Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Governments and public goods

In an aside, Norm writes:

Incidentally here, I am intrigued by the reactions to this of some Republican politicians - to the effect that Obama's decision is 'a crippling blow', or even 'the death march', for human space exploration. I thought government provision wasn't all that central to human accomplishment, according to some philosophies.
Extreme positions exist on both sides of this debate - that governments should do almost nothing, or not exist (anarchism and extreme Libertarianism); that everything or almost everything should be done by governments. The second position is more common than the first (and few politicians of any hue argue that they themselves should not exist) but let's leave both aside and look at the main area of the bell curve of ideas.

Here, the debate is over the appropriate limits on government activity. Public goods like law and order and defence are generally recognised as being appropriate roles for governments. The constitutional right, classical liberals and moderate Libertarians tend to assert that the state should also enforce property rights and the law of contract, without which no free market can exist*.

So what of space exploration? For Republicans, or any other advocates of limited government, to support the notion that this should be financed and managed by government, and to do so without hypocrisy, they need to be arguing that space exploration is a public good.

For the purposes of this post, it doesn't matter whether that's an argument that could or should prevail. I just want to point out that there is no necessary inconsistency or hypocrisy in the position of a small-government Republican who wants the government to fund space exploration.

Small-government Republicans are not no-government Republicans.

*A free market is simply an arena for exchange in which all parties can act in what they perceive to be their own best interests, without coercion or deceit.

1 comment:

dearieme said...

Very true. But a small-government Republican who believed that moon jaunts are a public good should (I suggest) argue that next time some other government should pay the tab.