Commenting on a recommendation by Democratic strategist Mark Penn, Brother Pinkerton writes below that
the space program should be doubled, just as Penn says, because space exploration provides larger benefits to our economic well-being and national security.
We've all been hearing this since before men walked on the moon, of course, but are we sure that it's so? Leave aside national security--the Pentagon has quite enough money to spend already, and, if we need something in space to secure the defense of the nation, the Pentagon certainly ought to put it there. Just what economic benefits are we certain the space program has provided? Or--and this is really the point--just what benefits has it provided that exceed the benefits we'd have received if all those tens of billions had been invested in the private sector, not given to NASA?
I've been suspicious about this ever since posing a few similar questions to then NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe back in 2004. He lacked convincing answers. Actually, it was worse than that. O'Keefe behaved as if he considered the questions some sort of affront. (See for yourself.)
Dave Barry once wrote about a single mother who worked double shifts as a waitress. The waitress became his test for federal spending. Was a federal program going to do enough good--enough necessary good--to justify using the coercive powers of the state to tax away even a fraction of that waitress's income? I can see, of course, that sending probes to the far reaches of the solar system can do a lot to satisfy the curiosity of highly-educated, well-paid and quite comfortable scientists. I can't quite see what can do for Dave Barry's waitress.
Studies that prove me wrong? Reports? Data? Anyone?