Thursday, May 19, 2011

On Government Being Like The Marines

FLG often says that government is like the Marines. If you want something specific, concrete done in a specified period of time that doesn't require lots of new innovation, but does require the marshaling and coordination of lots of resources with little concern about cost, then government might just be the answer. That's when FLG usually turns to wars, disaster relief, and the moon shot as great examples.

Today, Lexington writes:
Kennedy was not especially interested in space, and said as much in private. But after the Soviet Union sent Yuri Gagarin into orbit he believed it to be vital for America to take on and beat the Soviets at something very hard. The moon fitted this need like a glove. Planting a man on its surface required no big technological innovations, says Mr Logsdon, “just very expensive mastery over nature using the scientific and technological knowledge available in 1961”.

He then continues:
The Apollo programme, which was summoned into being in order to demonstrate the superiority of the free-market system, succeeded by mobilising vast public resources within a centralised bureaucracy under government direction. In other words, it mimicked aspects of the very command economy it was designed to repudiate.


That may be why subsequent efforts to transfer the same fixity of purpose to broader spheres of peacetime endeavour have fallen short. If we can send a man to the moon, people ask, why can’t we [fill in the blank]? Lyndon Johnson tried to build a “great society”, but America is better at aeronautical engineering than social engineering. Mr Obama, pointing to competition from China, invokes a new “Sputnik moment” to justify bigger public investment in technology and infrastructure. It should not be a surprise that his appeals have gone unheeded. Putting a man on the moon was a brilliant achievement. But in some ways it was peculiarly un-American

Project like the Great Society aren't clear and concrete goals, nor are they of limited duration. Put simply, if you told the Marines, "Here, we're going to give you a massive amount of money, go to Mars in the next ten years," then most of us can see a squad of Space Marines traipsing about on the red planet pretty easily. On the other hand, tell them to fix American society, and FLG thinks he wouldn't be alone in laughing at the absurdity of the idea.

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