When cartoonists attack

Just when you thought that the myth of a trillion-dollar Mars mission had died down comes this cartoon by the Washington Postís Tom Toles. I didnít see any contact information for Toles directly, but you can leave a message in a rarely-used washingtonpost.com forum on his cartoons.

21 comments to When cartoonists attack

  • Kevin Davis

    Next thing they would be saying that the money we spend on space should be spent on the Tsunami relief effort.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Posted by Kevin Davis at January 5, 2005 01:32 PM

  • I agree.

    Unfortunately, we decided to waste our money in Iraq and cut taxes to the wealthiest, rather than help those who desperately need our help, both at home and abroad — or on spaceflight.

    — Donald

  • Dogsbd

    >>>> cut taxes to the wealthiest,

    Thanks for promoting me to that lofty few. I mean, I must be one of those wealthy since I got a tax cut, right?

    But seriously, can we keep this board free of the political crap that infests most others?

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Cut taxes on the wealthiest? You mean like Microsoft’s Paul Allen who is one of Burt Rutan’s investors?

    Seems to me that the far left is not only against public space travel, but the private kind as well.

  • Regarding political crap, no, I’m afraid not. The reason is that the single greatest threat to greater government spending on space is the national deficit, which has been consistantly and dramatically increased every time the “far Right” has been in charge of the nation’s economy. The far Right has followed David Stockman’s deliborate throw-a-wrench-in-the-works economics of cutting taxes without selecting any government to cut ever since Mr. Reagan’s day, and the result is credit card economics that Mr. Bush has taken to new heights.

    The problem with throwing a wrench into the government works is that, first, it doesn’t work — government spending doesn’t really get cut, you only create an expensive mess. Second, the wrench also tends to screw up the programs you want, e.g., spaceflight.

    Basically, Mr. Bush had a choice of cutting taxes, or increasing government spending, and chose to do both, which is unsustainable. He has to reverse himself on one of them, and the country will be a lot better off if it is sooner rather than later. The longer he waits, the less likely the continued survival of space and other government spending that does not have a large and powerful consitutency. (It’s a given that the really big middle class stuff like Social Security and freeway spending won’t get cut, at least in the short term.)

    If rational economics is “far Left,” so be it. But, spaceflight is dependent on it so somebody has to defend it.

    Regarding Paul Allen, the answer is an R&D tax credit. If you want to rich to spend on R&D, encourage them to do so.

    — Donald

  • Robert G. Oler

    Seems to me that the far left is not only against public space travel, but the private kind as well.

    Posted by Mark R. Whittington at January 5, 2005 03:46 PM

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Oler, in issuing wild, reckless, and untrue charges against me, neglects to mention the piece in USA Today (the largest circulating newspaper in the Western World) praising the winning of the X Prize and suggesting that private space flight is the wave of the future. He neglects other of my pieces advocating that NASA adjust to this new reality.

    Oler, on the other hand, has supported political candidates who supported draconian tax increases that would drain away the sources of venture capital that are needed to fuel the now embryonic and fragile commercial launch sector. He has opposed the Moon, Mars, and Beyond Vision that has the potential to be as great an engine for the development of private space travel as the air mail was for air travel–solely for partisan, political reasons. He has been silent on Rep Oberstar’s opposition to legislation that would nuture private space travel.

    So, I wonder who is *really* in opposition to the private sector?

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Donald – The idea that NASA funding is the engine that drives up deficits is, I should think, at varience to objective reality. Tax cuts are necessarily to fuel economic growth, which in turn tend to decrease deficits.

  • This cartoon is really about Iraq policy where $1T is actually a good working number. Of course, we would be spending $10T on our military anyway over the next 20 years.

  • Bill White

    Everyone knows going to Mars won’t cost a trillion dollars but isn’t Sam Dinkin correct that at current rates our Iraq adventure will indeed cost a trillion dollars for the period 2002 – 2008/2010?

    Maybe that is the cartoon’s sly point – – we all know Mars won’t cost a trillion dollars BUT Iraq will in truth cost the taxpayers one trillion dollars. Spend a trillion on Iraq and another trillion or two to paper over Gordon Gecko’s raid on Social Security and where will future money for NASA come from anyway?

    Now, a question for Mark Whittington. What are the odds a genuine alt-space outfit (like Rutan’s t/Space) will get more than a tiny slice of the CEV contract? And if Pete Worden’s three stooges do get most of the CEV money why should we believe the VSE will be anything new?

  • Mark R. Whittington

    Bill, I think there’s a pretty good chance that t/Space (or an entity like it) will be one of the two or three contractors who get to the fly off slection in August. Thus an alt-space vrs (say) Boeing will be set up, much to the enjoyment and enlightenment of all.

  • Bill White

    If t/Space gets an honest and fair shot at CEV, then the VSE will get considerably more credit from me than before.

    Credit where credit is due. After the fact. But never praise the pudding until you’ve eaten some.

  • AJ Mackenzie

    The flaw in arguments by people like Whittington (and the cadre of alt.space geeks) is that there is a definite link between tax policy and space commercialization. Such a link seems, to me at least, not to exist. In the 90s people like Beal, Gates, and McCaw invested tens or hundreds of millions in space ventures years before the Bush tax cuts. Their ventures failed, and probably would have failed anyway even if they could have doubled or tripled their investment.

    Today the people investing in space ventures — folks like Allen, Bezos, Branson, and Carmack — are “true believers”: they’re spending their own money because they truly believe in space, in spite of (and not because of) the economics. (Carmack in particular seems to treat his efforts like an overgrown hobby, in much the same way Larry Ellison spends millions racing yachts.) Only extreme, confiscatory changes in tax law would change their plans.

    That’s why I’m skeptical of tax incentives to promote space commercialization, like Rohrabacher’s 0-g/0-tax proposal. These efforts imply that a little tax incentive is all that’s needed to close the business plans of space venture and open the spigots of investment. Other than the Scaled/Virgin space tourism announcement (made by true believers and not dispassionate institutional investors), there seems scant evidence that this is the case.

  • AJ, if tax policy promotes billionaires, there will be more people like Branson, Allen, Bezos, Bigelow and others to spew money into space.

  • “Donald – The idea that NASA funding is the engine that drives up deficits is, I should think, at varience to objective reality. Tax cuts are necessarily to fuel economic growth, which in turn tend to decrease deficits.”

    That’s not what I said, which was much closer to Bill White’s argument. What I was saying is that, if Mr. Bush and Congress continue to drive deficits ever higher for whatever reason, higher priorities (defined as those directly affecting middle class voters) will subsume any increased space spending. Republicans and Democrats alike will not endanger their re-election for a minority interest like spaceflight. I give Mr. Bush enormous credit for his space policy, but it is almost certainly accurate to say that, even in Mr. Bush’s administration, spaceflight is seen as a luxury. If something has to get cut, spaceflight clearly won’t be first on the table — but it won’t be anywhere nearly last, either.

    Also, if you look around the world, there is no obvious correlation between low tax states and space spending. You could make a better case for low tax states and spaceflight performance, but even here Russia would probably win.

    — Donald

  • The space lobby has been effective this year in getting an increase when everyone else got a decrease. Why would that change if budgets are even tighter? Space may be a low priority, but it’s also cheap compared to social security, medicaid and defense. You can’t close the social security funding gap with 100% of general tax revenue so you can’t close it with 1%.

  • Sam, that success was very dependent on a small, bi-partisan group of politicians. It would be a huge mistake to view it as the majority opinion in Congress. I think the members who are actively opposed to human spaceflight are a relatively small group, but those who are strongly for it are just as small. Most are somewhere in the middle.

    While spaceflight did better than most, this years’ budget still reflected a refusal to make decisions — essentially everything got funded.

    If our political coalition should change for any reason — such as even tougher spending choices or Republic refusal to acknowledge and reward the contributions by Democrats (frequently demonstrated on this list) — it could easily fall apart.

    More importantly, we will soon enter an era where politicians will no longer be able to fund everything and will _have_ to make choices. The dollar is on the edge of no longer being the world’s currency of choice, and if and when that happens, it will have dramatic negative consequences on our ability to finance the deficit with forign money. Since nobody is saving, we can’t finance it with internal money. The inevitable result is much higher interest bills, for both individuals and the government, which futher limits what you can borrow and spend. Likewise, somebody will have to pay the pensions of all those people who are accumulating credit card debt instead of savings, or you will have large numbers of widdows (who live longer than men) starving on the streets — which is something even Republicans are not going to allow to happen. Add in middle class promises that are coming due (Social Security, Medicare, infrastructure mainenance), and the next decade will see a vast funding crunch, similar to what an individual experiences when their credit card payments exceed their income.

    Most people — e.g., almost everyone on this list, are simply pretending these problems don’t exist, similar to the individual who ignores accumulating debt until it is too late. Unfortunately, ignoring debt does not make it go away, and, since our debt is owned by Japan, et al, it will be much harder for the US to declare bankruptcy (while needing to continue borrowing) than it is for an individual.

    Where does space spending fit into that?

    — Donald

  • Dogsbd

    Anyone know what the deficit is as a precentage of GNP, and how that figure compares to the same over the past 30-40 years? I’ve heard it is not much different, but I’ve not seen any figures to prove/disprove that claim.

  • Dogsbd,

    Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. I believe that you are right about the current level of Federal deficit, but the trajectory is all wrong and the total public _debt_ continues to accumulate. Moreover, personal debt is at an all time high (I understand that well over half the population has borrowed so much that they actually have negative equity in their homes, meaning that if they sell their homes they will will be left with a net loss). It is the _total_ debt of the nation — private and public — financed by the savings of other countries, that is so troubling.

    At the other end of the equation, even in the absence of the war, the national obligations are also on the edge of a major increase. In theory, I suppose the government could default on these obligations, but only at the risk of major social disorder. People out here in the West are already on the edge of revolt over the lack of freeway maintenance and expansion. (I am quite serious.)

    These two trends are going to come together in the next decade or so, and I fear that any space exploration initiative will get lost in the crash.

    These problems are not wholly, or even largely, of the Bush Administration’s making. However, Mr. Bush’s fantasy budgeting has made all of them much worse, and he has been truly unprecedented in his willingness to pretend that everything is fine.

    — Donald

  • Robert G. Oler

    Bill, I think there’s a pretty good chance that t/Space (or an entity like it) will be one of the two or three contractors who get to the fly off slection in August. Thus an alt-space vrs (say) Boeing will be set up, much to the enjoyment and enlightenment of all.

    Posted by Mark R. Whittington at January 6, 2005 12:21 PM