Privatization

The Art of Lunar Community

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From a piece co-written by Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon:

A base on the Moon does not have to be a permanent government-controlled and owned facility. After it has been fully established, control could be handed over to a private non-profit consortium that would lease space to companies and governments which will then pursue their individual goals, such as energy, research, tourism, or developing the technology and supplies needed for further space exploration.

Before the Lunar anarchists claim Aldrin as one of their own, they should note the phrase "after it has been fully established." Aldrin still thinks the government should subsidize the settlement of space, and he proposes this privatization in the context of endorsing NASA's latest moondoggle. Me, I think any moonbase should be private because I don't want to spend any tax dollars building and maintaining it. If that means we end up with no moonbase, the disappointment won't kill me.

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  1. …they should note the phrase “after it has been fully established.”

    I noticed that. I also noticed the phrase “non-profit”.

    Why don’t you try ‘n contact Star-Command again Buzz.

  2. If that means we end up with no moonbase, the disappointment won’t kill me.

    It will if the ChiComs get one first.

  3. I’m ok with a moonbase as long as it’s run by a self-aware computer named Mycroft Holmes.

  4. I’m cool with a moonbase if there is a bar there.

    I’m not flying that far if I can’t have a drink when I land.

  5. However a moon base is constructed (if it’s ever constructed), I suspect that its ultimate social structure will depend to a significant extent on technology.

    If it’s in a big dome filled with air, then no matter what the alleged structure (free market, government agency, private foundation, anarcho-syndicalist commune from Monty Python skit, military society, whatever), the ultimate power will rest with whatever group (company, government agency, charity, mad scientists, whatever) runs the air supply and maintains the structural integrity of the dome. Whether they write the laws, lobby the lawmakers, exercise “Inherent Powers of the Air Conditioners”, or write all sorts of conditions into the Air Services Contract, the result will be the same.

    OTOH, if it’s a bunch of independent but inter-connected units, each with a solar-powered device that extracts oxygen from lunar soil and recycles the air, then there’d be much more opportunity for a decentralized society.

    I’m not saying that technology will be the sole determinant of the social structure, but the ability to shop around for an Air Services Company will be a necessary (albeit not sufficient) condition for a free society.

  6. I reject your thesis T.

    Whoever controls the booze when you are 300,000 miles away from the nearest bar controls the moon.

  7. Me, I think any moonbase should be private because I don’t want to spend any tax dollars building and maintaining it. If that means we end up with no moonbase, the disappointment won’t kill me.

    But if a moonbase is private, doesn’t that mean that only a select few people get to enjoy the benefits of the trillions of dollars of tax money we’ve already spent developing the technology and knowledge to make it possible in the first place?

  8. Pretty much, Dan T.

    What’s your point?

    You might try googling “sunk cost fallacy.”

  9. The sunken cost fallacy only applies if you assume there’s no value to be had in continuing to invest money. But if that were true, no private business would want to build a moon base in the first place.

    I’m saying that if there is value to be had in building a settlement of some kind on the moon then the people of the USA should own it as we’re the ones who paid for it.

  10. The sunken cost fallacy only applies if you assume there’s no value to be had in continuing to invest money.

    Why on earth would you say that? What you have spent in the past has absolutely no bearing on what you should spend in the future except as guidance on what such expenditures will look like.

  11. The sunken cost fallacy only applies if you assume there’s no value to be had in continuing to invest money.

    Damn. Looks like I’m going to have to spend the next few hours tweaking financial models.

  12. FWIW, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon at the same time. It was fairly trivial who was first to exit the spacecraft.

    The disappointment of not having a moonbase won’t kill anyone, but it will be pretty sucky for our descendents if someone else, ie China, beats us to the punch.

    See Heinlein’s “The Man Who Sold the Moon” for an extended rant on this topic.

  13. I’m saying that if there is value to be had in building a settlement of some kind on the moon then the people of the USA should own it as we’re the ones who paid for it.

    By the way, this is a common meme of yours that has also come up in discussing public monies used for drug research…

    A gang of 536 people steal my money, spend it on something I never asked them to, and explicitly and intentionally place the results in the public domain. You then come along and expect that anything I spend in the same arena of my own volition is automatically theirs.

    How is this unfree? Let me count the ways…

    Note that I am against corporate welfare as much as the next libertarian, especially in the arenas of high tech — because the recipients are the richest people on the planet — and speculative ventures — because the government should not be speculating. But the problem is with the government and its rules, not with the private agents who follow them.

  14. Why on earth would you say that? What you have spent in the past has absolutely no bearing on what you should spend in the future except as guidance on what such expenditures will look like.

    Consider this example: say you spend $50,000 to start a new business. The first year, you find that your business lost $5,000. So now you’ve spent $55,000 total on the enterprise.

    So the question you must answer is, will this business make money in the future? If you determine the answer is “yes”, then you proceed. If the answer is “no”, then you close shop and you’ve lost $55,000 minus whatever inventory, etc. that you can liquidate (but you figure that losing $55,000 is better than losing $55,000 + future losses).

    The sunken cost fallacy only comes into play if you decide that you want to continue spending money ONLY because you have already spent a lot of money and don’t want it to “go to waste”.

    So we all agree that the US has spent a lot of money on the space program. So the question is, will spending more money provide a good value in return, or not? And if the answer is “yes, it will” then that value should be owned by those who invested the money, not a private enterprise who didn’t.

  15. A gang of 536 people steal my money, spend it on something I never asked them to, and explicitly and intentionally place the results in the public domain. You then come along and expect that anything I spend in the same arena of my own volition is automatically theirs.

    How is this unfree? Let me count the ways…

    Well, yes, if you’re going to start with the idea that taxes are theft and that you are not represented in government then obviously it’s all a big mess from there.

  16. Well, yes, if you’re going to start with the idea that taxes are theft and that you are not represented in government then obviously it’s all a big mess from there.

    The tax question is debatable, but the representation question most certainly is not.

    Nonetheless, I’m curious how you treat the explicit and intentional placing of the results of government research and development into the public domain. If the government wanted to sell shares or collect royalties, they surely would, would they not?

    Also, considering that the Soviet Union and Russia have provided more good data and examples of how to develop space affordably than the US has, do those who deign to develop space privately owe something to the government and taxpayers of Russia?

  17. All your moon base are belong to us. Bow to the power of ERR!

  18. The tax question is debatable, but the representation question most certainly is not.

    How? Unless you don’t vote or can’t for some reason – and even then you’re free to lobby your representatives in government.


    Nonetheless, I’m curious how you treat the explicit and intentional placing of the results of government research and development into the public domain. If the government wanted to sell shares or collect royalties, they surely would, would they not?

    I confess that it’s not an issue I’ve really considered much, which means the arguments for a private moon base are ones that I’m willing to consider. But in a very general sense I tend to think that having a small percentage of people profit from an investment that we’ve all contributed to is a bum deal.

  19. Also remember that a lot of regulations and legal stuff is written assuming a government is doing development of space.

    E.g. patents granted for stuff developed in space, who is liable for a launch, etc.

    Take a look at the space treaties, please.

  20. I think it would be a national treasure to have a Lamar community.

  21. How? Unless you don’t vote or can’t for some reason – and even then you’re free to lobby your representatives in government.

    It may sound odd to you, but I am of the opinion that someone who actually represented me would have to be someone I chose. In 20 years of taking every opportunity available to vote, never has someone I voted for been elected. In fact, since I explicitly voted against the winners, they are effectively my antirepresentatives. The positions they take will almost certainly represent exactly what I don’t want. And empirical history bears out the theory here very well.

    As for petitioning my “representatives” in government, that privilege is generally available in dictatorships and totalitarian states too. It doesn’t make them “representative”.

  22. But in a very general sense I tend to think that having a small percentage of people profit from an investment that we’ve all contributed to is a bum deal.

    But government intentionally spends public monies on cutting edge efforts for the express purpose of promoting exactly that! It is government’s perception — one I find misguided — that there are worthwhile human enterprises that are not explored because the cost is too high or the benefits too distributed. So government funds inroads into those enterprises explicitly expecting private ventures to pick up the efforts government begins and carry them to profitability and the service of the common weal.

    Don’t whine because you are one of the 300 million people (make that 7 billion, since nothing restricts such efforts to the US) who could have carried on what the public monies started, but chose not to. Why didn’t you? Why do you expect the government to be your investment advisor and share the gains made by others’ private money and decisions? Do you expect to share the losses of those private ventures built on public research that don’t pan out?

  23. I’m with MikeP on this one. No one from Houston ever phoned me up and asked if they could borrow a few billion to build a space shuttle.

    Dan T. what you fail to grasp is that our system of government is not representative of our interests. It is representative of the interests of voting blocs and funding sources.

    Our system of government is more akin to dropping your teenaged kids off at the mall, handing them the credit card and asking them to buy some nice clothes for school.

  24. Well, gosh-darn-it–yet ANOTHER bunch of so-called libertarians who don’t understand the meaning of the terms “democracy”, “republic”, and “majority”!

    What ARE they teaching kids in schools these days? Whatever it is, it ain’t anything about how the US is set up to work.

    Check, please.

  25. The moon thing has been done. A stunt is only impressive once.

  26. Governments traditionally have done things which can only be done by a collective. They then get shoved out of the way by the individuals, who want a return on their money. This is how the Americas were colonized.

    The government has gone to the Moon. Unfortunately, the increase in control over the individual is giving them the power to stay in the way of those who want to go into space (or to the Moon). They want that power and control.

    1984 is running about 25 years behind (after all, it’s a government project!), but it’s almost here.

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