A Government-Financed Mars Prize?

by | Mar 1, 2004 | SCIENCE

Replacing socialism--with another version of socialism.

In The Case for Mars, Robert Zubrin’s book that describes his radical new way for man to reach Mars (a way that years later has been adopted by NASA), Dr. Zubrin mentions the idea of a Mars Prize, which he “came up with under the prodding of” Newt Gingrich in 1994. Under this plan, the government would forego its own Mars exploration program, and instead offer a cash prize (of say, $30 billion) for the first successful private mission to Mars.

Please do not be under the misapprehension that such a plan in any way represents capitalism. Rather, it would be nothing more than replacing socialism–with another version of socialism. The goal of such a plan would still be determined by the state and paid for by private individuals against their will. Meanwhile, the private plans of those private individual plans would still be quashed.

Moreover, there would still be cost overruns. “But,” you might say, “if there is a cost overrun for private companies competing for a Mars Prize, wouldn’t that cost overrun be absorbed by the private companies, not the government?” That would be highly unlikely. If the government offered a Mars Prize, that would mean the principle of government subsidy for Mars would have been established, and the lobbyists who were needed to establish that principle would be entrenched in Washington. When cost overruns occurred, those same lobbyists would be just as effective in getting the government to increase the subsidy. That’s the way government subsidies have always worked. Don’t you think the same government that has bailed out railroads, farmers, savings and loans, etc., would also bail out the Mars explorers — when it was government that sponsored them in the first place?

And, finally, what would happen after the Mars Prize were won? Probably, nothing. The winner would collect his prize and go home — unless the government then offered more subsidies for the next step in Mars exploitation. Recall: All the transcontinental railroads that received government subsidies went bankrupt, because their only goal was to build the railroad in order to collect the subsidy. Those railroads never planned for the longer term. The only transcontinental railroad never to go bankrupt was the one built without government subsidies: the Great Northern of James J. Hill. The Great Northern took longer to build, but it was built with the long term in mind; and it created value for its shareholders and customers.

Ron Pisaturo is a writer and philosopher. He has written a screenplay, The Merchant of Mars. Ronald Pisaturo is the author of A Validation of Knowledge, The Longevity Argument, The Merchant of Mars, and Masculine Power, Feminine Beauty.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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