Sunday, April 22, 2012

Loss in Space

Charles Krauthammer has a very sharp column on the death of the space shuttle.  Krauthammer is particularly right to note that public policy is in part about keeping one's eyes on long-term tendencies:
Who cares, you say? What is national greatness, scientific prestige or inspiring the young — legacies of NASA — when we are in economic distress? Okay. But if we’re talking jobs and growth, science and technology, R&D and innovation — what President Obama insists are the keys to “an economy built to last” — why on earth cancel an incomparably sophisticated, uniquely American technological enterprise?
We lament the decline of American manufacturing, yet we stop production of the most complex machine ever made by man — and cancel the successor meant to return us to orbit. The result? Abolition of thousands of the most highly advanced aerospace jobs anywhere — its workforce abruptly unemployed and drifting away from space flight, never to be reconstituted.
Well, you say, we can’t afford all that in a time of massive deficits.
There are always excuses for putting off strenuous national endeavors: deficits, joblessness, poverty, whatever. But they shall always be with us. We’ve had exactly five balanced budgets since Alan Shepard rode Freedom 7 in 1961. If we had put off space exploration until these earthbound social and economic conundrums were solved, our rocketry would be about where North Korea’s is today.
Moreover, today’s deficits are not inevitable, nor even structural. They are partly the result of the 2008 financial panic and recession. Those are over now. The rest is the result of a massive three-year expansion of federal spending.
The decline of the space shuttle shows how much President Obama (and much of the rest of the Washington elite) has focused on weakly maintaining the present, even as the present economic model (anti-manufacturing, high-borrowing, and so forth) becomes more and more unsustainable.   Washington has decided it would rather spend billions on unemployment benefits rather than investing in the future sources of new employment, innovation, and discovery.

This is a theme Romney might emphasize: we can no longer afford not to invest in the future.

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