Friday, July 17, 2009

More Lunar Exploration

On National Review Online today, Charles Krauthammer opines that:

For the first time in history, the moon is not just a mystery and a muse, but a nightly rebuke.

Poetic words. But poetry holds the only answer to the question: why? Why go to the Moon? More Krauthammer:

Why do it? It’s not for practicality. We didn’t go to the moon to spin off cooling suits and freeze-dried fruit. Any technological return is a bonus, not a reason. We go for the wonder and glory of it. Or, to put it less grandly, for its immense possibilities. We choose to do such things, said JFK, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” And when you do such magnificently hard things — send sailing a Ferdinand Magellan or a Neil Armstrong — you open new human possibility in ways utterly unpredictable.

I'm as tempted as the next space nut to jump on this bandwagon. And if CK were calling for a massive private initiative to go, I'd already be with him. Unfortunately, of course, he isn't:

Yes, we have a financial crisis. No one’s asking for a crash Manhattan Project. All we need is sufficient funding from the hundreds of billions being showered from Washington....

Obviously, CK views space exploration as a separate, unique government project that should be funded in its own right. Fine. But hundreds of other government projects are viewed the same way by other people. If you can get your own pet project - an admittedly romantic, impractical one! - funded, then you undermine your rational, principled objections to those other projects.

One reason government seems to grow without bound is that different interest groups trade projects: I will help you get your project funded if you will help me with mine. This dynamic works in corollary with the fact that the few recipients of a project's funding work like mad to keep it funded - it is their livelihood - but the many taxpayers providing that funding individually have less incentive to cancel it. Each project may only cost the average taxpayer a few dollars; it is only collectively that the burden is felt.

The only way conservatives will actually shrink the size of government is to resist these romantic temptations. The fact that this is so difficult surely provides the pressure that inexorably inflates government.

UPDATE: Unsurprisingly, John Derbyshire is with me on this one.

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