Saturday, August 28, 2010

The State versus Achievements

It is true, as this Pajamas article says, that NASA's Constellation moon project was an utterly incompetent conception and a fiasco, and it deserved to die on the pad with a self-destruct order. And space exploration should be private, though there are legitimate and essential military applications in space.   But the article's author errs gravely in diminishing the role of private enterprise in the success of the Apollo program, which rested entirely on the creative spirit and inventiveness of free individuals functioning in a private industry.  Without that, we never would have made it to the moon.  Period.

You can debate how "private" any industry is in the United States, today or in the 1960's, especially the defense industry that made Apollo. But statism doesn't create anything.  Force and mind are opposites: nothing was ever created by pointing a gun at someone.  Acts of creation only come from the reasoning minds of individuals who are free to grasp reality and act on their judgment, according to their convictions and motivations about what it good and true and right.  Those acts don't happen by threatening someone; such acts are always on the premise of a free market -- ie, capitalism -- ie, a system that protects the rights of the individual -- even if they occur in a system that mixes some freedom with some controls -- eg, the United States today, what Ayn Rand accurately described as a "mixed economy" -- a mixture of freedom and statism (see her books, Capitalism the Unknown Ideal, or The New Left: the Anti-Industrial Revolution).

What made Apollo work was not the statists, ie, not the NASA bureaucrats: it was a lot of people in private industry who believed that in using their minds to solve the problems of building a rocket, they were defending freedom  (remember the "space race"?), opposing communism, pursuing adventure, seeking knowledge, taking heroic risks ("boldly going...") and doing something noble and good, even if, in the long run, by acting on behalf of government control of space they were destroying the future of space travel.  People of confused premises but a lot of self-interest.

Let's say it again: Apollo would not have succeeded if NASA had designed it.  It succeeded because there were a lot of free people who believed they were doing good while earning a profit in support of it.

Creation is not an attribute of government. It is an attribute of free people.  Ie, private enterprise. Government, in its only proper, limited function (the military, the police, the courts), simply preserves the good and noble and right -- which is important! -- but it doesn't create things.   The success of a statist endeavor (any illegitimate function of government) does not mean that statists accomplished it; it means you have to discover the free minds who endeavored to accomplish it.

Even the Soviet space program was a product of free enterprise.  Apart from the fact that they stole most of their technology from us, to the extent you could find any scientist and engineer over there with an original thought, such people were acting on the premise of a free society (however misplaced, misguided or mercenary their intentions), even if the society they lived in wasn't free.  Such people were the only ones keeping that communist trainwreck moving, and such people are the only ones keeping a mixed economy such as our own moving.   (What Rand called "the sanction of the victim".)

This is the contradiction of anyone who chooses to serve an illegitimate function of the state -- that is, any function not directly serving the protection of individual rights: they are enabling their own destroyers and enslaving everyone else around them. Like the physicist Robert Stadler in Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged", whose advocacy of the oligarchic State Science Institute (a prescient predecessor to NASA) made him the destroyer of all science.  Like anyone who places their free mind in the service of statism -- they are destroying freedom and everything else made possible by it.

When someone holds irrational ideals -- like "might makes right / the government must use coercion to do good / we have to seize everyone's money and force them to do the 'right thing'" -- to the extent they act to use their mind to grasp the relationships of reality and choose a course of action to achieve some goal (however noble or not), they are acting in contradiction to that irrational ideal. They are acting, on the one hand, on the premise of a free man, a free market and a free country when they use their minds to create a remarkable machinery that puts human beings on the moon; on the other hand, when they put their minds in service to an organization that usurps the prerogatives of private enterprise with extorted taxes (NASA), they are acting on the premise of a common gunman, whose only form of "creation" is a heist.  In that role, they are henchman to the godfather of the state.

Private enterprise made Apollo possible; but the state destroyed space travel.

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