March 15, 2017 Zimmerman/Batchelor/Livingston podcast


Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.

Embedded below the fold. Batchelor invited me to be the guest on his regular Wednesday Hotel Mars segment with David Livingston of The Space Show to discuss Capitalism in Space.

16 comments

  • Edward

    From Robert’s interview: “It might just be better to allow this industry now to evolve as it is, because right now there are profits to be made, people want to go to the Moon and go to Mars, and so there’s need, and what private enterprise does is fulfills need.

    A very good summary of the solution and a good path to the future. It allows free markets to determine what is best for expanding into space, just as America grew, these past four centuries, mostly due to the freedom to choose how to invest in and expand throughout the developing country.

    We know that there are already several companies that have great visions for future commerce in space. If we make sure that they do not have impediments, then they will expand into space far faster than the slow, sluggish, budget-limited, almost-disinterested, Earthbound governments will do. They certainly have been slow at doing not much in the past half century.

    The comparison with the American west is appropriate. There have been other expansions throughout the world, too. In the 19th century, the US was not the only country that had a frontier. We have several examples of expansion from which to learn, but the frontiers in the Americas were clearly the largest, complete with immigration from the Old World straight to the frontier.

    An example of a lesson — beyond Robert’s example of the Homesteading Act — is the need for better communication between the US east coast and California. Messages and people needed to move across the continent in far less time and in a safer manner than those that were available in 1860, so government funded a transcontinental railroad, a line longer than had ever been built or operated before. Earthbound or space-born governments may also have needs for similar large projects. Although the needs of We the People has been shown to be best met through private-ownership of free-market capitalist commerce, there will be times when government should also fund projects that solve its needs.

  • Edward wrote, “An example of a lesson — beyond Robert’s example of the Homesteading Act — is the need for better communication between the US east coast and California. Messages and people needed to move across the continent in far less time and in a safer manner than those that were available in 1860, so government funded a transcontinental railroad, a line longer than had ever been built or operated before. Earthbound or space-born governments may also have needs for similar large projects. Although the needs of We the People has been shown to be best met through private-ownership of free-market capitalist commerce, there will be times when government should also fund projects that solve its needs.”

    My gosh, Edward, this is so obvious I don’t know why I didn’t think of it. I’ve been racking my brains trying to think of the right projects that the Trump administration should propose for NASA. A moon mission is the obvious thing that many have been pushing, but that would put us back into a big government “program” again.

    No, what NASA should do is build the kind of infrastructure that private enterprise needs to explore the Moon, the asteroids, and Mars. Build a communications network. Put communications satellites behind the Moon. Set up radiation monitors that private tourists trips will need to monitor solar and cosmic radiation. And even here, the model should be that used in the west with the transcontinental railroad, where the government hired private companies to do the work for it.

    I need to think about this more. This needs to be written up properly.

  • LocalFluff

    The best railroad analogy would be a Mars cycler á la Buzz Aldrin. Non-expendable spaceships in orbits that passes by both Earth and Mars to pick up and drop crew. 7 year cyclers, once every third conjunction, have lower speed and are easier to reach from Earth and from Mars than the original proposal. With one outgoing and one incoming cycler, going to Mars wouldn’t be much harder than going to the ISS. Lunar cyclers are also possible, polar ones in order to deal with the Moon’s high eccentricity.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Anent your and Edward’s discussion of what space-based or space-oriented infrastructure projects are appropriate for governmental vs. commercial provision:

    On Earth, government typically provides roads. In many places government also provides railroads, but the U.S. is not one of them and has not suffered thereby. But there are no analogies to roads and railroads in space so there is no useful space-related guidance to be derived from Earthside norms.

    Space is more analogous to sea transport than land transport. No government provides the seas, lakes and oceans. Both government-funded and commercially-funded ships can travel on the medium nature has provided – and do. Space will be the same. At sea, merchant vessels have long hugely outnumbered military or other government vessels. Most space vehicles, manned or unmanned, are likely, in future, to be privately owned and operated as well.

    But there will be military spaceships. I agree with those who call for creation of a U.S. Space Force as a sort of Navy-Coast Guard hybrid – though, as an old Andromeda fan, I prefer it be named the High Guard. Much classier IMHO.

    Maritime navigation aids, including lighthouses, buoys, radio beacons such as Loran and, now, GPS have always been the purview of governments because there is no practicable way of avoiding what economists call the “free-rider problem.” Space has no unique characteristics that will change this. A deep-space equivalent of GPS would be one thing a High Guard could be put in charge of. Initial deployment would be for covering cis-lunar space, but eventually the entire Solar System should fall within its coverage envelope.

    Government might also be the most reasonable provider of space weather forecasts and warnings, though the case for this seems much less clear-cut than does the case for navigation aids and services. The private sector should be given first crack at this. Only in the event of clear market failure would it be appropriate for government to step in.

    That general principle should also guide the provision of any other form of space-based infrastructure. That especially includes telecommunications. Short and long-haul electronic communications, both wired and wireless, were all first developed by private parties in the U.S. and U.K. and grew into giant industries in the private sector. Earth-focused telecommunications is the largest single space-based industry at present and has long since transitioned from its governmental origins to private-sector dominance. When telecommunications users move off-planet in a big way, that should continue to be true. If the Moon and Mars need satellite telecom infrastructures – and they will – the private sector will do the best job of providing them.

    That will include very long-range telecom too. NASA’s current Deep Space Network is, in my view, roughly analogous to the early Internet and experimental satcoms – a government-originated, but thinly distributed, low-capability proof of concept system supporting limited on-going operations. DSN will, I think, be incrementally subsumed, starting in fairly short order, by commercially provided infrastructure that is much more capable and capacious.

  • LocalFluff

    Dick Eagleson,
    A Mars or Moon cycler is pretty much a railroad analogy. It has its time table and fixed route. Even though it has no rails, it rolls along the curvature of space. With Solar electric propulsion or Solar sails there’s room for more fancy versions of it. It’s a job for gravitational artists to optimize a cycler orbit. Clearly, gravity and maybe atmospheric assists can be used to lower costs for a reusable cycler spacecraft. Even Venus can be helpful for going to Mars. The seas offer more flexibility in navigation, and more weather dependence, than space flight does. Any analogy will have its faults, as well as its similarities.

    I must say that I think that you are politically naive when you mention “market failure”. That is a term only used by Marxists. Can you give any example of any “market failure” anywhere ever? I can give you an example of government failure: Space flight! And many many more: Energy, infrastructure, education, monetary policy, foreign policy, crime fighting and on and on. All governments always fail with everything, that’s what history is about and those are the failures of societies in our time too. We would all be very much safer and wealthier if there existed no government to loot and force us.

    I agree that we space nerds should make better use of uplifting words like high, up, above, heaven. Space flight is a fantastic and unique phenomena, it took life on Earth about 4,000,000,000 years to start doing it, after desperately having covered all of Earth. We should be proud about being around when it happens, and in some way most people indirectly contributes to making it possible. Today is an important date in the history of the Milky Way galaxy! We should use our languages to express the value of this triumph for human kind and all life that we are co-living with.

  • wayne

    Highly recommend:
    The American Economy and the End of Laissez-Faire: 1870 to World War I
    “The Railroading of the American People”
    Murray Rothbard
    (Lecture 2 of 13, Fall of 1986, New York Polytechnic University.)
    https://mises.org/library/2-railroading-american-people

    The railroad analogy maybe better illustrates, what NOT to do, in part, as it concerns government subsidization and regulation.
    I would also note, that only one route West– the Empire Builder route, was build with private money.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Localfluff,

    Ferryboats have schedules too, but they aren’t like railroads in that they require no infrastructure upon which to run except the docks at each end of their routes. Cyclers, ideally, wouldn’t even need anything analogous to docks. They would be the long haulers of space needing only something analogous to one or more lighters at each extremity of their orbits that could match speed and off-load or swap cargo or passengers.

    Market failure is not a Marxist term, it’s a bit of economics jargon. It refers to any entity that is useful, or even essential, but which is not, or cannot, be provided by the free market. The classic example is lighthouses. Lighthouse beacons can be seen and, therefore, used by any craft at sea within sight of their lanterns. There is no way to straightforwardly charge beneficiaries for the cost of building and operating the lighthouse, though. Thus, the provision of lighthouses is a market failure if left entirely to the market.

    Ditto for GPS. GPS signals are broadcasts. Anyone with a suitable receiver can pick up and use the broadcasts and there is no way to charge any of them for the service.

    GPS is an even purer version of a market failure than are lighthouses. Someone building a lighthouse near a harbor mouth, say, might be able to make a deal with the local government to collect an entry tax from ships coming into the harbor in return for which the local government would get a percentage of the take too.

    But the distance from which a ship can see a lighthouse is limited by the curvature of the Earth. And lighthouses built as warnings against getting too close to dangerous rocks or reefs can’t use the harbor tax mechanism because the beneficiaries of the light are all in motion and might be headed anywhere.

    GPS is like that, only more so. Its coverage is global and its uncountable and undetectable users can employ it to go from anywhere to anywhere else. There’s no “harbor” whose master could collect a tax.

    This isn’t Marxism. Marxists believe a lot of demonstrably false things about free markets and – true – tend to assume market failures for things such as health care that are not warranted by an objective examination of reality. But simply because Marxists see a lot of faux market failures doesn’t mean that market failures are entirely a figment of the leftist imagination. Personally, I’m a libertarian-ish conservative. But a general preference for free markets doesn’t equate to an uncritical belief that the market will always provide. It doesn’t. Military protection is another such market failure.

  • wayne

    Dick Eagleson– good stuff!.

    I recently watched a bit of video the invention of the transistor, which lead me on to Fairchild electronics, and on to Intel, etc. It occurs to me, although I have not pondered this too deeply, the electronics industry (circa1946-to Sputnik and into the ’60’s.) perhaps illustrates at least parts of some of Mr. Z’s Policy paper points.
    (although they begged for protective tariff’s in the 1980’s)

  • Edward

    Actually, Robert, I am thinking that the infrastructure ideas that you have are more like the assistance that the Homesteading Act provided. LocalFluff’s reference to the Aldrin Cycler for Mars transport seems closer to the railroad analogy for an earthbound government to get people and materiel to and from a “California” on Mars.

    Since the Cycler does not stop at either planet, individuals, families, companies, organizations, and nations can send shuttles from an orbiting station to the Cycler, and use those same shuttles to aerobrake to another orbiting station at the destination planet. Landing shuttles at either planet would take people and cargo to and from the surface to the orbiting station. The Cycler need only be a living space during transit and can last for decades, just as railroads do. Because it does very little orbital adjustment, the Cycler can be very large, very heavy, and provide excellent radiation shielding.

    When space commerce is well established, then the Cyclers can be built and operated with private money, just as the Empire Builder route was.

    (wayne,
    (The problem in the 1980s was largely due to the dumping of components — selling for less than manufacturing costs — that I mentioned in another recent thread.)

  • wodun

    Both the frontier and nautical metaphors work. I am going to build off what others have said to link them together.

    Space isn’t exactly an open ocean. There are optimum paths to reach destinations. This is similar to terrestrial shipping with sea lanes. There are launch seasons and windows of different lengths to reach various destinations depending on how much propellant you have to spend. And depending on what is being shipped, you might want to go faster or tolerate a longer voyage.

    It is in our government’s interest to see that these lanes are maintained and serviced. Communications, weather monitoring, and debris mitigation could go under maintenance. Service could come in the form of cyclers, fuel depots, and stations. The government need not own any of it but just purchase the services it needs. With the possible exception of things similar to what Dick Eagleson mentioned. This will help providers in their infancy while developing a larger customer base and it will benefit government in the future by expanding the tax base to pay for services.

    A form of Space Guard makes sense. They could be present on private ships as either passengers or employees. They could also have their own dedicated ships. Because their are launch seasons, there could be groups of ships leaving at the same time and having an escort to respond to emergencies would be beneficial.

    You can think of sea lanes like a rail line in the homesteading days but the way I like to bring in the frontier metaphor is with fort building. A fort (station) could be viewed as a port or it could be viewed like a train station. It would operate like a fort though. Forts were used to expand influence and support. A fort (station) need not be owned by the government but the government should have a presence of some kind on the station.

    Forts enabled Americans to live by our laws and our culture. They also acted as markets, or supported the existence of them nearby. They protected travel routes and responded to emergencies like forest fires. A fort was basically a hub enabling the activities of the populace and the government. Forts were not isolated islands but rather part of a large network that pushed the boundaries of our society, and others that used this strategy, outward.

    Space stations in different locations could support different activities. Placing one at a lunar lagrange point could enable both Lunar and Martian activities. A fort in orbit around Mars could support Martian landings but also trips to the asteroid belt or to Earth and the Moon.

    We could certainly do the same thing on the surfaces of the Moon and Mars but the space based infrastructure will enable activities on both of these bodies to take place. With the government acting as a customer, not owner/operator, and asking commerce to meet the needs of government (building stations), we will be able to spread out government as far as our people want to spread out. Government could just tag along while enabling critical infrastructure be built.

    Establishing a series of forts would give our country a lot of influence as most countries can’t build them but many countries could use them. Then much like we have a Pax Americana maintaining open access to the oceans on Earth, we would have a Pax Americana in space.

  • wayne

    Dick-
    good stuff.

    Edward–
    good stuff.
    My position on “dumping,” — if your competitors want to sell you their products for less than their cost of production– buy them ALL, they are not making it up on volume.

    wodun–good stuff.
    I like the idea of a “space guard,” but we first need to invent the “destructo-beam.”

    Captain Proton
    https://youtu.be/R65AGyvAGHc
    (3:16)

  • Edward

    wayne wrote: “if your competitors want to sell you their products for less than their cost of production– buy them ALL, they are not making it up on volume.

    No, they are not making it up on volume, but if they are bigger than you are, you will go out of business before they do. Virgin Atlantic had to deal with this problem, as British Airways did a dirty tricks campaign against the new Virgin Atlantic, back in the early 1990s.

    In the United States, the dumping of Japanese DRAMs resulted in the American DRAM manufacturers to stop making them, at least in the US.

  • wayne

    Edward–
    Good stuff.

    The Japanese electronics business was heavily intertwined with the Japanese government, so I could possibly be persuaded, but it’s a dangerous route to travel.

    I do however, consider the capability to mass produce “electronics,” as falling into the category of a strategic-industry.

    I would put forth as a general statement– “predatory-pricing” & “dumping,” are concepts that come up in academia far more often than in real-life experience.

    tangentially– I was checking prices on vacuum tubes recently. Amazing!
    Lot of new old-stock is floating around.

  • Dick Eagleson

    wodun,

    The fort analogy is a very good one. In the Old West, forts also had the function of being defensible places of redoubt for neighboring settlers that could stand off attacks by hostile aborigines. Space has no hostile aborigines, but it has an unpredictable and variable radiation environment. Just as Edward said about cyclers, forts being non-moving, can afford to bulk up on all the shielding needed to provide safety from anything short of a nearby supernova.

  • Garry

    Wayne wrote,

    “I would put forth as a general statement– ‘predatory-pricing” & “dumping,’ are concepts that come up in academia far more often than in real-life experience.”

    That’s what I thought (and it still may be true in many areas), until a friend of mine got a job with the Department of Commerce; there’s a whole division that handles dumping cases on behalf of American companies.

    Companies lodge complaints against foreign companies they suspect of dumping, and the division investigates the complaints. There’s a strict formula for what constitutes dumping, but it’s unclear to me how effectively they can obtain the data about foreign companies to plug into the formula. Dumping encompasses businesses that sell for very low prices because they have received government subsidies.

    I’m not aware of any efforts to stop dumping by domestic companies (I hope there are such efforts).

    Antidumping is one of those hidden functions that can be very important, but most people know little or nothing about. I wish I knew more.

    Here’s a link that gives the basics: https://www.usitc.gov/press_room/usad.htm

  • wayne

    Garry–
    Good stuff.

    I would expect the “office of dumping,” to find dumping all over the place– it’s their existence at stake. (to paraphrase mel brooks, “…gentleman, we need to protect our phony-baloney jobs…”)
    One companies “dumping” is another companies “low prices.”
    (but, as you note– it’s very difficult to obtain actual production-costs from foreign companies & dissect how they (or if) benefit from internal subsidization in their home county.)

    There are also elaborate formulas for determining “market-concentration,” of domestic industry. They are highly disputed within the economics community, but regularly applied to determine if companies are allowed to merge. (and why should any private companies need permission to merge?)
    (Incidentally– Obama reigned over perhaps one of the most concentrated era’s of merger activity, and they weren’t much concerned with cartelization & monopoly, as long as their favored industries were involved.)
    In the 1950’s in particular, the anti-trust division of DOJ went on a monopoly-hunt; anywhere they saw falling prices, they investigated and prosecuted scores of companies. (You can find the oral arguments before SCOTUS, on quite a few of these cases.)

    Highly recommend this lecture from Murray Rothbard:

    Murray Rothbard:
    The Rise and Fall of Monopolies
    from “American Economy and the end of laisse faire, 1870-WW-2”
    https://youtu.be/0sxfMjKD_Ao
    (2:03:35)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *