This week, NASA realized one of the most ambitious projects since its inception. The Curiosity Rover, one part of the Mars Science Laboratory, managed a safe landing amid the Gale Crater on the surface of Mars.
In a news cycle which has been dominated by partisan squabbling, wars, and general unrest, the accomplishment of the program reinforces the notion that America still strives to move forward and further progress.
To be sure, the success of the NASA program was due in part to brilliant scientists and advanced technology, but it also came from an effective prioritization of funding which would not have been otherwise possible.
By landing the Curiosity rover on Mars, the American government has taken a large step forward in promoting scientific understanding and research which would have been otherwise impossible. The mission was a giant risk, being costly, requiring a hazardous landing, and most of all, not profitable.
Any critic of the mission would have cited these detriments as evidence that the mission should have never been undertaken. While proponents of the privatization of the American space exploration program have qualms over using taxpayer dollars on a scientific mission, it is unlikely that a private company would be willing to invest the risk when there is so little opportunity for profit. After all, the mission carried with it a large aura of uncertainty. However, the Curiosity mission embodies what can happen when government investment combines with American ingenuity to further life for all humans on this little blue dot.
The fact is, some projects which better society have to be promoted by the government. Otherwise, it is difficult to find the impetus for it in the private sector. If a company is forced to choose between producing HIV drugs which people who will never be able to pay for or producing the newest weight loss drug with a large profit margin, it is obvious which choice a private company would make. And those sorts of decisions shouldn’t be punished, since that’s exactly what capitalism is about.
It’s the engine of our economy’s success. However, we have to realize that the ability of private companies to enact sweeping common-good programs is limited because they are profit-oriented and subject to the wishes of the investors. The same attributes that let these companies enrich their workers and themselves also make them ill-suited for the task of building roads and schools that all Americans can use.
The idea that all government spending is so wasteful that it must be continually stigmatized is narrow-minded. For every questionable program, there are also multitudes of projects which benefit America’s communities as well as the rest of the world. Because these programs are too large, dangerous, and most of all, unprofitable for any entity but the government to reasonably undertake, we should refocus on the power of smart government investment to accomplish what needs to be done for all American citizens, no matter their economic clout.