Friday, March 16, 2012

The Limits of the Profit Motive

Something funny happened a few months ago.  Mitt Romney said something I agree with.
ROMNEY: I spent 25 years in business. If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I'd say, "You're fired"  (From the Republican Debate* on January 26. Transcription here & relevant video here).
Romney is absolutely correct.  Businesses exist to make profit and some things, such as space exploration, have little to no immediate profit in sight.  Expecting business to explore space, with all the benefits associated with it, is not just naive, but stupid.  The problem with Mitt Romney's view is that he wants to run government like a business.

I won't go into a long list of the benefits humanity has harvested because of the space program (although here's a good article) but the list is huge. Humanity has benefited so greatly by not just the technological advancements from the space program, but in the inspiration it has given generations to go into the sciences.
The economy and businesses also benefited from the space program.  New industries, markets, and corporations have been created because of the technologies created by the space program.  The space program has resulted in such an amazing return of investment for our society that it has become impossible to imagine society without the advancements the space program has given us.  Even the awful capitalist apologists at Freakonomics agree.

Despite the advancements in technology, the economy, and our society, there is no business that would have ever attempted what NASA did.  Even the very small steps taken by private firms, such as SpaceX or Virgin Galactic, have, at best, merely reapplied technology discovered by public space programs.  This niche market is likely stillborn and only the most ardent Libertarian could suggest otherwise.

This is a clear example for the limits of the profit motive.  Libertarians and others would have you believe that the profit motive is the only engine for progress.  They believe that it is the drive for profit, and nothing else, that advances a society.

The profit motive fails to deliver many essential needs for society.  The profit motive has been positively miserable in providing healthcare, education, public transportation, and environmental protection.  There is clearly a very important role for democratic governance to provide essential services to a society that is bled dry by the insatiable hunger for profit.
One of the reasons why I do not consider myself a liberal nor associate with the Democratic Party is because of the flaccid defense of this essential role for government.  Between Clinton's disastrous "Welfare Reform" to Obama's dismantling of our space program, it has become increasingly clear that our modern political landscape is populated by awful factions. The first wishes to strip away all civil society and simply feed people into the monstrous gears of capital and the second tries to protect capitalism from its own excesses while constantly betraying the heroic working class.

These are depressing times.  We see the environmental devastation, explosion in sweatshop labor, destruction of the middle class, and altogether worsening of conditions for people and all the Democratic Party can offer is the destruction of the space program and healthcare reform that merely reforms the margins.

This is why I spend most of my time blogging about toy soldiers and man-babies fake fighting.

*I was looking through the transcript for the Republican debate and saw Ron Paul joke about age discrimination.  A quick keyword search showed that was the only instance of the word "discrimination" or its variations being used.  Funny, right?

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