Lost In Space

It’s been a rough week for commercial space travel.

First, on Tuesday an un-manned commercial supply rocket bound for the International Space Station, exploded after liftoff. The accident prompted criticism over NASA’s reliance on private corporations to launch payloads, now that the space shuttle program has been mothballed.

Then, on Friday Virgin Galactic’s Space Ship Two, “…a prototype passenger rocket broke up during a test flight, scattering debris over the Mojave Desert and killing one pilot while seriously injuring the other.”

By my count the private space program is batting o-2.

This story points to a larger problem in the US–the steadfast belief in the superiority of the private sector in relation to government. Since President Reagan famously declared government the problem and not the solution, there has been an unprecedented propaganda campaign to demonize the public sector. As I’ve pointed out ad-nauseum, belief in this fable is dependent on imbibing a large glass of ideological Cool-Aid.

In fact, government drives innovation not the private sector. Private business just benefits from this government investment, paid for by we the taxpayers. Naked Capitalism recently had an excellent segment deconstructing this pernicious falsehood.

“Innovation is not led by the private sector; it lacks the long term horizons and risk appetite to do so. Instead, the most innovative countries and regions have the state playing a very active role, not just in funding basic research or making sure markets work properly, as in limiting anti-competitive practices that can stymie new entrants. Instead, the state plays an active role along the entire value chain. One result of the wide-spread misperception that the private sectors deserves most of the credit is that businesses are able to skim a disproportionate level of the returns for themselves.”

This brings us back to the problem we face in this country of disproportionate corporate power and rampant inequality. The ideology of private innovation is one of the main justifications for this state of affairs. As a result, we end up allowing corporations and individuals to profit for investments that we paid for. As an example, look at high tech firms Apple and Google, whose success is dependent on government investments in R&D. They profited enormously from this arrangement and now, in a perverse form of payback are using innovative tax avoidance gimmicks to avoid paying taxes on the profits they received from taxpayer largess.

Who says this isn’t a great country?

This disparagement of government has become one of the ways in which conservative ideas have become sacred, but also enormously profitable. A strong government that employs rules and regulations to promote a common good is a threat to profits. In fact the modern conservative movement, as investigative journalist Robert Parry, relates, “…has regarded the regulatory powers of the federal government as a threat to the ability of rich industrialists to operate corporations and to control the economy without regard to the larger public good.”

However, the idea that government is inherently evil and incompetent, while useful in advancing conservative policies, hides a deeper and darker secret. Despite the constant depiction of government as a evil bureaucracy when it comes to enforcing rules and regulations that protect the common good, our elite actually welcomes a strong activist government when it enables their looting and further consolidation of corporate power.

As Philip Mirowski concludes with his seminal study of neoliberalism: Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, neoliberalism differs from laissez-faire in that its insistence on the use of markets for everything actually requires “strong uses of state intervention.”

We can see that clearly with the space travel story, mentioned earlier. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic was planning on using the $250 million dollar Spaceport America in New Mexico to launch well paying tourists into space. “Taxpayers footed the bill to build the state-of-the-art hanger and runway in a remote stretch of desert in southern New Mexico as part of a plan devised by Branson and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.”

What we are left with, I suppose, is to examine carefully what government is used for. Our government can promote policies that promote the common good or they can promote policies that further enrich the 1%.

Insisting on the common good, is what makes progressive politics. Unfortunately, what we have in the US are two political parties pursuing policies that enrich the 1%.

Coke or Pepsi. Not much of a choice and they’re both bad for you.*


* Not my quote. Read it online, not sure where.



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