Hardly a day seems to go by nowadays without somebody with approximately the same kind of political attitude as me scratching his head, publicly, in writing, about President Obama’s bafflingly sensible space policy, which sticks out like a healthy thumb in an otherwise horribly mutilated hand of policies.
Critics are disturbed by the large and unprecedented role Mr. Obama sees for the private sector in space exploration. For a president who is often accused of being a socialist, he has more faith in the ingenuity of the private sector than his detractors do.
Maybe so. But how could someone so opposed to free market notions here on earth be so keen on them in space? I would like to offer a version of President Obama which maybe makes sense of this puzzle. What follows is sort of a joke. I certainly hope that readers of it will be entertained. But I also think it might be true. I start by asserting that President Obama wants socialism, collectivism, statism, whatever you want to call the opposite of free markets and the free society, to triumph, everywhere, in the USA and everywhere else. I’ll just call it statism from now on. President Obama wants statism, everywhere in the world. Accordingly, he imposes as much statism as he can on the USA, and he defers to and seeks to strengthen it in all other countries.
Suppose further that President Obama thinks that it will be all part of the triumph of statism that the USA should be become a relatively weaker power in the world than it has been for the last century or so. Logical enough. He won’t be President for ever. Not even he can suppose that. Inevitably, people whom he views as rabid free marketeers and rabid anti-statists will be back in the saddle in Washington, again not for ever, but periodically, and more often than in most other countries. Accordingly, President Obama believes that the weaker the USA is compared to the rest of the world, the better for the world, and – same thing – for the cause of statism in the world.
Now, a further assumption, which is that President Obama sincerely believes that free market policies are utterly misguided, and that statism is genuinely a much better way to run things. It’s not just that he is part of the statist team, and that he wants his team to damn well win and himself to get massively more rich and powerful from being one of the key leaders of his team, although I’m sure that’s part of his motivation. What if, in addition to feeling strong team loyalty and seeking personal career advancement, he is also genuinely convinced of the truth of the opinions proclaimed by himself and by his team? What if he sincerely believes that statism is good, and that free market capitalism is disastrous?
Now, what does President Obama want the USA to do in space? Suppose that, in a word, President Obama wants the USA in space to do: badly. What if, to President Obama, current USA space policy is a massive and decidedly successful exercise in USA power projection, of just the kind that he wants reined in, hobbled, even humiliated? What if he wants the USA to fail in space?
What would he do to accomplish such failure? He would impose the very policy that he sincerely believes will contrive such failure, namely free market capitalism, by, as Dale Amon notes in the piece linked to above, appointing enthusiasts for such policies and saying that he favours such policies. On earth, President Obama wants his domestic policies to be successful, and popular and good for everyone, so that US citizens will continue to vote for such arrangements, more often and with greater extremity than they have tended to in the past. And if paying for all this goodness means that the USA has less money to spend on being a great power, so much the better. But in space, there are fewer voters to worry about, and the overall amounts of money being talked about are relatively trivial. So a chaotic and disastrous space policy, that serves to undermine and weaken the USA as a great power, carries little risk of the voters of the USA getting angry and voting foolishly, as President Obama sees it, in the future, in serious numbers. An anti-statist space policy, which he believes will be a failure, will be, for him, pure gain.
The key to all of this is my understanding of what President Obama thinks he is accomplishing with his domestic policies. The claim I hear in my part of the internet/blogosphere is that President Obama wants to steal wealth for himself and his political supporters – for his team, and damn the interests of the USA as a whole, and of all its people aside from a few political apparatchiks such as himself. He wants to weaken the USA by imposing bad – statist – domestic policies. He is, in other words, a plunderer, a cynic and a traitor. But what if President Obama sincerely wants his domestic policies to be successful, and sincerely believes that they will be, in much the same way that sincere free marketeers like me are similarly optimistic about the impact of their (our) policies, if not immediately then in the longer run, and despite all the immediate political opposition that radical change in any direction inevitably stirs up from special interests who will thrive best if the rules are left as they now are?
The usual story I hear, to boil it down to its essentials, is that President Obama, mysteriously, wants domestic policy in the USA to fail, but, even more mysteriously, wants the USA’s space policy to be a success. Why else would he be so predictably and stubbornly stupid and destructive about domestic policy, but yet simultaneously so bizarrely sensible about space? My story says he wants to do well and believes that he is doing well with the USA’s domestic policies, so that the votes keep rolling in for statism in the USA. But he wants to badly with the USA’s space policy, so that more statist states can supplant the USA in space, thereby weakening the USA and strengthening statism the world over.
It’s just that President Obama’s understanding of how the world outside of politics works – he understands how the world of politics works very well – is the opposite of the truth. What he thinks will work, will fail. And what he thinks will fail, will work.
Will President Obama’s much criticised foreign policies, in addition to his seemingly much improved space policy, also serve to make the USA a more powerful nation, I wonder, an even greater great power? By – I don’t know – not getting the USA involved in so many foreign wars? By other nations realising that it is up to them to defend themselves against nearby statist bastards of the kind that President Obama now encourages, and which some future President might encourage yet again, and by other nations then doing a better job of that than the USA could ever do, by trusting themselves instead of the USA? That could also be, I think. I’m thinking: defender of last resort, moral hazard. That kind of thinking has unleashed havoc on the banking system. Cannot the same be said of foreign policy?
To put all of the above another way, and to use a phrase I am fond of in this connection, the best that politicians can often to do for this or that particular activity is to impose upon it a policy of malign neglect. The neglect means that those who choose to be directly involved can get on with it. Malign means that the politician really doesn’t care if everything goes tits up, which means that those directly involved are on their own and are going to be truly responsible for whatever happens. If they fail, they fail. If they make a mess of what they are doing, they’ll have to clean it up themselves, and they all know it, which concentrates their minds wonderfully. Politicians often do their best when trying to do their worst.
I am rather proud of a short story (there is also an html version, but I see that it contains at least one bad mis-copying error of omission and perhaps there are more), which I wrote some while ago. This story told of a man with similar opinions to those I have attributed here to President Obama about how the world does and does not work. But – hilarious twist, ho ho – my guy was also a psychotic would-be mass murderer, on a would-be global scale. Unlike my version of President Obama, he meant really badly. He wanted to kill everyone in the world and have everything for himself. So, he unleashed rampant free market capitalism on the entire world, imagining that this would cause global havoc and global slaughter. But alas for his murderous ambitions. He died a universally acclaimed hero and a miserably disappointed man, having killed absolutely nobody, in fact quite the opposite.