NASA AND AEROSPACE
I hope that articles such as Paul Siegler's "Free Space" [July] do not become common fare for the libertarian movement. If he had restricted his analysis to encompass only the history of the satellite telecommunications industry, his arguments would have been well nigh unshakable. However, he chose to include statements directed toward the aerospace industry as a whole, toward the technical and economic aspects of the Space Shuttle, and toward the overall competence and efficiency of NASA—in each case distorting the truth slightly, or dropping the context within which criticism should be evaluated.
For example, he mentions Boeing and Lockheed in the same breath, as representatives of those aerospace companies that "are no longer a part of the free enterprise system." It is true that Lockheed is contemptible because of its virtually total dependence on government subsidy, especially in the face of poor professional performance (e.g., the C-5A and L-1011). But, if anything, Boeing represents the opposite pole, obtaining the great majority of its profits from the sale of commercial aircraft, whose quality has become a byword in the transportation industry. To blur such distinctions is gross intellectual neglect. Furthermore, insofar as no major industry in the 20th century has functioned within "free enterprise," Siegler entirely prejudices his interpretation of the virtues and vices of the aerospace industry.
Another example of this analytical neglect is the casual way in which Siegler critiques the NASA Shuttle program, arguing instead for the adoption of a West German proposal emanating from Technologieforschung. To the uninitiated, this is no doubt impressive. When one consults this reference, however, one finds that Siegler is only expanding on a 60-word paragraph mention of a prefeasibility study conducted in 1971. Prefeasibility designs are nowhere nearly as detailed as finished designs for actual production and exhibit one uniform characteristic: they are cheap only on paper. The monetary figures Siegler cites are unrealistic on the face of it, inasmuch as similar vehicles (i.e., the Titan-3C, with a payload-in-orbit of 27,000 lbs.) cost on the order of $100 million to produce—exclusive of developmental costs. Today, the wind tunnel testing of a complex vehicle costs in the neighborhood of $50 million. I do not mean to barrage the reader with even more data, but it must be demonstrated that Siegler is promoting a proposal which would receive skepticism even within the industry. To foist such tenuous proposals on a nontechnical readership is irresponsible.
Lastly, I must vigorously protest Siegler's shallow depiction of NASA. He rightfully criticizes the funding of NASA from taxes (though the germane issue is taxation, not the existence of NASA) and the contract policies that proved wasteful (though the "free-enterprise" contracting companies should bear the brunt of the guilt, for their deceptions). He utterly neglects to recognize NASA's exemplary record of performance, scientific achievement, technical innovation, safety, resourcefulness, and humanitarian objectives. In the context of the Federal bureaucracy, NASA is outstanding for its productivity and for the way it has actually contributed to the preservation of life and property (from medical technology spin-offs, or weather satellites, for instance). And, contrary to Siegler's critique, NASA is beginning to adopt Cost as a major parameter of system design and development (ref. Astronautics & Aeronautics, June 1974).
No intelligent libertarian should ever argue for NASA to be financed through taxation. Neither should any libertarian equate an astronaut with a tax collector, for the sake of grinding an ideological axe.
My outrage at these matters is not directed at the bulk of what Siegler says, for therein I find great agreement. My outrage proceeds from what he did not say—from the omissions of facts which would not reconcile well with the libertarian premise of wholly Evil government. Life is not that simple. Neither government nor any of its agencies are monolithic, exhibiting only one moral identity. If one is to criticize a facet of the State, it should be in the context of both its virtues and its vices.
Libertarians, zealous in their desire to disseminate an ideology, face the danger of neglecting to recognize the entire truth, by fudging their arguments in the facile manner of Mr. Siegler. They should love truth first, ideology second.
MR. SIEGLER replies: Mr. Dunn's point on the sanctity of Boeing is interesting but not valid as of the era when Boeing demanded over a half billion dollars in guaranteed loans/subsidy to build the SST. Mr. Dunn's critique of my position vis-a-vis the aerospace industry is misleading, as a solid history of uncontrollable project costs within the industry supports my statement. To call most aerospace companies "no longer a part of the free enterprise system"—which is true—is not to say they haven't done some good things (performance). Their things just cost a lot more than they should.
Mr. Dunn's critique of my critique of the Shuttle program is as from a person who didn't read the article for its content and focus. My brief analysis of the Shuttle program was based on two points: cost and constraint to a tightly funded private enterprise. The alternative I mentioned was an example of an alternative to NASA's Shuttle—orders of magnitude lower in cost, without NASA's political constraints.
Mr. Dunn's assumption of the invalidity of Technologieforschung's prefeasibility study was made from the apparent viewpoint of one familiar only with the American aerospace industry. European aerospace companies function quite differently from their American counterparts: instead of putting masses of engineers to work on minute details of every project, they tend to use the "competent team" approach, in which a very few competent engineers work the project until relatively late in the program. Their funding situation requires a more subtle approach than the brute force technique preferred by many American companies. This has generally led to tighter control of project cost in Europe.
Mr. Dunn's comparison of Titan 3-C costs with an overseas project is contextually inappropriate. The Titan 3-C had its origins in several military defense and space programs. Almost by definition, this guaranteed a higher cost than necessary. My studies of project management and government procurement techniques lead me to believe there is an innate tendency for complex government projects to cost more than similar projects in the private sector. This is a function of many situations peculiar to government, including (but not limited to) the free money syndrome; priority of time, performance, or political pressures over cost; frequent change of requirements and specifications; monopsony (and the consequent desire of government to protect its sources at almost any cost); and lack of an objective standard to give objective value to the project in the first place. These factors are simply not as prevalent in inter-corporate contracting practices.
Mr. Dunn's statement that "the germane issue is taxation, not the existence of NASA"—is silly. What is NASA without taxes? What is NASA without a government charter to raise artificial barriers and compete with business on a free service basis? If I had $33 billion to spend over a decade (NASA's budget 1960-1969), I too could come up with an "exemplary record of performance, scientific achievement, technical innovation, safety, resourcefulness, and humanitarian objectives."
But let me speak to a larger point.
I have discussed the concept of space commerce with many people. Over and over again I hear the same comments: either "NASA is no problem because it does so many good things for everyone"; or "There's no market for space enterprise, since NASA provides weather, earth resources, research, and manned space programs for free." The second answers the first, and in a sense verifies that NASA is doing a good job. Too good.
I would expect a person such as Mr. Dunn, who is a graduate research assistant (at the Aerospace Research Laboratory, University of Washington), to complain as he did of unfair treatment to NASA. His point of view is performance, technological progress. His goals—probably his dreams—are being supported and sustained by NASA's actions. Such heady projects as moonshots and Shuttles can easily blind one to means and consequences. NASA's actions are what you see. What you don't see is the binding of many enterprises in their attempts to otherwise expand technology in the direction of greatest value, in the direction of true market need. For NASA is not only spending free money; it is also prohibiting commercial entry in its domain; it is forcing technological focus along particular lines—its own—which have very little relation to market economics; and as a result it is distorting the natural expansion of technology. There are only so many engineers, so much money, so many projects. By skimming the cream in the short run, NASA is causing serious long-range harm to the commercialization of space.
America is entering a Golden Age of Technology. The methods used in bringing us to this age have had both expanding and binding effects. The binding effects are subtle, but very real, and are the more dangerous because the visible causes are Good. Libertarians face two tasks in general. One is to convince those in a ruthless autocracy that there is a better way; this is easy. The other is to convince those in a benevolent democracy; this is hard, for who in that society will stand against the Good?
"Free Space" stated a goal (commerce in space); identified barriers (NASA, cost, political restraints); identified some alternatives to traditional methods of entry; and defined a solution. In this context, I did not feel obliged to praise NASA or any of the other barriers. The article was a preliminary statement to action. As such, I'm satisfied.
Paul L. Siegler
MURRAY ROTHBARD'S THE GREATEST…
I was entertained by Murray Rothbard's latest assault on the "Left" in "Hatred of the Automobile" [REASON, July].
With the skill of a great sanitary technician, he grabs hold of his can (the question—Why does "the Left" hate big automobiles?). Waddling along, he spills only traces of the can's contents (the clues—"the Left" also hates watching football on TV, beer drinking, cigarettes, The Sound of Music, and split-level houses). It is not until the final savory moment that he effortlessly lifts his can into position and lets go the big dump (the theme—"…The Left…hates the bulk of the human race").
Nice job, Murray. You really got your hips into that one.
Some time ago I wrote a letter to REASON pointing out that uncritical acceptance of "libertarian-conservatives" (or is it the other way around?) was giving libertarians a distinctly reactionary image. There was some response to this, generally chiding me for intolerance and factionalism. One reader asserted that libertarians shouldn't be concerned about images anyway—that we ought to concentrate on spreading principles, and leave the image-building to Republicans and Democrats.
It should be obvious that we are going to have some sort of image in the public eye, whether we deliberately cultivate one or not. Depending how libertarians present their ideas and their selves, people will either be interested in pursuing the ideas, or they will be turned off.
I suggest that to attract the most people—or perhaps the right kind of people—we should present ourselves as an intelligent and imaginative avant-garde. Some of the time (Branden, Efron, Szasz, etc.) we project that image, but too often we have been perceived as either conservatives or wild-eyed crackpots.
To give several examples of the latter: the more inflammatory anarchist rhetoric, and various Galt's Gulch retreatist projects, such as the Minerva episode. You may be interested in an even better example of this: the Society of Free Space Colonizers, based in Seattle. There are plenty of avowed libertarians in and around Seattle, but it seems that only the goofiest get press coverage. An article appeared on the front page of the Seattle Times (June 22) spelling out much of the libertarian philosophy—and identifying it with a group that intends to colonize the asteroids by 1990, and are presently raising the money by selling used cars!
On the other hand, many libertarians are finding it hard to shake their association with traditional culture. Ayn Rand has been the most embarrassing example of this—vehemently blasting the counterculture, feminism, the ecology movement, the LP, etc. etc. Now that Rand has been effectively disowned, we find the banner of cultural conservatism carried on by Mr. Rothbard.
For a long time, the only sign of this was his sniggering opposition to feminism, expressed in BFL and the now-defunct Individualist. Now he has come out praising Chevy Impalas and the beer-drinking addicts of TV football in a column ["Viewpoint," July] about transportation that scarcely concerns itself with the real issues of transportation at all. He ignores the well-known fact that automobiles are guzzling an irreplaceable resource at a rate that cannot be maintained much longer, preferring instead to take pot-shots at the Left. He dismisses bicycles with a contemptuous sniff, ignoring the fact that they are cheap, healthful, and non-polluting. He has so little imagination that he seems to think that all subways will be as smelly and decrepit as the ones where he lives. In short, he comes off as a complete reactionary, pandering to the fears of "Middle America."
There is more to the question of image than the maxim "If you don't package it right it won't sell"—although that's true enough, as far as it goes. The image we present is the result of our entire cultural outlook—what we are, what role we intend to play in history, and how we intend to go about doing it. This ought to be open to a continuous re-examination instead of being shunted aside or tacitly assumed.
The image we project is a good indicator of the health of the movement. If it is unfortunately true that libertarians often appear to be crackpots or conservatives, the answer is that many of them probably are.
Congratulations and compliments on your August 1974 issue. To me, this was one of your best. I especially enjoyed your interview with Peter Breggin, and I thought John Hospers' article on "The Life and Death of New York" was beautifully done.
Nathaniel Branden, Ph.D.
Los Angeles, CA
CITY INCOME TAXES
It is no sense of pleasure that requires me to correct one statement in John Hospers' recent article about New York City [August]. Hospers states that New York City "alone among the cities of the U.S. exacts a city income tax on top of the other two (state and federal income taxes)."
Currently Cleveland, Columbus and many other Ohio cities are exacting city income taxes on top of a state income tax. This trend for imposing municipal income taxes on top of Federal and state income taxes is spreading across the nation. In California the City of Oakland is trying to evade the provision in the State Constitution which prohibits a municipal income tax. Oakland is calling their income tax a "payroll tax" in the hope of avoiding this constitutional restriction.
Unfortunately when Dr. Hospers discusses the problems of New York he is attributing a negative characteristic to taxation in New York City which is also shared, and being spread to, other cities and many other taxpayers across the U.S. Municipal income taxes are rapidly becoming the rule, rather than the exception to the rule.
Karl E. Peterjohn
What's the deal here? Each month the Profiles feature gets stranger and stranger. I can't really believe those people do all those things. I suppose September's will run like this:
Ms. X, an associate professor of nuclear chemistry, also is the local chapter leader of the Libertarian Party and chemical-biological warfare advisor to the Anarchist Liberation Army. She graduated from Vassar at fifteen and took postgraduate work in six countries. Besides completing her first novel, Try And Get It, and publishing her now-famous paper "Getting the most from your Hydroxyl-group," she also found time to act as a rocket-sled test pilot for McDonnell-Douglas, and drive her Porsche 917F to her second consecutive Can-Am series award. Asked by our REASON correspondent how she packs so much into her spare time, she answered, "Gee, I dunno." When not playing jai alai out on the university fronton, Ms. X is home practicing her hobbies—finishing her violin concerto in A minor, playing with her black panther, "Kitty," or whipping up one of the recipes that won her an honorable mention in the 1973 Pillsbury Bake-Off.
All kidding aside, it's hard to imagine how one person can do so much. Libertarians seem to come off better than most in this regard. Most people are just sitting around spinning their wheels.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".