President Elect Obama is exploring the idea of breaking down barriers between the military and civilian space programs. Does that strike anyone else as odd?

Since Dwight Eisenhower's farewell speech gave rise to the term in 1961 people have grown more and more wary of what he called the "military-industrial complex", a self-perpetuating industrial infrastructure founded in American military supremacy. NASA was born in part out of Eisenhower's concern over military domination of America's technological resources. It represented a separation of military and civilian goals for the use of space.

The Bloomberg article noted at the top of this post quotes NASA chief Michael Griffin as saying China will probably put people on the Moon before our scheduled return in 2020. By that time it will have been nearly fifty years since the last American Moon flight. The fact of the matter is we can't return there ourselves given the technologies we have squandered since the great adventure of the 1960s. In the quest to build a new generation of Moon-capable rockets NASA engineers have resorted to rummaging among the unused Saturn boosters left on the grounds at various NASA facilities for clues to how things were done before.

The new administration may find ways to save some money on medium duty boosters in the military space program, but neither the Delta nor the Atlas programs provide the true heavy boosters necessary to counter the Chinese challenge. If America wants to retain the technological and literal "high ground" we need to spend the money that must be spent either to develop next-generation heavy boosters or ressurrect the very successful rockets we sent people to the moon with two generations ago.

Will anxieties over the space program of China drive the new administration to blur the lines between these programs? If they do how concerned should we be at the breach? I should think any true liberal would get the willies at the idea of breaking down the barriers between military and civilian space programs, and perhaps allowing the military influence to infiltrate even more deeply into the civilian program than it already has.

Posted by Lee Emmerich Jamison at January 2, 2009 11:01 AM
Comment #273049


Ideological liberal and conservative barriers are what need to be torn down. What Obama is suggesting is pragmatism in a time when every dollar saved will be a dollar earned, and where vastly greater transparency and accountability for military activities and spending are demanded and can be accommodated if the barriers between the two are removed and the public and private sectors are merged to the extents possible while preserving national security secrecy.

The time of black budgets which the public tax payer may not know exists are coming to a close. Bush and Republicans increased the national debt by 5 trillion between 2001 and the close of Spring of 2008, and Katrina, Iraq, Afghanistan, and 9/11 accounted for only slightly more than 2 trillion of that 5 trillion.

Accountability for the spending of tax payer’s dollars is long overdue, and only by bringing government and its spending programs out of secret subterranean rooms can accountability be brought to bear.

Sounds like a very pragmatic approach with multiple objectives achieved by one approach. Just what I expect and hope for from Obama policy approaches.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 2, 2009 12:56 PM
Comment #273054

“Hmmm. Obama’s doing something different than what’s done before. Let’s view it with suspicion.”

I have the feeling that the above sentiment is going to be standard response of Republicans to all changes he makes.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 2, 2009 2:38 PM
Comment #273057

No, Stephen, actually he’s pretty much doing exactly what I expect those who dine on the expectations of ideological liberals to do. He is presenting a warm and fuzzy face that disarms people to the dangers of unaccountable bureaucrats. Now, very rightly, it can be pointed out that this is the obverse of the coin we saw in the Bush administration whereby small-government conservatives were disempowered by the very people they had been lulled into thinking would do their bidding. That is the warning I’m seeking to give.

David’s first sentance is correct to an extent. Ideological prejudices are a terrible problem. I commented a couple of weeks ago that Paul Krugman was, I thought, wrong a lot. It is because he really believes most conservatives are reflected by the leadership we have gotten from the political parasites who live off of conservative desires, and even that we are all racists at heart, or worse. This prejudice gives little credence to our protests of fear of government, believing we can’t really be sincere about such things.

The truth is that conservatives are just as blind to their own prejudices toward liberals and their means. We have a knee-jerk assurance that liberalism is at best self-delusion. At worst, we believe, it is simply parasitic, using sterile but semi-religious homilies to lull a cynical public into handing over both political franchise and economic self determination for the vague promise of a better day.

Politically, though, what is really happening is the real parasites use our misconceptions about each other against all of us. Conservatives use conservative prejudice to empower people who grow government and encroach on human rights. Then liberals use liberal prejudice to empower people who grow government into the private economy, blur the lines of difference among the nations and economies of the world, and allow the military-industrial complex to grow roots in the civilian space program.

We’re all being played for fools.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at January 2, 2009 4:40 PM
Comment #273059

The U. S. surendered the high ground in space when Nixon signed the bill authorizing the space shuttle. The high ground was furthur eroded when the original concept of a 100% reusable craft was compromised. As a result of that decision, the shuttle program became more expensive than the single booster rocket method of achieving earth orbit.

For a fraction of the cost of a typical shuttle prep and launch, the large LOHX booster rockets could have been boosted into orbit with the shuttle, providing a tremendous savings in building space habitat. Instead, those boosters were allowed to crash back to earth resulting in a tremendous economic loss to save a few bucks.

NASA engineers are looking at the old saturn boosters to learn how we did it in the sixties.

With this decision, Obama is signaling the begining of the end for the U.S. civilian space program. Apparently, the military will be the ones going to the Moon. How soon before the fist Moon War?

Vision is something that is lacking in 99 and 44/100’s of our politicians. This includes the corporate CEO Obama.

Posted by: jlw at January 2, 2009 4:53 PM
Comment #273062

I think the Military Industrial Complex won out over the civilian here a long time ago. I would point again to what happened when an earlier POTUS proposed missile defense. There were a number of small companies doing various research on the uses of lasers, started by former employees of Martin Marietta, going in different directions. They were bought by Litton Industries , which was later bought by Northrop Grumman . We would be better off with the smaller companies competing with eachother, rather than one large corporation.

Posted by: ohrealy at January 2, 2009 5:48 PM
Comment #273071

Lee Jamison-
The problem with Conservatism during the last thirty years is that it was never really a coherent political philosophy at its strongest points. More or less, today’s conservatism was about opposing Liberalism.

The religious conservatives wanted government to put the brakes on society’s secularization, to turn the clock back on moral issues. But were they necessarily concerned about running deficits or the free market, or small government?

The Wall Street Republicans wanted government out of their way, but not necessarily small or uninvolved. But social change? They could care less, typically.

The Neocons could care less, typically, about rolling back big government or social change. They just wanted an aggressive foreign policy that went looking for monsters to slay.

So on, so forth. If you really look at it, it was built as a coalition to oppose the Democrats, to oppose the changes they wrought in the previous generation, to take advantage of those groups they alienated.

It’s not really a conspiracy. It fails the test of really being truly organized on every level. True enough, it’s organized on those different factional levels, but they were always biding their time until the party as a whole was on top.

Once the party was on top, it had no other dragons left to defeat but the rivals within itself. You wonder why I caution my fellow Democrats on making everything about adversarial partisanship; this is why. Democrats cannot simply be a coalition of anti-Republican interest groups.

Let me put it plainly here: This is about pragmatism for me. Always has been. My chief complaint about your party as it came to power and remained there is that you folks were more interested in making ideological points and winning political fights than running a government that did good for the people. There’s this kind of condescending attitude in the Republican party that treats folks who express the need for help from the government with this kind of patronizing pity, but is all to willing to jump to benefit big business on a moment’s notice.

The Space Program has been a victim of this, the Space Shuttle more or less a Low-Earth Orbit Cash Cow. We’ve lost sight of the point of this exploration, the urgency of it. Have you ever wondered what life might be like as we colonize and commercialize space travel? We charmed ourselves into thinking that somehow, if we let go of scientific, engineering, and other endeavors, and just focused inwards, we could just “take care of business” our way back into prosperity.

That’s not going to happen. I’ve got news for everyone here: the military industrial complex already has its roots in the civilian space program. The contractors are, in many cases, the same folks who work on military applications. I think in some part, Obama’s just sweeping aside a distinction that lacked for a difference, so that we can get the ball rolling much faster.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 2, 2009 11:18 PM
Comment #273072

ohrealy, you hit that nail on the head. Agree 100%. The oligopolies have to be forced to surrender to true competition through ardent enforcement of anti-trust laws, and sensible limits and review over mergers and acquisitions, ESPECIALLY, where tax payer dollars are concerned.

That old neo-con yarn that the military can only rely upon 1 corporation for a specific item, hence justifying no bid contracts, ain’t going to fly under an Obama administration.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 2, 2009 11:51 PM
Comment #273073

Lee, I think you are confusing the engineer with the railroad track. The engineers, which you call, conservatives, may be on board, but, the rails, the GOP, determines where that train goes. The engineers just determine how fast or slow it gets there.

What I am saying is that you cannot separate the GOP and the concept of conservatives. The GOP is the only viable “conservative” party in America, and the GOP is what it’s elected officials do in office. The GOP controls the conservative agenda in government, NOT the other way around. The last 8 years are excruciatingly clear on this point.

The fact is, the conservatives in America have always been a minority since the 1929 stock market crash, especially. When the GOP attempted to become a majority party, they had to incorporate a plethora of other agendas which do not align with so called “true conservative” ideals or policies.

If the GOP remains intent upon becoming a majority party, it will have to isolate conservatives as a minority wing of a much larger party. Only if the GOP is willing to remain a loyal minority opposition party, can the GOP remain a true conservative party.

Conservative ideology only appeals to wealthy capitalists wanting all restraints on their capitalist activities removed, and all consequences of their actions legal and without recourse. They are anti-litigation, anti-civil suit, ant-regulation, anti-government where oversight and regulation of the private sectors are concerned, believing instead in self-regulation.

None of these ideologies are going to have wide appeal within the middle class and working poor, who make up the majority of voters. Oh, sure, the GOP can fool all the people some of the time, like Ronald Reagan did, but only at the expense of true conservative ideology and a lot of charade. Reagan did after all, escalate national debt to inordinate numbers for his day. That is not in keeping with true conservative principles of pay as you go, and foregoing the expense of interest payments which amount to nothing more than lost opportunities.

So, which do you prefer, a true conservative GOP minority party, or a hybrid like the neo-con/social/religious conservative big tent party which elected GW Bush, and left the nation highly conflicted, divided, fighting two wars nobody wants to keep paying for, and an economy in shambles for hybrid and contradictory economic policies?

My crystal ball is on the fritz, but, I would bet that the Libertarian Party garners ever more of the true conservative ideologues from the GOP going forward, leaving the GOP saddled with Sarah Palin as their preference in 2012 or 2016, pedaling a return to the good old days of Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich, under sage advisors like Jack Kemp, Duncan Hunter, and Tom Tancredo, who are conservative ONLY on certain select cherry picked policy issues, and moderate middle roaders on a host of others. That is the ticket to a GOP majority party, but, it will hardly be, yet again, a true conservative party.

In fact, when all is said and done, it may prove to be the case that Obama is the more conservative of the likes of Susan Collins, Sarah Palin, and Bobby Jindals of the future. Hardly your banner children for true conservative ideology, of small, non-interventionist government and tax free business. Sarah Palin made her reputation on Taxing the Oil companies of her state and raising those taxes for citizen’s benefit. Bobby Jindal will never put budget ahead of people in need as a result of natural or economic disaster. And Susan Collins is a bleeding heart for her constituents emotional and financial condition woes.

I think these will be the base of the GOP going forward as they seek a return to majority Party status. And they are not true conservative ideologues by a long shot.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 3, 2009 12:24 AM
Comment #273080

Your concerns have merit. This bears close watching. IMO Eisenhower was the last great Republican president. His administration was above all practical. Knowing much of war his statement that every weapon was a literal theft from the poor of the world should be the hallmark of our forign policy. By useing Pentagon rockets for peaceful space exploration we could be in effect turning swords to plowshares.

Posted by: bills at January 3, 2009 7:39 AM
Comment #273092

You’ve made a number of very good points that should be commentied on individually.

It’s not really a conspiracy. It fails the test of really being truly organized on every level. True enough, it’s organized on those different factional levels, but they were always biding their time until the party as a whole was on top.
True. But the truth of the simple statement misses the point. The interplay of the governed and government in our system is evolutionary. It is the natural expectation that humans will seek to empower themselves. That is the root of the love of money. Therefore the fact that the two parties will not see their own actions as being predatory is irrelevant. Both feed a system in which government is more and more empowered by even the well-meaning power-seeking. Look at the recent headlines about well-meaning politicians seeking to find ways to assist medium market newspapers so they will not close. The idea is not evil. The eventual results, however, almost certainly would be.

That is a simple example of the click of an evolutionary pawl on the ratchet of governmental power, one you should be very worried about.

Let me put it plainly here: This is about pragmatism for me. Always has been.
I see it the same way for my own positions. My chief complaint about liberals in general is that they see too easily the ways our system fails while discounting the myriad ways in which it works. When they identify a failure they then seem to resort, in government intervention, to the bluntest possible instrument of change. Our tax system, for example, is a flagrant travesty that renders as much as a tenth of our economic effort totally useless in the production of real wealth. It is so POLITICALLY imperitive as an instrument of fear and raw power that we can’t afford reason in taxation.
My chief complaint about your party as it came to power and remained there is that you folks were more interested in making ideological points and winning political fights than running a government…
What you say of our politicians is true,(as though it weren’t true of Democrats when they were in charge…) however I would dispute that rank and file Republicans really wanted to pick and win fights for their own sake.

Some ideological points, like desiring judges who must deal with the wording of laws in a very narrow, if not literal way, are meant to limit the capacity of government to empower itself without our consent. I will continue at every available opportunity to fight tooth-and-nail for this sort of jurisprudence. Keeping the fairness doctrine dead, and thus maintaining a lively public debate on the issues of the day, is another of those points. Those points come from a concern for individual freedom in the face of that evolution of government I mention above..

…that did good for the people.
In all of the points I make I remember that the State of New York refused to enter into the new Constitution in 1789 until a Bill of Rights had been added thereto precisely because the members of that state’s delegation feared the kind of gorowth of power we have seen in our government. What is the greatest good we received from the government they gave us? It rendered all other, more powerful governments, obsolete and released a tidalwave of growth and innovation from the people who had come here to secape them. The government can do us good, yes. but it will not do so by underestimating how much more good we can do on our own behalf if we are well trained to take advantage of opportunities made possible when government does not tell us how we MUST act.
There’s this kind of condescending attitude in the Republican party that treats folks who express the need for help from the government with this kind of patronizing pity,…
First of all, there is condescension to go around. The Republican Party has treated those of us who believe in small government like pariahs.

It is not, however, patronizing to get people out of the grips of systems designed to manipulate them. Welfare, for example, punished marriage and the contiuation of family units, and thus actively fostered the current disintegration of black and poor families in the United States. I personally remember conversations with teenage women about how they could get more money by having more babies, as long as they didn’t get married. Nothing is a better predictor of success in the United States than having been raised in a family that remembered its own history. Personal narrative and mythology is a key to a sense of self and of purpose. Children raised in families that can’t even remember their own fathers are devastated before they even start.

…but is all to willing to jump to benefit big business on a moment’s notice.
Too true of Republicans, but also of Democrats. What is different here is not whether industries benefit, but which industries will benefit. Each side has their favorites. One of the ploys of the Bush administration was to try to weaken the Democrat’s advantage with the financial services industry. We see the disaster that, among other things, has fostered.

The Space Program has been a victim of this, the Space Shuttle more or less a Low-Earth Orbit Cash Cow.
There is a military strategy that could be described as “distributed prosperity”. With it the government seeks to maintain the vitality of several companies in high-tech fields vital to military endeavor, even if they are not the best bid on a given project. You can see the fingerprints of that process all over the shuttle program.

The shuttle was never a good idea. Even in my teens I could see that the issues involved with keeping it viable from one flight to the next would magnify costs.

We’ve lost sight of the point of this exploration, the urgency of it. Have you ever wondered what life might be like as we colonize and commercialize space travel?
Actually I’ve written quite a bit on it. When Yahoo allowed blog responses to its articles I liked to comment on the science ones, especially those on space exploration. As you point out the ‘exploration’ point is the most important part. It is also the hardest part to control once it gets started. I have suspected fro decades that space EXPLORATION was being stymied precisely because we could succeed at it. Then people would start living in almost metaphysically dangerous places on a daily basis, learning how to be relatively self-sufficient on the bounty of space. People learn what they think they need to thrive. There the survival learning curve will be huge. There will be no loners. A survivable I.Q. will start somewhere around 130.

People who figure out how to build infrastructure out there will be able to make billions of dollars, will be extremely practical, and will quickly grow weary with the pettiness of our sense of entitlement and prerogative. In other words, they will likely be a lot like our American ancestors.

We charmed ourselves into thinking that somehow, if we let go of scientific, engineering, and other endeavors, and just focused inwards, we could just “take care of business” our way back into prosperity.
There is no limit to the benefits we can reap from a real, exploratory, space program.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at January 3, 2009 5:28 PM
Comment #273093

The article on government support of newspapers is apparently designed not to paste, but I think you can copy and paste into your address bar.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at January 3, 2009 5:31 PM
Comment #273096


I am not against the use of the military rockets in the civilian program. I’m not even against the development in the military space program of a true heavy-lift launch vehicle to replace the Saturn, though I’d prefer we did it in a civilian program. Many of our commercial aircraft, for example, were developed simultaneously in the military and for civilian use and the Saturn program itself was designed by the team led by Werner Von Braun, who cut his teeth on the German V-2 terror weapon. The Redstone rocket that put Alan Shepard into a sub-orbital flight was, in fact, little more than a generational advance of that very rocket.

There you can see an object lesson in the dangers of a military program infiltrating, or becoming the rationale for an exploratory program. Von Braun was always tainted by the compromises he made to use rampant military development to drive and fund his essentially secular interest in space exploration.

I recognize it could be said Von Braun successfully used the same playbook in the space race with the Soviets, but at least with NASA we were developing components that could have military applications in a CIVILIAN space program. That is not unlike our civilian economy, the real tool by which so many claim we have established an American ‘empire’.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at January 3, 2009 6:00 PM
Comment #273105

I recall reading a review of Von Braun’s autobiography. The book was titled,”Reach for the Stars.” The reviewer called it, “Reach for the Stars…but sometimes hit London.”Point is science is absolutly ammoral by definition. This does not mean scientist are, nor should they be allowed immunity from prosecution when appropriate.
There is little difference between programs when the justification for advancement is competition with a forign power nor is this the most efficient way to meet the goal of space exploration. A manned mission to the moon,although very cool, was not particularly significant as far as space exploration,colonization,utilization etc. Niether will another one be, by us or the Chinese. Perhaps they are looking for new places to open resturants and 7-11s.

Posted by: bills at January 4, 2009 12:10 AM
Comment #273109

I think Obama’s efforts to merge the military and civilian space programs are, as David Remer said, purely pragmatic.

Something to remember is the fact that China’s intending to land a man on the moon within the next several years, and India’s planning a lunar rover. People, we have let our lead slip precariously, and it truly is a matter of national security that we keep on top of the high ground that is space. Failure to do so probably won’t hurt us greatly in the short run, but in the long run it’s not just our national prestige, but our ability to defend our country and national interests in the final frontier.

Tanks and ships are still somewhat important, but not nearly so much as our expansion into space. Slash our military budget by half (it’s expanded 74% in the past eight years), and use the savings to secure our borders, fund our expansion into space, and lessen our budget deficit. We do NOT need to continue to spend 48% of the entire world’s defense budget!

Posted by: Glenn Contrarian at January 4, 2009 1:19 AM
Comment #273116

Collaborative international space exploration and development has been the ‘in’ thing for the last couple decades. Given the enormous costs of moving into space, it just makes sense that this international cooperative paradigm continue to grow and develop on the public dime.

On the other hand, private sector interest in space has been growing as well with plans already drawn for private sector space activities. This too is appropriate if coordinated, as national ventures into space are now coordinated for the most part.

Finding mutually beneficial cost sharing arrangements between private and public sector funding for space development and exploration is an eminently practical approach, which brings with it the potential benefit of greater transparency and accountability for national activities in space, which will be essential to security going forward.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 4, 2009 10:31 AM
Comment #273130


If it were hard to launch thing from the surface of the Moon into space the Moon really would not be all that important to us, but it’s not. That makes the Moon a remarkable piece of military real estate, like the hills at Gettysburg. As at Gettysburg, leaving the advantage of the high ground to others in an early stage of a conflict leaves one with no way to stage an offense. With an electrically operated rail gun laid out on the surface of the moon an object could be launched directly into lunar orbit. From there it could be landed on any spot on Earth. A simple, essentially inert, two or three ton concrete spear dropped from the moon could destroy several city blocks. If, as is suspected, there is ice frozen at the poles, everything that is necessary to make that concrete is already there.

If knowledge and terror at such a prospect is what it takes to make people sit up and take notice at the stupidity of leaving the Moon solely to the Chinese, or Russians, or whomever, let us be scared now. It is perfectly sane to worry at the consequences of not sharing the high ground while you have the chance.

Economics is a form of warfare. It is the most rational and peaceful form of dealing with the fact that people and nations can’t help being competitive. If we fail to compete in the places where others will we risk not being ready when those others find the hidden advantages of places we foolishly wrote off before the fact.

We should have a strong civilian space program now- before the reason we have to have a crash space program later really is fear of the military advantages being left to our rivals.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at January 4, 2009 7:16 PM
Comment #273134

Lee Jamison-
You had better be careful in discussing evolution around me, because my observation is, evolution is not necessarily a progressive process.

Even metaphorically speaking, the tendencies of selective pressures in a system don’t necessarily tend towards the progressive.

Which in english comes out to this: in the market and in the government, the typical person adjusts to the current system as long as they can maintain things a certain way.

I don’t think welfare alone caused degradation of people in inner city black communities, for example. There’s the building of hi-rise projects that disrupted the street culture. There’s the collapse of the tax base as caused by the white-flight. There’s the collapse of the working class manufacturing base, which used to be a major employer for people in the inner cities.

One thing to keep in check is this sense of things as inevitable. Expectations often define motivation. If you think government will only screw something up, if you think taking up the challenge to improve things is futile, would you be the first person in line to succeed?

A bit of skepticism about your chances of success is healthy. But there’s a difference betweens skepticism and outright contrarianism. To be a skeptic means you start out with an open mind, and critically remove different possibilities as you look for the truth. A contrarian has already convinced themselves of a certain conclusion.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 4, 2009 11:35 PM
Comment #273137

You are right about ceding the high ground ,unfortunately. At any rate it will probably be easier to get funding for defense purposes. Eisenhower used that tactic to get funding for the interstate highway system. In order to get funding for a major multi-generational economic stimulas program he called for military roads to get it through a reluctant congress.
A bit off for a political blog but a rail gun should also be built on earth. Its even easier than the doing it on the moon. More G to overcome but more room to do it in,ready power source etc. It should be an efficient way to place objects in orbit and ,once developed, much cheaper than rocketry.

Posted by: bills at January 5, 2009 7:31 AM
Comment #273141


I don’t hold that evolution is always progressive. It simply is the unavoidable working algorithm of systems that leave functional operators as the remnant of prior operations in given environments. We have allowed our government to operate in an example of an environment that favors operations which can be reliably shown to be unsustainable in difficult or dynamic times.

Dinosaurs of great size were sustainable in the very static environment afforded by the Earth’s ancient high temperatures, but their capacity to respond to a more dynamic environment was too limited and all the dinosaurs but the birds died out. Government is very like that, while medium and small businesses are far more mammalian- quick to breed, admittedly quick to fail but also very quick to adapt to changing situations.

My study of evolution leads me to believe that large animals serve a stabilizing function in the environment, one government may serve to some extent in our economic environment. That does not mean an environment should be made entirely of those large ‘animals’, however.

There is, of course, an irony in this. Liberals try to use government to create a stability they recognize as good (as business moguls try to use huge corporations to do exactly the same thing). From the definition of the word that is a form of conservatism. Their regard of government is no less fawning than the regard the very religious apply to organized religion. In fact it is almost identical, except that government has the power to demand what it considers “good” by force of law when each individual in the religious institutions so often despised by liberals acts voluntarily.

How is the type of organization that permits people to do good as they see fit not more “progressive” than the organization that, like the Catholic Church of the Middle Ages, has the power to tell people how they would do what it coerces us to accept as good?

The engineering aspects of a rail gun on Earth are, because of the atmosphere we have to launch through, at least as daunting as those of building on the Moon. Atmospheric drag in the moments immediately after launch could easily exceed twenty to thirty Gs. From reports I’ve read it appears the Earth-based device would be practical only for launching nearly solid objects.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at January 5, 2009 9:56 AM
Comment #273143

Lee Jamison-
I see the economy and the national government as ecosystems, environments, habitats, rather than as species of their own.

To see them as separate is to ignore the contribution of individuals in them.

When we talk about the dinosaurs, we’re not talking about an ill-adapted, eccentrically situated species that simply adapted itself out of sustainability. We’re talking about a whole family of species that was wiped out in a catastrophic event that undermined the sustainability of even the most robustly adapted and adaptable of the species among them.

Which is to say that this kind of external misfortune can strike species that have not contributed, through feedbacks in their environment, to their own destruction.

There is one important distinction here that should be marked: there is very little about our economy, our market, or our government that does not involve choice. There, one can see the inherent flaw in the argument.

Another flaw is what we could call a tragedy of the commons. Without a proper governmental and private market arrangement, certain resources, like fish stocks, have a way of becoming overused.

Also, if regulation is not configured right, resources can become underused. One example is the biotech industry, where a dense thicket of patents has made it difficult to prototype and sell the results of a great deal of research in that sector.

The question is not whether regulation is better than deregulation (or vice versa), private enterprise better than government (or vice versa), big government better than small, (or vice versa). The question is whether or not the system works properly and how we can change things to improve the system. Neither benign neglect nor aggressive micromanagement are the answer. There is no simple answer, as a matter of fact.

What we have or should have, is a pathway of deliberate questioning and inquiry, with the results we desire weighed between the goals we have for the system as a whole, and our main question being what methods will suffice to bring us closest to getting things right?

There is no getting things completely right. We should not, though, assume that their is no path of better result, no alternative to our current situation. The question is one of feedback and understanding.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 5, 2009 12:29 PM
Comment #273147

That the dinosaurs were successful is not in dipute. Nor is the entire idea of government being an environment, in as much as even an individual in a species can represent an environment for other species.

The reason I chose to use Dinosaurs in the illustration, though, was they were a family largely dominated by megafauna. Compare them adaptation by adaptation to mammalian megafauna of today and I would suggest dinosaurs could readily outcompete the best modern mammals can offer. If it was a single catastrope that brought about their demise (I’m still not completely convinced.) their size, made possible by their greater environmental fitness, was a critical flaw at a critical time.

The point is government’s bigness is a similar flaw no matter how fit it is!

As to the environment/species comment all environmental regimes are similarly complex, interactive systems. Admitting that, for the sake of illustration, I have oversimplified the technical details, the evolution occurring in government favors bloat. The system can continue to gather resources because taxes (and the ability to print money) are not connected to efficacy. In fact illustrations like the Laffer curve show that efficacy can be irrelevant to the tendency of government to grow as long as it simply fails to collapse the economy. That is fairly simple thermodynamics.

From that standpoint it is not incorrect to conceive of a contained complex system as though it were a “species”. As long as the complex system can continue to choose to gather and process more resources it will almost certainly do so.

There was a case study back in the 1960s in which reindeer were introduced to an island with no predators. The starting population was, as I recall, three breeding pairs. Within a few years the population had exploded to more than 140. When the observing scientists returned in two more years the population had collapsed to just three individuals, all near starvation. They had collapsed the island ecosystem. The same thing happened on Easter Island with somewhat less drastic results, but with humans. Earth can be like that if we don’t watch ourselves. So can the economy of the United States.

It can be seen as an evolutionary system, an ecology, in the same way.
As to this paragraph-

The question is not whether regulation is better than deregulation (or vice versa), private enterprise better than government (or vice versa), big government better than small, (or vice versa). The question is whether or not the system works properly and how we can change things to improve the system. Neither benign neglect nor aggressive micromanagement are the answer. There is no simple answer, as a matter of fact.
-The trouble is that the alternative to big government when big government fails seems to be BIGGER government. When the system fails we don’t get rid of the bad system and start over. We claim the system that failed meant well but didn’t have the resources. Now we’re following this same path with big banks and all manner of other industries.

It is not being simplistic to suggest that portions of government that do badly should be fired and efficiently replaced the way the marketplace got rid of, and replaced, Pan Am, Fed Mart, and Montgomery Ward.

It is being simplistic to say there is no way to do it without the world falling apart.

Posted by: Lee Jamison at January 5, 2009 2:31 PM
Comment #273213

Lee said: “Liberals try to use government to create a stability they recognize as good (as business moguls try to use huge corporations to do exactly the same thing).”

There is a lot wrong with this prejudicial and non objective view of Liberals.

First, business moguls started out being motivated by wealth accumulation. Most politicians start out desiring to serve their children’s future or improvement of conditions within their state or community, as well as pursuing a career in public relations and public speaking which they may have a natural talent for.

Second, government in a democratically elected form is an inherently UNSTABLE form of government as it shifts with the passions, prejudices, and education levels of the electorate. Liberals don’t try to use government to create stability any more or less than conservatives do. Both attempt to make government itself a stable and predictable administrative organization capable of handling the challenges that time, economic, foreign, social, and cultural changes will invariably present. The ideology of liberals and conservatives springs from this very intent to enable government to meet the nation’s challenges.

This is why Obama is not a traditional Democrat, nor politician. He is attempting to abandon ideological approaches for pragmatic solutions which can function without overstepping Constitutional boundaries. This is also why Obama garnered so much support from so many Republican, independent, third party, and disenchanted Democratic voters.

Third, liberals acknowledge a role and necessity of government to serve the needs of the majority of the people as defined by the people, whereas, conservatives attempt to deliver unto the people what conservatives themselves have deemed best for the people. Hence the literal names of the liberal and conservative parties, Democrats and Republicans.

I grant that in practice, this ideological difference is greatly diminished by each party’s reliance upon expertise in facing the challenges of the people, but, this difference nonetheless accounts for many of the differences between how the liberal party and conservative party administer governance, along lines of secrecy, accountability and regulation, and the perceived need to hide their actions from the people for the “people’s own good” (compare Nixon and Carter, or Clinton and GW Bush, for examples of differences in approach to secrecy).

But, that is why Vandenheuvel, I believe is quite correct in assessing this period as a tectonic shift in American politics. A shift away from the traditional idelogical differences of the liberal and conservative parties. A shift toward a considerably more pragmatic kind of politician whose agenda and commitment is more centered on meeting challenges and finding practical solutions for the American people and nation, simply because any other approach constitutes a severe threat to their, and everyone else’s, children and their future in this country and world.

The days of believing one can accumulate wealth and care little what happens to America since wealth can support and provide for their children in a number of other countries if this one fails, are coming to an end. They are coming to an end because the realization is dawning that as goes America, so goes the rest of the world. This current leveraging and financial system crisis speaks to this realization in the most concrete terms possible. Globalization of consequences has arrived and there is no turning away from that reality without condemning the future of all children in myriad ways.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 6, 2009 6:20 PM
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