As a libertarian, I’m generally against government programs, but on occasion, I find myself in their corner on things I feel as a libertarian, I should not be.
Some are debatable, such as the role of the EPA. While I would argue that their core mission of protecting us from polluters who would do others real harm, there is little doubt they have grown into a legislative monster with regulations significantly more overbearing than the simple task of protecting our right to life they’re charged with.
One organization that stands out in my mind as having no basis to exist is NASA. I cannot logically argue that they are performing any duty of government as enumerated in the Constitution—they protect no rights whatsoever. Nor can I argue that a poor person who needs every tax dollar they’re compelled to give government that is given to NASA, should be forced do so.
One thing about NASA I feel we should all know, but sadly most don’t—a major selling point to the American people when NASA was proposed before its eventual inception in 1958, is that NASA shares all of its information freely with the public. You might think this is no big deal at first, but nothing could be further from the truth.
It’s called spinoff, and the list is mind-numbing. Using a random example for instance, in 2007, NASA helped develop Thermawing, a de-icing system for airplanes large and small. The companies now making this product don’t owe NASA a dime. They got “free” research and development (R&D), which made a product much cheaper and more readily available for all to use.
If Thermawing had been developed privately, the company that might have developed it would have needed to spend a fortune on research—money they likely didn’t have, which would have driven costs so high, it may never have even come to market. But NASA is essentially a benevolent R&D sugar-daddy, and as such, many products we have today we have because the “free” R&D of NASA made them affordable enough to bring to market.
NASA has also done an amazing job of inciting children to become future scientists. Many of today’s engineers and physicists would not be where they are today if they hadn’t heard those simple words, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
As science is obviously very important to me, I’m very thankful for a most of the great work NASA has done, as we all should be. But at the end of the day, if I were president, I’d have no reason not to veto every bill that crossed my desk to fund it.
There is no doubt they’ve served the greater good. But “the greater good” isn’t the duty of government, protecting rights is.
That’s the funny thing about being libertarian that many lose sight of. We can all think of things we are for or against that conflict with our views on the role of government, NASA is mine. But us libertarians often pride ourselves on standing up for liberty we don’t even agree with.
I hear Republicans say they’re for free speech, then vote for laws to prevent burning flags, or laws to quiet the Westboro Baptist Church assholes…er, I mean, parishioners.
I hear Democrats say they are for free speech, but then try to pass legislation that prevents the Koch brothers from publicly supporting liberty-minded candidates.
In both instances, they’re being hypocrites. Free speech isn’t about protecting speech you deem acceptable, it’s about letting people say and do whatever they want, no matter how heinous we might believe it is, so long as they aren’t violating the rights of someone else.
Personally, I think recreational drug use is a silly habit, but I fight for the right to legalize drugs, get rid of EMTALA which forces hospitals to treat everyone, then let natural selection and bad decisions run their course. It’s your life, if you want to end it with a needle in your arm or a pipe in your mouth, that’s your decision to make.
Libertarianism is about the right to be free, period. People often ask me if I like Hayek, Von Mises, or other libertarian economists, and I do. But I can honestly say I don’t care.
Even if I knew libertarianism would make the economy worse, (which I don’t believe for a minute) I would still support it, because to me, liberty is far more important.
If I knew libertarianism would lead to more gun deaths, or tragic accidents due to a lack of our current litany of warning labels on everything, I’d still support it. Tragic deaths are bad, but a loss of liberty to prevent them is even worse.
Every once in a while, people go skydiving, their chute fails, and they die. But we don’t ban skydiving. Divers learn from it instead. Every year we have thousands of vehicular deaths, but we don’t ban cars. We learn from them and build safer cars.
So why ban drugs or mandate warning labels that only serve the stupidest of people? Anyone smart enough to read a warning label on Liquid Drano should damn well be smart enough not to drink it.
It’s easy to champion some of the wonderful things government does, and NASA is easily at the top of that list for me. But by virtue of being tax-payer funded, it is ultimately a government agent putting a gun to our heads and compelling all of us to fund their scientific endeavors, and that I cannot abide.
So I have two choices: I can either be a hypocrite and support NASA while calling myself a libertarian, or I can see NASA in the same light as the postal service and AMTRAK, and support selling their interests to someone in the private sector and washing our hands of it. As much as I love NASA, I’ll choose the latter.