There is fundamentally no business case for private enterprise to advance a space frontier. When you advance a frontier, you are making mistakes that the capital markets choose not to value. You have to create patents to enable things that you don't know will work. Anytime you are the first person to do something on that scale, the history of human civilization has demonstrated that the only funding available to do that via governance.
And so what then happens is the patents get issued. The Government figures out how to do it. They make it sort of routine but their innefficient because it's the government. Then you seed it to private enterprise.
The Dutch East India Trading Company [was] not the agency that found America from Europe. That was Columbus funded by Queen Isabella. There was Magellan also funded by Spain. They laid the groundwork to find out where to go, does the Earth have an edge or not, is it something worth doing. Then, behind them, the Dutch East India Trading Company came to conduct business. In a way safer than could have possibly been economically justified had they been the first to do it.
You look at the railroads that cross the United States. Newt Gingrich mentioned that as entrepreneurs leading the way, but he neglected the fact that Lewis and Clark got there first on a major funded expedition under the Jefferson Administration.
So you lay out the land, you map the rivers, you map the terrain. Then you've got an understanding of what the risks are for the capital markets to then value. Then they come in behind.
So I see any participation of the private enterprise in Space Exploration, not the first ones to go to Mars, not even to go back to the Moon, but to make our access to low-Earth orbit the efficiently-costed exercise that it really should have been at the beginning of the shuttle but was never realized.
The business sector is dazzlingly productive, but it also periodically blows up our financial system. Yet if we seek another model, one that emphasizes universal health care and educational opportunity, one that seeks to curb income inequality, we don’t have to turn to Sweden. Rather, look to the United States military.
You see, when our armed forces are not firing missiles, they live by an astonishingly liberal ethos — and it works. The military helped lead the way in racial desegregation, and even today it does more to provide equal opportunity to working-class families — especially to blacks — than just about any social program. It has been an escalator of social mobility in American society because it invests in soldiers and gives them skills and opportunities.
The United States armed forces knit together whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics from diverse backgrounds, invests in their education and training, provides them with excellent health care and child care. And it does all this with minimal income gaps: A senior general earns about 10 times what a private makes, while, by my calculation, C.E.O.’s at major companies earn about 300 times as much as those cleaning their offices. That’s right: the military ethos can sound pretty lefty.
“It’s the purest application of socialism there is,” Wesley Clark, the retired four-star general and former supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe, told me. And he was only partly joking.
Ironically, for all its free-market libertarianism, the Internet was a creation of the U.S. Government. The government still owned most of it in the early '90s, although and increasing proportion of hte equipment over which it ran sat in computer centers in universities, research organizations, and private companies. The Internet, after all, runs over existing phone lines as well as over its own high-speed, high-bandwidth telecommunications "backbones." Although it appears to be free to its users, most of its operating costs were borne first by the government and then increasingly by private computer centers, whose computers are being used to hold the content of the Internet--newsgroups, Websites, e-mail archives, and the like--and to forward messages from one node to another.