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Is it pork? Ham? Rashers of bacon?

I see that Instapundit has started a bit of a blogstorm with his campaign against government spending. Together with the Pork Report blog, a grass-roots campaign against government excesses might well take off.

I just wish I could imagine this happening in Australia.

Be that as it may, I wonder what the anti-Porkers will make of the latest NASA plans to resume manned missions to the Moon. It is all very good, but NASA admits it will cost $104 Billion and what is the betting that figure will grow as time goes by?

And this drives to the heart of any anti-Pork campaign. What is pork, and what is legitimate government spending?

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43 comments to Is it pork? Ham? Rashers of bacon?

  • I’m all for sending men back to the moon but I hope NASA gets the private sector involved to offset costs. Do something like the X-prize again.

  • Julian Taylor

    I’m also all for any government sending people to the moon … just so long as they don’t use tax dollars to pay for it.

    Give the project over to Richard Branson to sort out.

  • John East

    Oh dear, oh dear. I would like to think that few are as keen as I am to reduce the size of government and pork barrel spending, but you’ve got me on one of my weak spots here. I’m very keen on scientific research and space exploration spending. If only we were civilised enough to waste our taxes on this rather than on military endeavours.

    My reason is a bit cranky, but it is a reason none the less. I understand that the return to the moon is to set the scene for a possible moon base and a future mission to Mars. I think that this is a great idea. It makes me nervous that the human race is concentrated on one planet, sitting ducks waiting for the next mass extinction. OK, it might not happen for another 100 million years, but as far as we know the odds for it happening tomorrow are the same as it happening in the distant future. Getting off this planet is the route to our eternal survival. Billions of people are happy to pray for salvation, I’d rather plan for it.

    As to whether this noble enterprise is pork or legitimate investment, I don’t know, only time will tell. It would be best to maximise private funding, as free enterprise generated by private investment for profit is obviously the best way forwards.

  • HJHJ

    Whilst being concerned about the cost and the possible return and the fact that this is not being driven by free market economics, we should not forget that the same could be said about the original moon missions.

    As it turned out, these missions were fabulous investments. Forget the non-stick frying pan stuff (in fact, non-stick frying pans preceded the moon missions and were nit a result of it) – the biggest benefit of the moon missions was the impetus it gave to integrated circuit technology (microchips in common parlance). The technology developed for these missions rapidly accelerated the semiconductor industry and no-one could reasonably claim that the subsequent return has not dwarfed the investment.

    it might not be the same the second time around, but who knows?

  • One man’s pork is another’s vital government program.

    Seriously, I’d like people to take a calmer look at government spending. For instance, antipork crusaders too often give a bye to normal government programs. For example, there’s a good bit of systematic waste in health care that rarely is called pork. In the U.S., for example, we spend 100 times as much on health care as we do on NASA. Finding stupid expenditures in health care (private and public) is left as an exercise to the reader. Completely eliminating NASA and spending the money on health care (as too many want to do) would not help humanity — and could arguably make things worse.

    No, we shouldn’t give NASA a free ride just because it is small and does work that lots of people here fundamentally approve — even if they don’t like government doing it. But, rather than getting excited over fairly small amounts of waste, let’s look at major problems first.

  • Colin

    Pork? No, you muppets, it’s Pigs in Space.

  • Julian Morrison

    NASA moon flights are pork. Worse, wasteful pork. NASA will go, run out of money, come back. Private industry would go, turn a profit, iterate. Only private money can actually extend the abilities of humankind.

    Not that I wouldn’t cheer if NASA made it, just for the sheer niftyness.

  • Chuck Divine: there are many places you could go to and the notion that healthcare spending by the state is untouchable (“we have to spend on skoolzandhopitlz”) even if NASA was a reasonable candidate for pruning… but Samizdata.net ain’t one of those places.

    I am at least partially convinced that some health related spending is a legitimate ‘nightwatchman state’ function (i.e. CDC type capabilities) but I am all for cutting back on most of what the state spends on health related programmes, doubly so in Britain.

  • Julian,

    Doubtful. There’s been entirely too much exploration and discovery that’s proved both useful and unlikely to have been funded by private money. There is a place for both government and private endeavors on frontiers.

    Respectfully,

    Chuck Divine

  • rosignol

    Yup. Voyages of exploration are a hard sell in the age of people looking for a dependable 10% return on investment, but in the long run, exploration tends to pay off- either directly (discovery of the Americas), or indirectly (the semiconductors mentioned above).

    Besides that, there is the ‘all the eggs are in one basket’ thing. Earth is not a safe neighborhood to live in long-term- really big rocks fall out of the sky every few million years.

    This may be a mildly collectivist point of view, as money invested in spreading humanity around a bit won’t benefit me directly… but I still consider it worth trying. And who knows what we might find? There are two possibilities that come to mind- either there is life out there, or there is not. The implications of both possibilities are tremendous.

  • Frogman

    I’ll support another Moon mission if I get to decide who goes. One-way, of course.

  • Chuck, I know Americans think big but this is a $100 billion + ‘investment’.

    I can assure you, out here in the boondoks of Australia, that’s a handy lump of change!

    I’m not hugely convinced by the ‘non-stick fry pan arguement’ either. According to Nasa, the trip this time will involve ‘Apollo on Steriods’ sort of technology, by which they mean rockets and stuff. This is worse then the original, which was bad enough. Hell, there’s another post in that, now that I come to think of it.

  • HJHJ

    Many of the above posters refer to “healthcare” spending.

    What they mean, of course, is medical care spending. Medical care, in general terms, has relatively little positive effect on health (and that which does is mostly of the simple, cheap type). It is spectacularly bad value – and in many cases of dubious or even negative benefit – compared with good sanitation systems, a decent diet and exercise and other factors. In the UK, for example, voters regularly put “health” at, or near, the top of their election concerns and demand more government NHS expenditure because they are under the wholly false impression that this will improve health. Few seem aware of the reality.

    By any measure, spending on a moon programme is likely to be a better investment (even if it is a bad investment compared with other possible uses for the money).

    Fact: The level of most of the killer infectious diseases was reduced by 95% or more from previous levels in western societies before the introduction of vaccines and antibiotics. The principal reason was better sanitation. Thank the sanitation engineers who have done more for public health than all the doctor put together.

  • 50 cents

    Mr Wickstein – mate – you seem to have proven your point.

  • 1327

    I have read a few posts by Tim May who worked for Intel in the 1970’s in which he says the NASA/military spending of the 1960’s had very little to do with the development of the integrated circuit during that period. So it sounds likely that the integrated circuit story is a myth the same as the non-stick frying pan story.

  • 50 Cents

    Oh no! Now Mr Magoo wants to bribe the North Koreans! More pork – but without killing any pigs.

  • Brendan Halfweeg

    Get Coca Cola to pay for the mission, put a giant patented dynamic ribbon trademark on the moon, just for the taste of a bit of space exploration.

    Does anyone remember in Red Dwarf when they pick up the inter-stellar cruiser sent to detonate a super nova in order to advertise ‘COKE ADDS LIFE!’? It cost the equivalent of the entire military budget of the USA for the whole of history.

    OK, it wasn’t wonderful, ecologically speaking. OK, it involved the destruction of a hundred and twenty-eight stars, which otherwise would have lasted another twenty-five million years or so. OK, when the stars exploded they would gobble up three or four planets in each of their solar systems. And, OK, the resulting radiation would last long past the lifetime of our own planet.

    But it sure as hell would sell a lot of cans of a certain fizzy drink.

  • HJHJ

    1327,

    I’ve spent nearly all my career in the semiconductor industry and the space programme most certainly did have a major impact on accelerating the development of integrated circuits. In fact, in the early to mid 1960s, NASA was the largest single consumer of integrated circuits.

    The computers used in the space craft were the first ever to use integrated circuits – specifically designed for the Apollo computers – and this drive to integration and miniaturisation lead directly to the Intel 4004 (the first microprocessor, designed for use in a Japanese calculator). Until then, small size and low power had not been so important for computers and neither had they been used extensively for real-time applications. Apollo unquestionably drove integrated circuit, and compact computer, development forward.

    So it sounds likely, indeed certain, that your scepticism is wholly misplaced.

    Intel wasn’t founded until 1968, incidentally.

  • HJHJ

    To elaborate on my above post, early IC companies really didn’t have much in the way for customers for their new invention until the space programme gave them a guaranteed demand for and incentive to improve their products.

    This is not to say that ICs would not have happened without the space programme, but the technology would have languished for a considerable period and the industry (and the many technology industries now underpinned by IC technology) would not be as far advanced today as they are.

  • What is pork, and what is legitimate government spending?

    Pork is merely an egregious example of everyday government action. I deny there is any such thing as legitimate government spending. To the extent the state’s revenue is made up from coercive taxation, it isn’t theirs to spend.

    If only we were civilised enough to waste our taxes on this rather than on military endeavours.

    If only they were civilized enough to cease their relentless robbery of private property. Don’t lump others in with this crime.

  • One good indicator of pork is whether the spending is appropriate to a particular level of government. Most of the spending in infamous highway bill that is labeled as pork is paid for by the federal government but really deals with a purely local system e.g a bike path in a park.

    Keeping government spending within its proper scope is the surest safeguard against waste. The Federal government shouldn’t be funding projects that only have local benefit.

  • Perry,

    I know I won’t find many defenders of government funded health care here at Samizdata. Still, though, going after pork, in my opinion, tends to ignore far worse waste. That was the point of my post. It would also be interesting to find out how much real waste is private (or perhaps semiprivate) in nature. Private corporations can be as unreasonable as governments in their behaviors.

  • Julian Morrison

    Is non-pork waste worse? I’m not so sure. Monetarily, yes. But I propose by analogy to the theory of “broken windows policing”, that pork is worse because it’s openly corrupt. Therefore, it erodes the moral base of the other sorts of government spending and as a result, makes it infinitely harder to argue a case against other spending.

    To put that another way: money spent dependent on a moral and reasoned case, can be stopped by proving the countercase. But when the public is habituated to seeing money spent “just because” and to feed vested interests, no countercase finds traction.

    Therefore: prevent pork as part of a campaign to force the government to justify its expenditure – and as a first step towards beating back that justification and shutting down the expenditure.

  • B's Freak

    Pork refers to projects attatched to a spending bill which are local in nature and very often have little or nothing to do with the what the spending bill is intended to address. More often than not they are a way to buy support. This makes them prime examples of corruption.

  • I’m pretty minarchist, but a moon launch that provided sufficient data to make it more safe for commercial exploration to follow is very much the sort of thing that I think the government should be allowed to do… I might be wrong, but right now I’m not seeing the commercial world put up anything capable of making a Lagrange point, let alone the moon.

  • Roy Lofquist

    1. The first large scale use of integrated circuits was the D37C guidance computer for the Minuteman II ICBM (1962-) – 1,200 units produced – far more than NASA ever used.

    2. The only useful definition of legitimate government spending is whatever the elected representatives choose to spend. You don’t like it? Get your guy elected.

  • HJHJ

    The Apollo programme drove the technical requirement and initially consumed far more ICs than Minuteman. MIT actually consumed nearly a third of worldwide IC production at the time in order to develop Apollo systems. Unquestionably, this provided the required impetus to the semiconductor industry at the time.

    Minuteman exploited the technology rather than led its application.

    Kilby produced the first IC in 1958. Significant as this was, it should be noted that the idea of integrating transistors and other elements on a single piece of semiconductor material had been raised elsewhere previously, in the UK and the US. This is why, in my opinion, the greatest US invention of the 20th century was the transistor and not the IC, which was just a logical, if inspired extension.

    If I’m honest, I found studying semiconductor physics and electronics at university rather dry, but the history is fascinating and inspiring.

  • Taxpayer funded space travel is pork for libertarians. Sure it’s a neat cause, but that fact doesn’t justify seizing citizens’ resources to pay for it. And the ROI argument is sophistry, else why shouldn’t government invest in other business enterprises that have higher risk-adjusted expected returns?

    If you want to convince other constituencies to forgo their favorite government programs, it might help to be willing to jettison yours. Burt Rutan et al will do a better job than NASA in the long run, anyway.

  • Tim

    Julian,

    There’s little justification for the manned space program anymore. We got to another piece of rock, and helped win the space race.

    The shuttle and the ISS are pointless and we are learning nothing from them.

    Unmanned probes cost far less and help us understand our galaxy better.

    Given a choice, I’d rather see government spending money on research into fuel technology to make the west more self-sufficient, than getting some people onto the moon (which has already been done).

  • Snide

    The only useful definition of legitimate government spending is whatever the elected representatives choose to spend. You don’t like it? Get your guy elected.

    Sure, and if they spend to build gas chambers and gas Jews in them, I guess that would still be legitimate, eh? After all, the National Socialist German Workers Party was elected, you know. The perils of utilitarian thought on display for all to see.

  • Crow

    The second link from Drudge that I read quoted NASA as saying it would include the moon missions as part of its regular budget up to 2018 and that in constant dollars, the 100 odd billion was 55% of the Apollo program. Link to source: http://www.breitbart.com/news/2005/09/19/D8CNETL02.html

    Government will have a headstart on large capital type investments simply because it has access to a large amount of coerced capital out of its citizens – meaning it’s still immoral regardless. Besides, it will only take something such as an advance in propulsion, reducing payload costs and logistics problems, to make space exploration eminently attractive to billionaire playboys and venture capitalists. Hell, it’s already attracting a little bit of both (that Apple guy and the $20 million space tourists guys).

    As for meteors hitting the earth and killing everybody. . . my impression is that any objects big enough to destroy more than a couple of city blocks would have been spotted by now, for a minimum of the next several decades, and there is no real threat of that soon.

  • Adam

    All government spending is pork, no exceptions.

  • John East

    Two silly comments on one thread:

    “Taxpayer funded space travel is pork for libertarians.”

    I won’t comment on this statement, it’s not worth the effort.

    “….my impression is that any objects big enough to destroy more than a couple of city blocks would have been spotted by now, for a minimum of the next several decades, and there is no real threat of that soon.”

    Listen to what the astronomers are saying. Your statement is not supported by any astronomer that I have read. Two city blocks could be destroyed by an object only a few metres in size. There are billions, of these objects zooming around up there, and we would not see one coming in time to do anything about it. As for the mass extinction objects (perhaps 10+ kilometres in diameter), only a small fraction have been observed to date, and even if all were recorded, their orbits can change unpredictably. Long period comets always appear “out of the blue”.
    And don’t forget, nobody has said that meteors/comets are the only mass extinction events we need to prepare for.

  • John McVey

    Scott:

    Legitimate government spending is that which is

    a) qualitatively, required for legitimate government functions, namely defense, policing, judiciary, and core admin. Spending on space projects can only be justified at present for defense reasons, but the second and third roles will also come up in due time. This will be for such things as investigation and adjudication of lunar or asteroidal mining claim-jumping cases, then getting progressively more mundane as being in space leads to the displacement of starched-shirt hyper-educated clean-shaven officers by ordinary blue-collar folks holding down regular jobs that just happen to be off-planet. This process will begin within our lifetimes, so real research into dealing with it is in order sooner or later.

    b) quantitatively, at an appropriate level decided the same way – in theory anyway – that any level of spending should be, namely that one should spend on item X enough such that the marginal benefit is as low as it can be while still being higher than that of the next beneficial thing it could be spent on (which in the government context, includes the non-spending and leaving of the funds in the pockets of the original rightful owners). Standard economics. For better or worse, for government functions that means this sort of decision making is the bread and butter of the legislative branches, taking submissions from the executive branch on projected needs and justifications etc, within the confines of general legitimacy of government action and the totality of funding permitted by the voting public.

    Given that a) means that some government initiative to put people on the moon will be legitimate eventually, the real question becomes the quantitative one, modified by temporal considerations. My answer is: it is not legitimate today, though will be in the future. How far in the future entirely depends on external circumstances, these being genuine military needs for defense and when private space ventures can no longer be viable without the rule of law physically present off-world. That means, watch other nations, and watch entrepreneurs like Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic et al, followed by mining companies taking genuine interest. I leave the question of how much to spend in the future for consideration just prior to that future, given that one can’t decide without reasonable cost estimates.

    In the mean time, government spending on space ought be restricted to earth-orbit projects for reasons such as intelligence, communications, and if need be weapons & defence systems. Within those confines, it is also permissible – or even required – to make various contracts with private parties as and when appropriate to cut costs without compromising military security. Similarly in the mean time, leave private entrepreneurs free to spend their own money on their own projects, neither hindering them nor bailing them out. Combined, I fully expect such research simultaneously to aid any future moon-related projects technoligically and progressively bring forward the need to look again to the moon as other countries and private parties do likewise.

    In short, patience, my friends! Lets not lose our heads over what is admittedly very cool stuff.

    JJM

  • Crow

    John East:

    NASA’s JPL has a Congressional mandate to find over 90% of possible near-Earth objects (NEO) by the end of 2008. There are a number of groups scanning the sky for NEO’s as well as a host of amateur astronomers searching the sky in the hopes of naming a comet after themself.

    I’m not a rocket scientist, but I suspect that the likelihood of a NEO’s discovery becomes increasingly higher as the point of hypothetical impact approaches, considering that the Earth’s path around the Sun is a known and fixed value; and that the larger it is, the more visible it will be to a nerd on a mountaintop.

    To sum, after impromptu reading of the subject for more time than it was really worth, I am even less concerned about the possibility than I was when I was more ignorant of the matter.

    Not to mention that even if the entire population of the Earth didn’t give a flying flip about the subject and couldn’t be bothered to pick up a telescope and look, I would still be vastly more concerned with the certainty of dying of old age at 102 than with the chance of a piece of iron ferrite smiting me from the heavens Because God Hates Me.

    I will concede, however, that if you think the CDC is a valid function of a nightwatchman gov’t, then funding a couple of geeks at JPL to scan the sky with telescopes and computers is probably OK, too.

  • John East

    Crow,
    I’m vastly relieved that, “NASA has a Congressional mandate to find over 90% of possible near-Earth objects (NEO) by the end of 2008.”

    We obviously have little need to be in any way concerned over the future of the human race. However, I can’t help wondering if Congress has yet expanded its scientific expertise to the field of long period comets, interstellar debris or Oort cloud objects? I’m also curious who will look after us once all of these objects are tracked and mapped. Will it be FEMA?

  • John East

    Crow,
    I forgot to add, my description of “silly” should only have applied to the crazy post that said support for space funding was libertarian, and not to your original post.
    I apologise for this.

  • Dale Amon

    I am not too fussed about NASA’s expenditures at this time because I do not really expect NASA to be around for many more decades. The announced program carries no new funding with it and I seriously doubt they will get it if they ask. While NASA’s budget has gone up and down but some fractions of a percent of federal spending, it has remained at a fairly miniscule level ever since Apollo.

    I mildly support the new program because it will get NASA focused out of Earth orbit and keep them out of our way while the real space program grows from its current infancy into something capable of defending itself.

    So NASA is returning to the moon by 2018? Big deal. I will be they have not even booked their hotel reservation there yet.

    We are on the cusp of the private sector take over of space. Commercial suborbital tourism starts up in a couple years, by Virgin Galactic of the UK as a near certainty, and probably others.
    Private orbital flight will arrive one way or another by 2012. It might be on top of a more advanced SpaceShipThree, or more likely as a crew compartment on top of Elon Musks cheap heavy lift flying out of Kwajalein. It is coming, one way or the other.

    From LEO to lunar hotel is probably only a decade for a market driven venture funding its own way. That means that any delays at all in NASA’s lunar return means someone will be there to sell them souvineers.

    I am perfectly happy to spend a few billion a year to keep the patient amused until the time comes to shake our heads and turn off the life support.

  • Dale Amon

    Oh, just a bit of an addition to the historical record. I began my career working with early Intel circuits. As others have said, Intel did not invent integrated circuits. They invented Large Scale Integrated circuits (LSI) and launched their company on the wildly successful (and wildly complex to use what with a quadrature phase clocking requirement) 1102A memory chip. The first one. They made so much money on it they hired a cruise ship and held a party for the entire staff, or so I heard back in 1974 or so.

  • Crow

    John East:

    You’re quite right to be skeptical of the usefulness of Congressional mandates, but in this case the perceived need is small and JPL appears to be doing an adequate job of it (along with numerous other groups and individuals in a patchwork manner).

    The definition of a near-Earth object includes any large object that intersects the orbit of the Earth so yes, I assume that includes spotting 20,000 year period comets and random crap flying through our solar system as they approach 100 years to intersecting Earth’s orbit.

    Like I said before, I’m certainly not a rocket scientist. Common sense and everything I’ve read however tell me that with the amount of sky scanning we do, there is a very high probability of detecting objects down to a certain size, out to a number of years. The probability increases as size increases, and as time left until impact decreases, because it would simply become more noticeable the larger it was and the closer it came.

    Stuff in space doesn’t change direction at random. It keeps going in a straight line until something affects it (like gravity causing an object to orbit, or a collision causing a change in direction). Inertia.

    Data on NEO “possibles” can be found all over the Internet. JPL’s data is there. Actual tracking data is probably maintained by whoever did the tracking, probably various universities and NASA and so on. The biggest threat to mankind right now is a 320 meter estimated diameter rock to pass close to Earth once in the next hundred years or so. With a current probability estimate of 1 in 5,560 chance of impact (that’s been decreasing since discovery as data is refined).

  • HJHJ

    Dale: Yes it’s an interesting fact that Intel was a memory company originally. Not they only really do Flash memories and have got out of the commodity memory business.

    I used to work for one of the largest commodity memory (DRAM) producers and they lamented the fact that Intel gets about 50 times as much per unit area of silicon as they do, thanks to their strangehold on microprocessors for PCs.

    Yes, we went from SSI to MSI, to LSI and then VLSI but there were only grey divisions between these levels of integration. A friend of mine refers to the current state-of-play in semiconductors as “FLSI”.

  • 50 Cents

    Budget deficit for 2004 should be $450billion, according to the US owned Times. Excellent article on p.38 of today’s paper.

    Some Republicans getting miffed that no-one will tell them how the $200 bill guilt-offering for Katrina will be funded.

  • John East

    50 Cents, Keep this under your hat, I wouldn’t want the clueless Republicans to hear it from me. The $200 billion will be borrowed.