Thursday, October 5, 2017

No Free Tickets to the Moon

Vice-President Pence says he wants the United States to go back to the moon. “’We will return American astronauts to the moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,’ Pence said.” [1] This remark, which “drew loud applause,” [2] was made at the “first meeting of the National Space Council, revived after it was disbanded in 1993.”

But the Washington Post reports that “details, such as how much the new ideas will cost, were scant and outside experts said they’ve heard grandiose plans before only to see them fizzle instead of launch.” And it is easy to see why it would be so. As President John Kennedy put it, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” [3]

That was the sort of America that existed in those days: one that was undaunted by challenge, but was, rather, inspired by it. But some disillusion has transpired since then. President Kennedy’s remarks were made before the Watergate scandal and the fall of Saigon. And while we have seen a resurgence in American bellicosity, we are governed by a party which has as an operating principle that the federal government should be reduced to the size where it can be drowned in the bathtub. [4]

On July 21, 1969, the world watched in wonder and amazement as Neil Armstrong stepped on the Moon for the first time. It was an incredible achievement, and a source of tremendous national pride. It would be fantastic to recreate a time like that. But in order to accomplish it, we are going to have to recreate the conditions that made it possible.    

When Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, the top marginal tax rate in the United States was 77%. [5] Now it’s at 39.6% [6], and the administration of which Mr. Pence is a member wants to reduce it to 35%. [7]

Although the United States was first to the Moon, we now have to hitch a ride with the Russians if we want to go to the International Space Station. [8] An earlier generation of Americans would have thought that disgraceful, but nowadays we apparently can bear the shame as long as we can keep taxes low for the wealthiest among us. 

If we want to do great things like go to the Moon, we have to be willing to pay for it. And we can only pay for it if we are raising sufficient revenue through our tax system.