Category Archives: Economics

America’s Shutdown Indifference

It is hard to work up sympathy for people who seem indifferent to the plights of the people in flyoverland who pay their salaries:

I mention these anecdotes not because I think the present record-setting shutdown is good or sane policy but because I am trying to illustrate why I and other Americans have a hard time caring much about it. In the popular imagination — and sometimes in dozens of little-read memos from the inspectors general of various departments — the average federal employee appears to be lazy, incompetent, performing meaningless tasks for too much pay, with an enviable array of benefits and other amenities (I still roll my eyes in disgust whenever I am reminded that there exist special credit unions for federal employees, whose pay and job security would be the envy of a hundred million other Americans). Government employees, at both the state and federal level, are among the only workers in the United States who continue to be represented by powerful unions, despite the fact that by definition they’re not bargaining against capital but against their fellow citizens.

This is to say nothing of the vast assortment of contractors, consultants, and hangers-on whose “work” has been temporarily interrupted by the shutdown. Their grotesque salaries have blighted the landscape with McMansions and driven housing prices in Maryland and northern Virginia to a level beyond what most families with children will ever be able to afford. So the people whose job it is to bid up the price of useless airplanes or dream up rival marketing schemes for some “cloud” project while our nation’s capital lacks a functional public transit system are going to have .05 percent fewer billable hours for the year? Boo hoo.

There is a lot of damage being done to space activities, though. Tethers Unlimited just had to do a 20% layoff due to contract delays. It’s only a partial shutdown, but NASA is part of it. There were a lot of papers not presented last week in San Diego because NASA employees weren’t allowed to attend the conference. Fortunately, people working Commercial Crew are “essential,” though they are working without pay. JPL may have to do layoffs if this continues into February.

[Via Glenn, who writes] “Coal miners lose their jobs for good and it’s ‘you’re obsolete, learn to code!’ Federal workers have a few paychecks delayed and the press is in heartstring-tugging mode.”

[Update a couple minutes later]

Roger Simon: The shutdown should go on forever:

That mysterious Trump official is also correct in saying that the shutdown should be about much more than the wall and border security. Serious as they may be, they are what the shrinks call the “presenting complaint.” The real issue is the function of government itself — what’s important and what’s not. A shutdown can serve as a living laboratory for examining the question of what is actually worthwhile that is missing because of that event. I daresay that most outside the Beltway would be hard pressed to find anything. (A fair number of these people can get around the National Parks by themselves, especially in the days of GPS.)

Both sides fear shutdowns not just because of that nauseatingly tedious inter-party blame game, but more importantly because it exposes this bloat and who caused it (i.e., who paid for what). This is the Deep State in action, in the off-chance anyone hasn’t noticed. What has been created by our government over decades is a self-preservation machine immune to the normal capitalist processes of creative destruction that have largely improved society over centuries, enriching almost everyone and extending life expectancy.


[Update a few minutes later]

More good news: The IRS will issue refunds, but not do audits, during the shutdown.

Space Property Rights

Steve Wolfe just sent me a call for papers that’s right up my (and perhaps some of my readers’) alley:

I am chairing an interesting program at the ISDC this year titled the Space Settlement Policy Forum. It will be held June 5th in Washington, DC. Forum details and agenda are attached.

Though most consider discussion of space settlement related policies to be academic, for Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and other leaders the reality of space settlement is an imminent and highly desirable probability. In this forum we will take a sober look at the laws and policies that would or should be implemented in order to facilitate and encourage space settlement development. The Forum will address this broad challenge without presuming a single ‘silver bullet’ solution.

Topic Categories Include:

  • How Current Space Law Encourages and Inhibits Space Settlement Development
  • Potential Government Incentives for Private Funding of Space Settlements
  • Changes to International Law to Enable Space Settlement Development
  • Licensing Regime for Space Settlement Development and Construction—What would it look like?
  • Proper Role of Government in Space Settlement Development: Leading the Way or Being a Cheer Leader?
  • What Are the Space Settlement Enabling Technologies That Government Agencies Should Be Investing In Now?

Presentation Submission Guidelines:

  1. Prepare a 15-minute to present with slides
  2. Prepare a paper of not less than 3-pages that will be publish in the proceedings of the conference.
  3. The presentation must recommend, and argue for, a particular legal or regulatory change directly related to space settlement
  4. The paper must provide a summary that includes specific recommendations for policy change
  5. Interest must be expressed to Steve Wolfe immediately
  6. Abstract submission due by January 25, 2019

Kind of short notice, but I’ll probably be submitting multiple abstracts.

China And Space

This piece is monumental in its ignorance of human spaceflight in the U.S.:

China can put people in space, as can Russia, but the United States cannot. In fact, the landing on the moon should be seen as another step toward China’s goal of landing humans on the Moon. The Colombia disaster made NASA risk-averse, slowing the development of manned programs to a crawl. The previous administration’s decision to rely on commercial space programs for human flight has not yet born fruit, and these efforts so far have repeated what U.S. space programs did in the 1950s. The promised flight to Mars was always a fantasy. Right now, China has the most promising human spaceflight program.

The United States can put people in space any time it wants; it just doesn’t want to. Note that the words “Commercial Crew” don’t appear in the article, though DM-1 is scheduled in the next few weeks, maybe even this month. Barring a major problem, we should have two separate domestic vehicles capable of sending humans into space this year. And it completely ignores both SpaceX’s and Blue Origin’s plans for much larger reusable systems. The notion that China is ahead of us in any aspect of spaceflight is nonsensical.

[Update a few minutes later]

Speaking of China, Leonard David has the latest on its farside landing.

[Update a few more minutes later]

Meanwhile, Mark Whittington continues to fear the yellow menace:

The landing is a remarkable achievement. It illustrates Beijing’s burning ambition to become the supreme superpower on Earth, in part by conquering space. India and a private group in Israel are planning their own moon landings early in 2019. NASA is due to sponsor commercial lunar landings as part of President Trump’s return to the moon initiative in the next year or so.

The prize of the new space race is the moon’s natural resources and control of the high frontier for all practical purposes.

The moon is a big place. No one nation is going to dominate it. And it’s a long way from a robotic lander, regardless of which side it lands on, to a lunar base.

Mark continues to operate under the delusion that we can (or should) do Apollo again. Lunar resources will be developed privately, if at all. It certainly won’t happen by a government that has elections every two years.

[Update a while later]

No, James Andrew Lewis, America is about to take back human spaceflight. And in fact it is China that is “repeating what U.S. space programs did in the sixties.”

[Saturday-afternoon update]

Sigh. Here’s another one:

The development is especially shocking because China’s space program seems to have come out of nowhere. And in some sense it has. Whereas NASA was formed in 1958, the China National Space Administration (CNSA) was founded in 1993.

During the past quarter-century, however, CNSA has made up for lost time – illustrating in classic, tortoise-versus-hare fashion that slow and steady wins the race. Today, despite its belated start, CNSA boasts a robust astronaut (taikonaut) program, an operational space station (Tiangong-2), and a whopping thirty-eight rocket launches in 2018 – more than any other country.

Even though it’s generally quite secretive, CNSA is very open about its intention to land taikonauts on the moon by the late 2020s or early 2030s, with an eye to colonizing the moon shortly thereafter. The United States and Russia have made similar declarations. But all things considered – especially now, in the wake of Chang’e 4’s spectacular success – China must be considered the frontrunner.

As Jeff Foust noted on Twitter, it’s only “shocking” and “seems to have come out of nowhere,’ if you weren’t paying attention. And no, China should not be considered the “frontrunner.” Landing a rover on the moon, even on the farside, is neither a necessary or sufficient condition to land human there.