Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Libertarian Space-Hounds

Mark Kleiman writes:
Some time I'd like to hear one of the libertarian space-hounds explain to me slowly why space exploration should be funded by coercive taxation rather than private enterprise plus voluntary contributions. It's not that I don't know the answer to that question, but I don't see how that answer is consistent with hostility to government in general.
Until I read Mark’s post, I was unaware of any “libertarian space-hounds” who supported government involvement in space exploration. Every libertarian I've heard or read on the subject has advocated the defunding of NASA and privatization. See, for instance, this whole page o’ links from Cato. After a bit of Googling, I discovered that Glenn Reynolds apparently supports government subsidization of space (by means of tax credits unavailable to other enterprises, among other things). But as famous as Reynolds has become, he’s certainly not the designated source for all libertarian opinion.

I suspect a survey of libertarians would reveal them to be almost uniformly opposed to government-funded space programs. Yet one libertarian’s advocacy of government involvement is enough to generate talk of “libertarian space-hounds.” Calling libertarians down for hypocrisy is all good fun, but let’s be serious: libertarians exhibit greater consistency than virtually any other political group. Indeed, I would argue that’s exactly why critics love to dig up examples of libertarian hypocrisy -- because libertarians actually state broad principles that could be contradicted by positions on specific policy issues. Other groups immunize themselves from charges of hypocrisy by refusing to adopt any overarching principles in the first place, except for vague generalities.

UPDATE: Mark has posted an update to his original post responding to my point. He is probably correct that the overlap between sci-fi fans and Ayn Rand fans is pretty large. For that matter, I’m a sci-fi fan myself (though my passion for Rand faded many years ago). The question, of course, is whether they let their fascination with space cloud their political judgment. On that question, I can only surmise, since I don’t have access to a survey.

I’m a bit confused by Mark’s comment, “All I want to know is how the libertarians are going to vote this year. If it's for Bush, then I will doubt Glen's assertion about ideological consistency.” There is certainly a boatload of good reasons for libertarians not to vote for Bush, and I certainly don’t plan to. But looking at whom one votes for in political elections, wherein every viable candidate will assuredly hold a variety of non-libertarian positions, seems an odd way to judge ideological consistency. At best, it tells you something about the relative weight the voter attaches to different libertarian positions when he is forced by circumstance to choose among them.

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