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Are All Jobs Created (or Saved) Equal?

NASA shouldn't be a jobs program

The government has decided to stop doing something that it does badly.

That's a rare occurrence, so pause to savor it. This week, President Obama announced that he was putting the kibosh on George W. Bush's $100 billion Constellation program, which had the short term goal of getting Americans back on the moon by 2020. This was a reasonable response to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) recent history with manned missions—a long, sad tale of bureaucratic woe, complete with unreliable cost estimates, missed deadlines, and limited scientific payoff. And even this big move is far from revolutionary: NASA's overall budget will continue to grow, if only by a modest 2 percent. But federal space money is being reshuffled along with the program's priorities, and change makes people nervous.

And in Washington, D.C., an attack of the nerves generally manifests itself in howls of outrage at committee hearings. So on Tuesday, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) dove right in, with a thinly veiled threat: "When the president says that he's going to cancel Constellation, I can tell you that to muster the votes and to overcome that, it's going to be very, very difficult." While Nelson—and nearly everyone else quoted below—talked about the importance of the grand vision of space exploration, when they got down to brass tacks their concerns were about constituent jobs. About 7,000 space jobs in Florida are at stake in the revision of the NASA budget.

In the traditional howl-of-outrage committee meeting of the House Armed Forces Committee on Wednesday, Rep. Rob Bishop, (R-Utah) said "thousands of people in Utah…are losing good-paying, high-tech jobs. Many of the employees at [rocket manufacturer] ATK have been with the Minuteman program for 35 years or more and have unique experience and capability that will now be lost to our country."

Luckily, we are not living in the 17th century Mughal empire of Shah Jahan, of whom it is rumored that to protect the secrets of the Taj Mahal and guarantee that it remain unique he cut off the hands of the architect who designed it. For good measure, he killed, maimed, or blinded the builders as well. Nor are we in the second century B.C. under the reign of Qin Shi Huang, who had his now-famous tomb stocked with thousands of life-sized terra cotta warriors—and then proceeded to kill all of the workers on the project.

Included in the proposed changes to the NASA budget: $6 billion to firms, including startups, focused on developing technologies necessary for human transport to and from the International Space Station. Surely some of that cash will be used to snap up the truly experienced and unique space workers.

Similar complaints bubbled up in Huntsville, Alabama, where 2,500 people work at the Marshall Space Flight Center, most of whom were part of the moon shoot project. "The president's plan is certainly a jolt to the area," reports a local ABC affiliate. "Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle is asking Obama to reconsider. He says the cuts will affect jobs as well as the country's space psyche."

A letter to the editor in the Lakeland, Florida, Ledger perfectly captures the confused logic:

President Barack Obama has assured Florida that the government will give us $1.25 billion to start building a high-speed-rail line that will supposedly create about 23,000 jobs. Yet he has decided that the NASA return-to-the-moon project should be canceled.

With this cancellation and the ending of the Space Shuttle program later this year, how many thousands of jobs will be lost on the Space Coast and in space-related industries? It is time to decide what our priorities really are, and move to create or save the space-industry jobs.

The letter writer gives no suggestion for why one might prefer space jobs to train jobs. And likewise, all jobs are created (or saved) equal when it comes to government figures—they are each infinitely precious. And because the nation is fixated on job creation, it's tempting to evaluate all forms of government action in the unit of jobs. Every new government program isn't just vital, it's also a vital engine of job creation. The demise of every old program is measured in jobs lost. Meanwhile, the federal workforce is now the largest ever with 1.28 million workers on the civilian federal government payrolls.

But instead of job counts, we should look at what's working and what's not when we decide how to spend federal money. Good workers will find new jobs. And jobs lost—or simply taken off the federal rolls—would be a small price to pay for a revitalized and re-prioritized space industry.

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a senior editor at Reason magazine.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    "Space travel is hard."

  • ||

    Very witty.

  • ||

    There are rumors that the changes to the VSE are about directing everything to a manned Mars mission. Which may just mean shifting everything--money, personnel, resources--around. For the next twenty or thirty years. Just so long as it isn't Bush's vision!

    I hope that's not true, because I like the idea of the government stepping out of manned space flight, and the private sector stepping in.

  • ||

    But instead of job counts, we should look at what's working and what's not when we decide how to spend federal money.

    Good exercise, but in the end, futile, since there is no guarrantee than an honest review of what "works" and what does not in the Federal Government will NOT return a proposed budget of zero.

  • ||

    I wonder if she's ever hooked up with Major Matt Mason?

  • ||

    The letter writer gives no suggestion for why one might prefer space jobs to train jobs.

    Well, what sort of space jobs? There is a difference between being a space commander of a spacecraft and being a space janitor - or a test subject.

  • ||

    Sometimes being the alien doing the testing is hard too.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xz7sBTHtcLU

  • Mad Max||

    'About 7,000 space jobs in Florida are at stake in the revision of the NASA budget.'

    Yeah, but I bet they hired illegal aliens for those space jobs.

  • ||

    Americans don't want to pick space fruit.

  • ||

    No need to - we got Tang in outer space!
    ...What?! No more Tang! No wonder unemployment is so high.
    Fresno Dan mucho sad at the loss of the wonderful kinda of orangy flavor of the breakfast drink of the astro men.

  • ||

  • Paco Nacho||

    I resemble that remark!

    RT
    http://www.online-nacho.int.tc/

  • ||

    No Antarean immigration!

    Vulcans only with recognized diplomas!

    OTOH, I understand that Ferengi are great entrepreneurs.

    (And no Na'vi terrorists, either!)

  • Mad Max||

    Han Solo was obviously smuggling illegal aliens in those hidden compartments in the Millennium Falcon. . . .

    Is a joke I once overheard a nerd make. I didn't get it, of course.

  • ||

    Nerds of a feather blog together.

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    Oh, so true . . .

  • ||

    Dey TOOKRJAAAHBS!!

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    Earth Below Us,
    Drifting, Falling,
    Floating Weightless,
    Calling, Calling Home!

  • ||

    C'mon Mexican, you're not so old you can't provide a link.

  • ||

    The Websense firewall does not let me . . .

    ;-)

  • Mad Max||

    I hear that Eccentria Gallumbits is offering space jobs for only twenty Federation Credits.

  • ||

    ...Eccentria Gallumbits...

    Another post without a link. (mildly NSFW). What's going on?

  • ||

    I hear that Eccentria Gallumbits is offering space jobs for only twenty Federation Credits.

    Hey two to three miles is a long way to shout. She needs fluffers who can take orders by semaphore.

  • ||

    My bosses' husband works over at KSC.

    I don't talk politics at work...

  • ||

    Argh. ...boss's...

  • ||

    I liked the first one better.

  • ||

    I thought you might.

  • ||

    Well, yes, of course, but I was rather thinking that your bosses were a group of women with one husband.

  • ||

    Oh wow, what a great idea. I like it.

    RT
    www.web-privacy.cz.tc

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    But federal space money is being reshuffled along with the program's priorities...

    Subsidizing low income space housing?

  • ||

    Now there's an idea. Let's built some homes on the Moon, then tell people they can have them for free if they can occupy them.

  • ||

    Spending money on anything, anywhere, anytime creates jobs. The question is whether we are getting more as a society out of NASA, or ~$18 billion in cheap crap from China, which is the private sector alternative de jour.

  • ||

    Chad, a few comments.

    Your ignorance of economics is mind boggling - I would've expected you would've learned something by now:

    First: The purpose of economic activity is NOT to create jobs, but to produce stuff to fulfill needs and wants. Jobs are the result of division of labor, but jobs have to be more productive than their COST, otherwise they will be nothing more than wasted resources. Can you really say that NASA jobs are productive? What do they produce?

    Next, the reason for the over reliance on cheaper Chinese manufacture is because American labor is TOO EXPENSIVE, the net result of taxation, regulation and price floors for labor. Even if labor was less expensive, you cannot violate the Law of Comparative Advantage, unless you tried something similar to defying the law of gravity and built a wall of economic autarky around the US.

    You just show your ignorance by pointing out the seen, without taking account of the unseen. Go and read Bastiat, and maybe you can be educated enough not to look foolish.

  • ||

    First: The purpose of economic activity is NOT to create jobs, but to produce stuff to fulfill needs and wants. Jobs are the result of division of labor, but jobs have to be more productive than their COST, otherwise they will be nothing more than wasted resources

    I agree. Have I ever claimed otherwise? Note that it was the author who was babbling about jobs, and me who was pointing out that this is a red herring. "Jobs" will happen no matter what we chose.

    Can you really say that NASA jobs are productive? What do they produce?

    Knowledge, pretty pictures, and a really wild ride for a lucky few. Is this worth more than the equivalent amount cheap Chinese crap that will break before years end? Probably. Either way, the "market" has no mechanism to sort this out.

    Next, the reason for the over reliance on cheaper Chinese manufacture is because American labor is TOO EXPENSIVE, the net result of taxation, regulation and price floors for labor

    Might I suggest you go tell your boss that you are too expensive? Just checking to see if you have the courage of your convictions. Yes, we ARE too expensive. The world is flattening and our wages will eventually fall in line with everyone else's. This will be a process of them moving up and us stagnating, for the most part.

    I have no idea what "compartive advantage" you are talking about. Most of the real-world "comparative advantages" are subsidies, externalities, and explotation of cheap labor. Any real advantages such as supply chain issues are trivial in comparison.

    It is precisely the fools that try to count jobs that are not taking account of the unseen. It is precisely because most of the jobs related to any policy choice are "unseen" that you can't count them. In the end, if you spend ~$60,000 on anything, you create approximately one middle class American job for one year, or twenty jobs for cheap Chinese sweat-shop workers, or one day of work for a major bank CEO, or some combination thereof. It really is that simple.

  • ||

    Re: Chad,

    I agree. Have I ever claimed otherwise? Note that it was the author who was babbling about jobs, and me who was pointing out that this is a red herring.

    The author was not babbling about jobs - she is pointing out that the argument of keeping NASA financed BECAUSE it creates jobs is specious.

    Knowledge, pretty pictures, and a really wild ride for a lucky few. Is this worth more than the equivalent amount cheap Chinese crap that will break before years end? Probably. Either way, the "market" has no mechanism to sort this out.

    Of course it has a mechanism to sort this out - it is called the Profit/Loss test. It is the reason the Chinese keep manufacturing the "cheap Chinese crap" that you so disdain and why NASA is nothing more than a factory of boondoggles and white elephants.

    Might I suggest you go tell your boss that you are too expensive?

    I don't need to - the moment my productivity does not compensate for my cost, he will know.

    Just checking to see if you have the courage of your convictions.

    "The courage of my convictions" does not include going and telling my boss something that may not be true. Don't be obtuse.

    Yes, we ARE too expensive. The world is flattening and our wages will eventually fall in line with everyone else's. This will be a process of them moving up and us stagnating, for the most part.

    Well, real wages are indeed falling in the US thanks to higher cost of living and inflation, just not fast enough.

    I have no idea what "compartive advantage" you are talking about.

    I didn't think you would.

    Most of the real-world "comparative advantages" are subsidies, externalities, and explotation of cheap labor.

    What difference does it make, Chad, even if the above things were true? You're obviously too keen on looking at ancillary things. The fact is that things that Americans used to do can now be done cheaper by others. Why would it matter if the reason is "subsidies" or the mythical "externalities" [defined as "things I happen not to like"]?

    Any real advantages such as supply chain issues are trivial in comparison.

    This is nothing more than a red herring. What difference does it make?

    In the end, if you spend ~$60,000 on anything, you create approximately one middle class American job for one year,

    Or not.

    [...]or twenty jobs for cheap Chinese sweat-shop workers, or one day of work for a major bank CEO, or some combination thereof.

    Or not.

    You seem to believe all stuff in China is made in sweat-shops, a concept that ends up describing any job done in something besides an air-conditioned office.

  • ||

    I have no idea what "compartive advantage" you are talking about.

    Yep. That's pretty clear.

    Comparative advantage means that US workers and companies can also turn out crap that will break before years end -- and in fact can even do it better than China can -- but they are even better at, say, designing the crap, marketing the crap, providing financing for shipping the crap, etc., etc., and therefore US workers should not be making the crap.

    Most of the real-world "comparative advantages" are subsidies, externalities, and explotation of cheap labor. Any real advantages such as supply chain issues are trivial in comparison.

    Those are competitive advantages, not comparative advantages.

  • ||

    Of course it has a mechanism to sort this out - it is called the Profit/Loss test.

    This is the absolute heart and soul of why libertarianism and free market theory is dead wrong. Your "profit/loss" test only works if all profits and losses associated with a decision are internalized. The *never* are, and in most cases, the external factors are very significant.

    The world just doesn't work the way your theory requires.

    You're obviously too keen on looking at ancillary things

    And you are too keen on ignoring them, which is flat out wrong and all but assures that you will reach the incorrect conclusion.

  • ||

    Old Mexican -"the over reliance on cheaper Chinese manufacture is because American labor is TOO EXPENSIVE, the net result of taxation, regulation and price floors for labor.

    All results of crappy self indulgent statists.

    "Even if labor was less expensive, you cannot violate the Law of Comparative Advantage

    Also the result of crappy self serving statist policies which you benefit from and choose to ignore.

    The Chinese and US governments are engaged in the mutually beneficial scam of supressing the actual value of the yuan.

    America gets cheap imports suppressing our CPI, thus hiding the currency devaluation which has been government policy for a generation.

    China gets rapid industrializion, greater government revenues and rising standard of living.

    Its a great deal for the elites of both countries.

    Not so much for average americans who are left with unsustainable debt and no viable employment prospects.

  • ||

    Is there a subject on which Chad's ignorance is not mind boggling? For that matter is there a subject on which Chad is not mind boggling ignorant.

    This much I will hand Chad, he does realize he is unfit to function within a free society, so it's understandable why he seeks the security of institutionalization for himself.

    Sadly, I must take that little credit right back from him since the cull is not satisfied to merely institutionalize himself, but insists we must all be forced into institutionalization against our own free will.

  • ||

    BTW gold and silver are slightly down (i.e. cheaper) - you should consider buying some now that your Messiah is hell bent on destroying the mighty dollar . . .

  • ||

    "Spending money on anything, anywhere, anytime creates jobs"

    What if it's spending $2 on a box of farmer matches that are then used to burn stacks of $100 bills?

  • ||

    Whatever you do, keep the money out of the people's hands.

  • ||

    That would simply increase the value of everyone else's money by a trivial amount, allowing them to buy that much more.

    Money is just paper.

  • ||

    Chad is just brain stem.

  • ||

    The question is whether we are getting more as a society out of NASA, or ~$18 billion in cheap crap from China, which is the private sector alternative de jour.

    All those NASA makework -ers will spend their paychecks on cheap Chinese crap and SUVs.

    Sucker!

  • ||

    That's du jour, isn't it? De jure is the legal term. Not sure there is a de jour, though I don't claim much knowledge of French.

  • ||

    "a long, sad tale of bureaucratic woe, complete with unreliable cost estimates, missed deadlines, and limited scientific payoff"

    Let's also not forget some very unfortunate and tragic losses of actual vehicles/astronauts.

  • ||


    Chad|2.4.10 @ 5:07PM|#
    Spending money on anything, anywhere, anytime creates jobs.

    By that theory, Zimbabwe must have about negative 10,000% unemployment, with Venezuela at around negative 500%.

  • ||

    The purpose for which NASA was created no longer exists communism has fallen, well, everywhere except in a few pockets such as in Venezuela, Cuba, and in NASA. Since they can't stick to aeronautics and space and would rather produce junk-science for the fields of expertise for which NOAA exists, and does a professional of, then it would be my opinion that we have far too many free hands at NASA and that amounts to complete waste of the worst kind and the agency is over due for some significant culling of the herd.

    Space exploration was never NASA's intended mission, that was Eugene Wesley Roddenberry's creation and it seems unlikely he originally had actual space exploration in mind, the man was a progressive and hard core world socialist, when he made Star Trek space was popular with many and on the minds of all so was a logical theme for an allegorical saga intended to sell his political philosophy.

    Still those who place high value on space exploration should be satisfied many other countries and even private parties still have their sights on the stars. It's not like everything is done by the USA or it's not done.

    So a couple jobs were lost over the last year. Let's speculate losses were 2,600,000. Toss a few piddley thousand NASA jobs on the heap and you have 2,602,000. Hmm.. if they weren't taxpayer funded jobs I might be able to see a small difference..

    When the government can hire to soften outrage over damage done by it's own manipulation of the private sector it's certain even more manipulation and even greater damage is on the way. Wish I could savor it, Ms Mangu-Ward, unfortunately I'm skeptical anytime a politician does anything right, since at the same moment they were almost certainly doing 10 things wrong.

  • ||

    Unfortunately, many of the technical advances in things such as medicine, computers, aircraft, navigation and similar disciplines are the result of government expenitures in the space program and in development of military equipment.

    Cutting government spending on R&D will significantly slow the growth of technology. That said, I do think the private sector should play a bigger role in NASA.

  • ||

    Foreign subsidies to foreign industry become indirect subsidies to the country that imports these goods when they are exported. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

  • ||

    "De jour" means "of the day" as in "soup de jour".

  • ||

    Actually, I think it's "du jour".

  • Jim Davidson||

    I'm delighted to see parts of NASA being destroyed. No one deserves it more richly. All of NASA should be destroyed.

  • ||

    I spent 5 years working at the Kennedy Space Center, and can assure you that 90%+ of the activity done there does not constitute productive work, it is activity only. Paper pushing mostly, and layers of bureaucratic management.

    Any organization that requires a "burn permit" to turn on a coffee pot in the office, and uses the threat of a random "safety audit" to ensure compliance can hardly be accused of doing useful things. As a wise friend of mine from India once observed there, "activity does not equal productivity."

    I will say that the research functions within NASA are way more productive than the operational groups.

  • ||

    What are you? A Luddite?

  • ||

    I feel really bad for the nice folks I met just the other day at the John Glenn Center here in Cleveland. OK I don't. They asked to meet with us about potential public/private partnerships. We're the "private" part, of course.

    First thing I said as we left Building #49: "Man, you could feel the bureaucracy and inefficiency. I do think we could glom onto some of that gummint money paying $3K for interns..."

    Stultifying, duplicative, and unnecessary. Everything they're doing is already being done in private business - everything. Unreal waste of money.

    Nice folks...sorry, you're all fired.

  • ||

    Hehheh...I said "private part"...hehhehhehheh...mmm...yeah...cool

  • ||

    "The letter writer gives no suggestion for why one might prefer space jobs to train jobs. "
    Because the letter writer is in FLORIDA. That's where the space jobs are.

  • ||

    There should be a compromise. The USA should have a working spacecraft. Orion is close to completion. These private companies have no spacecrafts and NO experience in space. Sorry, I don't think that is good for the country. We can privatize when there are companies that can actually get the job done. But that's just not the case.

  • ||

    Why are we combining space apples to space oranges here?? Let's just cut out the middle man and start building the trains ON THE MOON. Then we will not only be able to keep the space jobs, but be CREATING train jobs.

  • ||

    *comparing, rather

  • ||

    The article missed the part of the children with big, big eyes starving in Ethiopia or the like, while money is invested in industry and technology.

    The remaining, well presented arguments, could be used to justify privatizing the justice system, the police, the army or anything else. Making the same sense.

    Investing in space is a long term commitment that does not make any sense to the private sector.

    Little incremental progress instead of basic research and technology breakthroughs is the price of breaking the promise below.

    http://articles.orlandosentine.....-moon-nasa

    a promise broken to feed the hugest deficit of the history of mankind, which will leave very little money to pay the private sector for services they want to make money out of.

    If America thinks that space is not that important, somebody else will tap the unlimited resources and wealth that are left there, up for grabs.

    And the other point is: if you need something that is broken, like NASA, you fix it, because once you throw it away, it won't work for you anymore, and you'll need to build another from scrap.

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