[ExI] SpaceX launch succcessful

Dan dan_ust at yahoo.com
Thu May 31 13:15:48 UTC 2012

On Tuesday, May 29, 2012 10:38 PM Kelly Anderson <kellycoinguy at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Tue, May 22, 2012 at 11:37 AM, Dan <dan_ust at yahoo.com> wrote:
>> On Tuesday, May 22, 2012 12:48 PM Kelly Anderson <kellycoinguy at gmail.com> wrote:
>>> This is very exciting! I suppose we shall see if taking
>>> the libertarian approach to space will work out better
>>> than the previous endeavors...
>> This is not a "libertarian approach to space" transport. It is, at
>> best, a partly private approach to supporting a basically non-libertarian
>> approach to space exploration. NASA isn't ponying up money it got
>> justly to pay for a ride on SpaceX rockets. Instead, it relies on
>> involuntary contributions from viewers like you. :/
> Ok, so the money for the first ticket on the libertarian express was
> not purchased with libertarian money. I get your point, but I also
> reject it to some extent. If SpaceX doesn't deliver, they don't get
> the contract. It's a free market system, with a government client.

My point was it is not a "libertarian approach to space" transport. Yes, it uses a private supplier for a government buyer -- and the supply part seems open to competition. But the government buyer relies on coercion to make its purchases -- hence, it's not libertarian. (It also relies on coercion routinely -- not merely as, say, someone who might otherwise work, but steal some money from petty cash once.)

Also, this is not merely the "first ticket," but a twelve launch 1.6 billion USD contract. You make it sound as if I were claiming the diner on the corner was not libertarian because the first guy to buy a cup of coffee there was a DEA agent on a stakeout, but the diner was subsequently packed with free market anarchists who paid for their meals with gold mined in the Yukon. :)

> That is way more free than what existed previously, and I'm not so
> much of an idealist that I insist that every piece of food on my
> breakfast plate is libertarian back to its source... at least not
> today.

That's not my point either. We all live in statist societies where the state reaches into just about every transaction and certainly has a huge impact on everything from space transport to what's on your breakfast plate. My point was merely not to praise a tax transfer as libertarian. Yes, it might be better than, say, the alternative of having NASA (via the Shuttle) or another government space agency (e.g., the RSA) doing supply launches to the ISS, but this is not really libertarianism in space transport or even a purely free market in such.

This is calling something what it is. Let me try an analogy. Imagine the government were censor broadcast TV in the US. (Oh, wait, it currently does this.:) Now, imagine that it loosened up the censorship a bit, -- say by allowing more nudity to be shown and reducing FCC fines for use of "obscene" words. Would this be libertarian? Definitely not! The government has no business [existing in the first place much less] being involved in censoring broadcast TV. But would it be better than sticking with the old regime? In my mind, yes, it would be better.
>> A truly libertarian approach here would be one where no one's
>> rights were violated [routinely and inherently] to get to space.
> Well, yes, but I count movement towards liberty as libertarian, even
> if not purely so.

That's a problem because one can minor moves to choice that still are completely statist. Imagine North Korea allows there to be two competing yet still government owned labor camp systems. The two labor camp systems have to compete for the government to send prisoners there to do forced labor. Is this libertarian? Now, granted, that's not the same as what happened here, but my point is to make a clear conceptual distinction, especially between merely providing something for the government privately and competitively and being actually libertarian. In my view, "libertarian" as applied to an activity means it does not involve coercion -- not that it merely involves some choice or less coercion than some alternative.
>>> (Ok, not ENTIRELY fair, since they are standing on the
>>> shoulders of giants...)  But time should tell... If SpaceX
>>> actually can create rockets that will go to mars and the
>>> asteroids relatively quickly, THEN we'll know this is the
>>> right approach.
>> I have no doubts that space transportation can be privatized.
> Me either... it might be a matter of time though. Remember Roanoke
> preceded Jamestown. Is SpaceX Roanoke, or Jamestown.... only time will
> tell. But I'm OK with companies dying in pursuit of this, or any other
> worthwhile dream. Even people may die on this trip, and honestly, as
> sad as that is, it is OK. Just look at the survival rate of any of the
> first great voyages... this isn't always going to be as pretty as this
> first SpaceX flight seems to be turning out to be.

I wouldn't use the analogy of Europeans colonizing the New World. They weren't actually settling uninhabited wilderness. It kind of gives the impression that you think that colonization was libertarian. But leaving that analogy aside, space transportation can be privatized very quickly by merely abolishing NASA and all government involvement in the space market. That might not seem politically feasible at this time, but that would be the exact libertarian approach. (This is no different than the libertarian approach to, say, pornography: legalize it. Don't merely lower penalties or define scope or farm out enforcement to private detectives.)

>> It might take a while to do, since the big players -- and this includes
>> SpaceX -- rely on government support and this tends to distort
>> costs upward.
> What distorts costs upward is that it is still very close to the
> research stage...

I disagree. Space transport seems a fairly mature technology in many ways. Private companies routinely put comsats on orbit. The thing is, though, there are big players in the space market -- the space agencies and the militaries. They tend to pay for really big projects and this draws firms to them and raises overall costs. This is no different than government funding in healthcare or higher education. It tends in those areas to drive prices up. And this has nothing to do with it being in the research stage.
>> But I'm not really sure what you say makes sense. If one is merely
>> looking at results, governments have already built rockets -- or paid
>> for big aerospace firms to build them -- to get to Mars and the asteroids.
> But look at the difference in cost. Nasa is paying the russians around
> $60 million to deliver one ape to the space station. SpaceX estimates
> that they can do the job in 3 (really 5-6) years for $20 million
> (really $30 million). Still, even taking out the marketing puff,
> that's a nice savings.

I'm not arguing otherwise, but you were talking results earlier -- not efficiency. And in terms of results, government space agencies have delivered -- even if they do so at a very high price.

>> Would this result -- many successful missions to those
>> destinations -- prove to you that government is the "right
>> approach"?
> If they could do it economically, but that never happens with the
> government, any government.

But you're switching the terms of the debate. My point is that the criterion here shouldn't be whether can they do X, but something else. And you seem to agree because you switched from Can they do X to Can they do X more efficiently.

>> (To me, it sounds like you're setting yourself up for the TVA
>> response a proponent of government might answer you with:
>> if you merely look at results, the TVA seemed to work really well.
>> If you look at the whole picture, though, the TVA was (and is)
>> great at making electricity at low rates for people in its district as
>> long as it got a huge subsidy from the federal government to begin
>> with. This is like me giving you
>>  a billion pounds, which to you put into a business that sells products
>> below costs, but, hey, you've got a billion pounds to sink into
>> satisfying your customers.:)
> I am not a huge fan of the TVA.. however, it was helpful in winning
> WWII against Japan, so you have to give it some credit, even if it is
> a huge boondoggle.

That war was not libertarian in any sense, but, regardless, the TVA is not libertarian and whatever its impact my point is the TVA involved a massive input of capital. My point was that talk about its customers having low rates for electricity misses this huge input. It's kind like if the government bought up all the restaurants in town and then allowed people to eat in them at one tenth the price. People might marvel at how the government brought low cost dining to the town -- all the while forgetting that huge tax outlay for the restaurants. People who don't understand this might even opine that the government can do things better than people acting without a government.
>> It might be a lot like Amazon's approach to not having large
>> groups of people working on one project. (According to a
>> recent issue of Forbes, Jeff Bezos has a "two pizza" rule.
>> Teams working on projects should no bigger than can be
>> fed with two pizzas. Presumably, they've no heard of the
>> paleo diet.:) Also, it could be that you're right and still that
>> Boeing, given some stiff competition from start ups like SpaceX,
>> might modify the way it approaches these projects. Remember,
>> for a long time, the US space launch industry has been facing
>> little competition* and basically does business under a monopsony,
>> with NASA being the biggest market buyer for launchers, especially
>> big launchers.
> You are making my argument for me here.

Not really. You made what appeared to be a blind assertion.

> What you may not be aware of
> is that Boeing was asked to bid on the same project as SpaceX, and
> they have not yet delivered a proposal good enough to warrant serious
> attention from NASA. But, they WERE asked, and they did field a team.
> I would be willing to bet you $10 that Boeing has already spent more
> than SpaceX trying to enter this space and have NOTHING significant to
> show for it.

I'm not willing to make a bet here, but my point was that you don't really know -- or you'd be willing to bet a lot more. (I'm admitting here, too, that I don't know about Boeing's corporate or R&D culture. That's why I wouldn't make a bet. But if I wanted to make a comment about what precisely it is, I wouldn't reach for my wallet, but do a little research to find out.:)

>> * Of course, this did change with communication satellite launches.
>> And, also, the US military is the other big player here with launches
>> of its satellites. Notably, that military, like all militaries, is also
>> coercively funded -- as well as being the major coercer.
> No argument there... but why does having non-libertarian customers (at
> first) mean that it is not a step towards a more free (as in freedom)
> approach?

See above. It's all about coercion. Why call something libertarian when it's not -- even if it might better than the alternatives?

(And there might be some cause for alarm here. Governments have farmed out work before for projects. In fact, this happens quite often in the US. This does not always lead to less government or less coercion. One need only think of government farming out security and prison provision to private firms. This might result in cost efficient ways to increase coercion. For instance, if private prisons are really cheaper, then government might be far less sensitive to the costs of imprisoning ever more people, including making ever more crimes (especially victimless ones) punishable by prison sentences. I'm not saying this is exactly the case with NASA buying launch services from SpaceX, but it shows that one should have a more nuanced approach to analyzing these things, don't you think?)
> Dan, I'm a glass half full libertarian, you sound here like a glass
> half empty libertarian. :-)

Not at all. Recall, I'm the one that started this thread and am overall quite optimistic about space transport. But that doesn't mean I redefine terms to suit whatever progress might be made. To wit, what is libertarian should be very clear -- it has to involve no coercion, not merely choice or private provision or less coercion. And this is important because many people are confused about what should be a fairly clear concept that's not difficult to apply in this case.



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