Extraterrestrial liberty: Declare it now



There was our usually sensible colleague, Charles Krauthammer, on the front page of the Review-Journal's "Viewpoints" section Sunday, arguing that despite the current fiat currency meltdown, "All we need is sufficient funding from the hundreds of billions being showered from Washington ... to build Constellation and get us back to Earth orbit and the moon. ...

"Why do it?" the distinguished commentator asked. "It's not for practicality. We didn't go to the moon to spin off cooling suits and freeze-dried fruit. ... We go for the wonder and glory of it."

While it's refreshing to hear an acknowledgement that the moneys spent on the government Space Boondoggle to date are hardly justified by the development of Tang, perhaps a brief review is in order:

The Founders promised us that, in exchange for tolerating a central government, federal taxes would be minimal — far less than the single-digit levies of the 18th Century British empire — that they would be either indirect excises (like the gasoline tax; no need for us to send Washington an annual tally and self-assessment of our gasoline taxes) or else capitated, with each American paying the same amount (to prevent socialist redistribution of wealth, which always bankrupts a nation), and further that they would be used to fund only a limited number of specific things, like post roads, federal courthouses, and a Navy.

The "race to the moon" was a wonderfully successful publicity stunt and potlatch, successfully demonstrating that the Soviet Union's socialist system could not develop the innovative technologies necessary to get men to the moon, while our capitalist system — if sufficiently looted and manipulated by government "contracts" — could.

It was also thoroughly unconstitutional, and incredibly stupid except as a plan to expose and bankrupt the Russians, since it opened up no trade routes, was not designed even to excavate a likely lunar mine, and especially since no one had the gumption to pull the plug back in 1971, telling NASA "No, we're not going to spend more billions so you can all protect your jobs by measuring astronauts' urine production as they circle the globe in Porky the Space Bus."

Just as we shake our heads in wonderment that our ancestors ever tolerated chattel slavery — the purported 100 percent ownership of one man or woman by another — so will our descendants grimace in shame that we, their forebears, tolerated a system under which the government claims to own 50 percent of value of the labor of every successful citizen-subject (while drunken idleness and the raising of fatherless sociopaths is subsidized), said half to be seized annually if not more often, upon threat of death or imprisonment.

And then, when they die ... we tax them again, just to make sure they have no incentive to save and invest for their children.

Taxes are evil. We tolerate this evil (so far) so long as it is minimal, to raise funds supposedly necessary to equip an army to defend our shores. (OUR ashores; not Afghanistan's. The only reason Americans should go to Afghanistan is to buy opium and hashish, to bring home and sell at a profit.)

But seizing the bread from the mouth of a hard-working young father or mother to finance "the wonder and glory" of new government space-wagons? The writer should be deeply ashamed.

Of course we should go back to space. Here's how: At no more expense than some photocopying, Congress should declare anyone who wants to raise private capital to launch a space venture, and who manages to get to the moon or the asteroid belt and bring back or make other use of anything of value, shall own that thing of value, and be free to sell or use it as he or she sees fit, WITHOUT EVER PAYING ANY TAXES ON IT, or on the income earned from it, or from the capital gains accrued from investing that income anywhere else.

The movement is already under way, even without the explicit promise of extraterrestrial liberty.

"On Oct. 4, 2004, a group of revolutionaries in the Mojave Desert sent a little dart-shaped rocket called SpaceShipOne beyond the Earth’s atmosphere," wrote Piers Bizony, author of “How to Build Your Own Spaceship: The Science of Personal Space Travel,” in The Washington Post last week. "Burt Rutan, the ship’s designer, had gotten tired of waiting for NASA to change — to become more nimble and innovative — or else get out of the way. So he created the first purely privately funded manned space vehicle. 'Government space agencies want to commit us to their old-fashioned technologies,' he says. 'We already know how that stuff works. What we need is the freedom to try some new, smarter and less expensive ideas.' ...

"Forty years after NASA’s Apollo 11 triumph, these men concluded, it is the space agency itself that has kept us grounded. NASA has suffered tragedies with Challenger and Columbia while falling victim to managerial decay. But the biggest problem with the agency today is a lack of that most American of motivators: competition."

Richard Branson has announced SpaceShipTwo will be unveiled in December. "Now we wait to see what happens next, and we wonder whose vehicles might launch the space adventure anew," Mr. Bizony writes. "I’ll be placing a bet on some of the recently evolved little NewSpace mammals darting around the ankles of NASA’s stumbling dinosaur."

On into space, by all means. But let's first declare that no future astronaut need bring along a taxman to make sure his chains and manacles — or ours, their unwilling financiers' — remain firmly fastened in place.

If we earthlings decide to invest in a space venture, the government's only job is to provide a court where we can make sure the successful private explorer honors his contract, and pays us our dividends.

In asteroid silver or platinum, preferably. Not in Tang. And not by telling us "Your reward for keeping all these astrophysicists employed is that they didn't break into your house and steal your stuff while you were at work."