World.” It took enormous spending for European countries to not only cross the Atlantic, but then to explore it. It wasn’t until after multiple trips that Europeans began to make profits off of the new world. I believe the same will be true of space exploration. The mining of near Earth asteroids is incredibly profitable, and is being headed up by private industries.
      All of this is hasn’t even mentioned the products that have been invented, and are now common place, that owe their creation and introduction to our lives to NASA and their development for space needs.

  2. I like your points Dan. I hate it when people say that “the government cannot create jobs”, or “spending cannot create jobs”. This has got to be the one of the least thought out arguments ever made… Essentially, they are saying that companies such as Boeing and Raytheon don’t exist, apparently all those missiles people like this love to fire just pop into existence with no engineering, marketing, business etc…

    NASA is a strange entity. It is government funded, but it acts more like a private business fiscally. The government is terribly inefficient because it has no incentive to be better or to constantly improve like a private entity would. NASA must compete for government funding at least, which is why I believe it is so efficient compared to legistlative bodies.

    As far as wasting money goes, perhaps the term value should be used instead. Value can be added and subtracted from the national economy/ world economy as a whole, with no distinct “sum.” It is possible for value to be lost through depreciation, inflation, changing preferences. One way to add value is innovation. As far as capitalism goes, innovation is the result of competition which results in increased productivity. Many jobs have been made obsolete due to increased productivities. Innovation tends toward technology/processes which require fewer resources and yield a greater output. Because there is no distinct maximum value of the world economy, this does not mean that as productivity increases that the number of jobs required asymptotes to zero. In order to keep society progressing, innovation must continue as this would not happen were innovation to stop. Thus the only way to maintain jobs is to sustain innovation.

    A little off topic at this point but to summarize: Capitalism –> Competition –> Innovation –> Increased value, increased productivity –> populace is better off. An increase in productivity/ efficiency is the only reliable win-win situation that exists, this is why I like engineering. Take the internal combustion engine as an example. If the technology in the internal combustion engine is held constant (no innovation) then the output is always a fight between horsepower and efficiency with each being a trade-off for the other. If technology is improved (innovation) , then suddenly power and efficiency demands can be met at the same time. This doesn’t change the rules however. Power and efficiency are still trade-offs, but now much higher, concurrent values of each can be achieved. If innovation were to stop here, eventually, this new technology would not meet the new demands. Since demand requires ever-increasing productivity/ efficiency and capitalism requires that you outdo the competition, innovation will not stop here, but it must come from somewhere. This is where I believe America has failed, almost everything runs on something which almost no one understands, and innovation is only possible when you understand how the existing technology/ process works. Now take this analogy and call the engine American politics, call horsepower legistlative milestones, and call efficiency doing things that must be done.

    My science/ innovation/ education plug aside, there must be a new way to create the proper incentive for the government to function since there is currently little to no punishment for the government acting inefficiently. It turns out that congress and the house are the places which inhibit governmental efficiency. A congressman’s only selfish (capitalism has no place for altruism) incentive to behave in an efficient, effective manner is that he/she may not get re-elected to congress, and his/her ideas will not spread. On paper this looks good, but there is a disconnect between theory and practice here because clearly this doesn’t work. Perhaps it’s because most people with real knowledge/ skills avoid politics and never run, or run and never win, perhaps it’s because voters pay far less attention to senators and representatives than they do to the president, perhaps it’s because existing infrastructure (corporate and political) supports the re-election of current members, perhaps it’s because the excuse can be made that it wasn’t his/her fault, it was the other people, etc…

    My ideas for possible solutions to congressional inefficiency are: re-elect more than just one third of congress at a time, institute and make known official criteria which must be met to hold a recall vote, don’t elect the guy with the best hair cut, find a way to get educational perspectives other than political science, law, and business into political office.

    NASA is an agent of innovation, not a waste of money. End of rant.

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