Category Archives: Business


Dennis Wingo says that we need a compelling reason for a space program, and we don’t currently have it. I agree. This is the space policy debate that we need to have, and never really have, at least not since the early post-Sputnik period. There is no way to come up with the right transportation architecture/infrastructure if we don’t understand the requirements, and we don’t really understand why we’re doing it. People persist in thinking that the VSE was a destination (the moon, then Mars), and then proceed to argue about whether or not it was the right destination. But it was, or should have been, much more than that — it was a statement that we are no longer going to be confined to low earth orbit, as we had been since 1972. But the failure was in articulating why we should move beyond LEO. Dennis has done as good a job of that here as anyone to date.

I would also note that it’s hard to generate enthusiasm for spending money, or astronauts’ lives, when we don’t know why they’re doing it. As I wrote a couple years ago:

Our national reaction to the loss of a shuttle crew, viewed by the proverbial anthropologist’s Martian (or perhaps better yet, a Vulcan), would seem irrational. After all, we risk, and lose, people in all kinds of endeavors, every day. We send soldiers out to brave IEDs and RPGs in Iraq. We watch firefighters go into burning buildings. Even in more mundane, relatively safe activities, people die — in mines, in construction, in commercial fishing. Why is it that we get so upset when we lose astronauts, who are ostensibly exploring the final frontier, arguably as dangerous a job as they come? One Internet wag has noted that, “…to judge by the fuss that gets made when a few of them die, astronauts clearly are priceless national assets — exactly the sort of people you should not be risking in an experimental-class vehicle.”

What upset people so much about the deaths in Columbia, I think, was not that they died, but that they died in such a seemingly trivial yet expensive pursuit. They weren’t exploring the universe — they were boring a multi-hundred-thousand-mile-long hole in the vacuum a couple hundred miles above the planet, with children’s science-fair experiments. We were upset because space isn’t important, and we considered the astronauts’ lives more important than the mission. If they had been exploring another hostile, alien planet, and died, we would have been saddened, but not shocked — it happens in the movies all the time. If they had been on a mission to divert an asteroid, preventing it from hitting the planet (a la the movie Armageddon, albeit with more correspondence to the reality of physics), we would have mourned, but also been inured to their loss as true national heroes in the service of their country (and planet). It would be recognized that what they were doing was of national importance, just as is the job of every soldier and Marine in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But space remains unimportant, and it will continue to be as long as we haven’t gotten the public and polity to buy in on a compelling “why.”

From Fiction To Reality

Steve Moore says that we are fulfilling Ayn Rand’s dystopian prediction:

In the book, these relentless wealth redistributionists and their programs are disparaged as “the looters and their laws.” Every new act of government futility and stupidity carries with it a benevolent-sounding title. These include the “Anti-Greed Act” to redistribute income (sounds like Charlie Rangel’s promises soak-the-rich tax bill) and the “Equalization of Opportunity Act” to prevent people from starting more than one business (to give other people a chance). My personal favorite, the “Anti Dog-Eat-Dog Act,” aims to restrict cut-throat competition between firms and thus slow the wave of business bankruptcies. Why didn’t Hank Paulson think of that?

These acts and edicts sound farcical, yes, but no more so than the actual events in Washington, circa 2008. We already have been served up the $700 billion “Emergency Economic Stabilization Act” and the “Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act.” Now that Barack Obama is in town, he will soon sign into law with great urgency the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.” This latest Hail Mary pass will increase the federal budget (which has already expanded by $1.5 trillion in eight years under George Bush) by an additional $1 trillion — in roughly his first 100 days in office.

The current economic strategy is right out of “Atlas Shrugged”: The more incompetent you are in business, the more handouts the politicians will bestow on you. That’s the justification for the $2 trillion of subsidies doled out already to keep afloat distressed insurance companies, banks, Wall Street investment houses, and auto companies — while standing next in line for their share of the booty are real-estate developers, the steel industry, chemical companies, airlines, ethanol producers, construction firms and even catfish farmers. With each successive bailout to “calm the markets,” another trillion of national wealth is subsequently lost. Yet, as “Atlas” grimly foretold, we now treat the incompetent who wreck their companies as victims, while those resourceful business owners who manage to make a profit are portrayed as recipients of illegitimate “windfalls.”

She was far ahead of her time.

“No One Is Going To Bail Out America”

Some sobering thoughts on the financial future. We have to get spending (particularly entitlements) under control. And socialized health care is one of the worst things we could do in that regard.

[Update a few minutes later]

Some thoughts on the disaster that was the New Deal:

The New Deal tripled taxes, which meant consumers had less money to spend and employers had less money for hiring; a number of New Deal laws made it more expensive for employers to hire people, which also meant less hiring; New Deal soak-the-rich taxes discouraged investment, and it’s almost impossible to create private-sector jobs without investment.

Other policies hurt Americans in other ways. Several New Deal laws banned discounting, when desperate people needed bargains; the New Deal authorized the destruction of food when people were hungry; the New Deal established hundreds of cartels and monopolies; the New Deal centralized the power of the Federal Reserve, and the Fed’s first major policy decision was a blunder that brought on a crisis within a crisis (the depression of 1938); the New Deal broke up the strongest banks and did nothing about laws that prevented thousands of banks from diversifying their depositor bases and their loan portfolios (Canada didn’t have these laws, and it went through the Great Depression without a bank failure).

Unfortunately, we just put a lot of people in power who want to (or at least claim to want to) do it over again.

More Richardson Thoughts

It would be nice to say that I was surprised by Richardson’s…errrr…issues. But I wasn’t.

At all.

For one thing, it was hardly news. But it’s also not like this is anything new. There have been lots of shady behavior and associations with the New Mexico governor, going back to his stint in the Clinton administration. He probably didn’t know why the White House wanted him to find a job for former intern Monica Lewinsky, but unless he was stupid, he had to have figured out (at least after interviewing her) that it wasn’t because she was going to light the UN on fire with her diplomatic skills and encyclopedic knowledge of world affairs (though other types of affairs wouldn’t have been out of the question).

And as I noted a few weeks ago, when a state is characterized by insiders as “Lousiana with chiles,” it’s unlikely that the governor himself isn’t in the thick of the corruption. It also makes one wonder what kinds of deals that Virgin Galactic had to cut, perhaps partly under the table, to get the lease agreement signed. If so, was this really the Great WhiteHispanic Hope for commercial space, in Washington or elsewhere?

Anyway, Jonah Goldberg has some more impressions from his book tour:

With the exception of Bill Clinton, it’s difficult to think of a major politician who has been plagued more persistently by troubling rumors of all sorts. When I was in New Mexico not long ago, it felt like I was visiting Little Rock in the way everyone had a sketchy story, theory or little-known fact. Some was very vague, some of it was clearly over the top, and some of it was quite plausible. My guess, and this is only a guess, is that Obama has dodged a bullet here.

Of course, the question is why did it take so long for the bullet dodging to occur? How did he get the nomination in the first place? Should the president-elect blame it on bad staff again? Why can’t this guy find good help? As a reader at Instapundit writes: “They told me if I voted for McCain, I’d have a President who didn’t properly vet his nominees –- and they were right!”

[Update early afternoon]

Pejman Yousafzadeh has some useful thoughts on a replacement:

The Richardson withdrawal represents a remarkable stumble by a transition process that has been notable until now for its sure-footedness and its ability to garner praise from both Democrats and Republicans for the professionalism of its execution and for the quality of its appointees. It promoted the president-elect to say that Richardson “would have brought to the job of commerce secretary and our economic team great insights accumulated through an extraordinary career in federal and state office,” just before throwing Richardson under the bus. To this comment, my RedState colleague Francis Cianfrocca replies: “That makes me feel wonderful! Hey Mr. Obama, how about picking a Commerce Secretary with great insights accumulated though an extraordinary career in COMMERCE?” It’s not a bad idea. One of the commerce secretary’s responsibilities is to be an advocate for the formulation and implementation of trade policies and nowadays, the political class doesn’t seem to have the first clue how best to conduct trade policy. One would think that with the memory of the misguided Smoot-Hawley tariff — one of the epic fails of the 20th century — still relatively fresh in our minds, we would not veer towards protectionism. And yet, we see that the incoming Obama administration sought to counterbalance the appointment of a pro-free trade United States trade representative in Ron Kirk with the appointment of the anti-free trade — and pro-card check — Hilda Solis to the Labor Department. Given this antediluvian personnel appointment, we need a commerce secretary who has both read and understands the powerful point behind Frederic Bastiat’s most famous parody, but since the president-elect seems determined to choose his commerce secretary from the ranks of government rather than from the ranks of those who actually have firsthand experience with, you know, commerce, I’m not optimistic on this front.

Neither am I. Let’s hope for a surprise.

[Afternoon update]

This CBS report says that Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius is on the short list to replace him as the nominee. I have no idea what that means for space commerce.

Bad News For Commercial Space?

Fox News is reporting that Bill Richardson is withdrawing from the Obama cabinet as Secretary of Commerce, probably over his pay-to-play problem. He was perceived by the space community as someone who would provide full support for the department for commercial space, based on his record of supporting space tourism and related ventures as governor of New Mexico. I wonder if the transition team had some backups to go to, or if it will be a while before we know who will replace him?

[Update a couple minutes later]

Jeff Foust is already on the case, with linkage.