Posted by: spacewritinguy | March 20, 2008

Conservatives in Space – Chapter 7

Space Benefits II: Education, Markets, Freedoms, and Reforms

Bottom Line: Policies used to grow the space economy can be applied to issues on Earth.

As I noted previously, our nation has plenty of experience developing new frontiers and new economies. Inevitably the lessons learned in those experiences improved us as a nation. People living in space will not just learn about new worlds, moons, or asteroids-they will have to learn how to cooperate and survive and eventually, given the freedom to do so, organize their own markets, personal freedoms, and political structures. In this latter category, they are likely to form municipalities that both borrow from and improve upon what is done on Earth. All of these activities can benefit the home world by teaching us how to improve life here. But before all of these can take place, we must have an educational system capable of achieving them.

Education and Space

A central theme of this book has been encouraging limited government through decentralization. That decentralization can take many forms, from lower tax rates to educational reform. And both will be necessary if we wish to have a civilization rich and educated enough to go out into space.

The task ahead is large. Our public school system is broken. Teachers, administrators, and school board members often agree that our government schools are not in good shape, though to different degrees and for different reasons. Parents get frustrated when their kids come home with either too much homework or with work they consider inappropriate. Teachers cannot enforce discipline for fear of facing a lawsuit from parents, nor can they always select the books they are required to teach. Administrators and board members are answerable to parents but also to teachers’ unions, which fiercely protect the jobs of their members. And all of them are tied, in one form or another, to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, which sets goals for teachers and students but doesn’t allow more advanced students to excel.

What does all this have to do with expanding our civilization into space? Quite a bit, actually. As we build new homes in space, we will face new and unexpected challenges not covered by our current student curricula. Will today’s young people be able to cope with the challenges of tomorrow?

Some basic skills and knowledge are obvious for a spacefaring civilization, like astronomy, physics, engineering, or chemistry. Other disciplines for the frontier are still unknown because they haven’t been needed yet. What types of knowledge or thinking will our future settlers need as they build the first habitats on Mars or the first space stations providing artificial gravity? What management techniques will project leaders need to organize, build, and manage such structures? Do future space settlers need to be the “Renaissance Men (and Women)” that our astronaut corps presently demand, or will specialization be the order of the day? Will the most important skills for space survival require a high school trade school, or college education, or a little bit of all of them? In some cases, we just don’t know.

However, just as one government space program cannot be all things to all people, neither can a single, nationalized education system create a single curriculum capable of providing students will all of the skills they will need to explore, settle, and civilize new worlds. In light of these facts, the following must occur to broaden the capabilities of our tax-funded school systems:

  • The nationalized Department of Education must be stripped of its power and control of curricula returned to the state or local levels.
  • The “No Child Left Behind” program must be scrapped.

These two actions must happen so that local needs and market demand can better determine what our students learn in the future. In line with the “market state,” which maximizes opportunity for individuals, this means more charter schools, more vouchers, and more freedom of choice for parents. Just as an expanding economy improves consumer choice, so too does a diversified education market.

The decentralization of education is not a spin-off of the space movement: it needs to be central to the effort. Our children need educations that equip them to deal with the unknown. If one national system attempts to do it all and fails, then all of our children will suffer, and the nation will be poorer for it.

We Americans are allowing ourselves to fall behind in the skills needed to compete in the global economy. Thomas Friedman has noted in The World is Flat that India is producing 89,000 MBAs a year while China has most of the world’s university graduates, and many of those graduating students are engineers. And, as Friedman’s thesis emphasizes, technology is flattening the differences between America and the rest of the world. If we don’t keep challenging ourselves, we will fall behind.

If parents are allowed to take their children outside of their state-sanctioned school districts, schools will be forced to try new educational techniques to compete for those students. Additionally, private-sector businesses might be more willing to invest in schools if the payoff is a student body capable of “readin’, ritin’, and ‘rithmetic” as well as “satellites, science, and space.” For instance, many businesses now have in-house programs for teaching employees all types of skills, from English as a Second Language (ESL) to computer software. In the future, interested space contractors might find it to their advantage to start their own “space academies” to meet a need that public education cannot. Space-related businesses also might find it necessary to develop in-house universities that can turn out employees who “speak the language” of space.

If there are no curriculum requirements attached to school vouchers, business-funded schools could teach content that is often unavailable, such as English-only instruction, advanced math and science at lower grade levels, and American and Western Civilization history classes that discuss the benefits rather than only the sins of our culture. Of course this also would free up liberal-arts (and politically liberal) organizations to set up their own schools, which is fine. Again, the market will dictate the usefulness of those schools just as with ours.

This type of educational reform–vouchers fueling demand-driven curriculum–can allow competition to demonstrate the best methods for growing successful students and allow more control at the local (i.e. district) level. Students who don’t learn how to properly perform algebra or calculus cannot be counted on to build the rockets and other technologies required to build this brave, new world.

New Markets

An active economy beyond the Earth will require a number of basic services, which would be familiar to anyone working in the Earth-based economy. People will still need food, water, clothing, and shelter. All of these items could be imported from Earth, but life in space will eventually require factories, power, metal and mineral resources (as well as oxygen for breathing), orbital debris removal, medical facilities, and space rescue services.

No government could provide all of these items to the entire solar system, as it does now for the International Space Station. Nor should it. However, here in the United States we do not go to government stores for basic items like food and clothing. Citizens of the Soviet Union did so at one time, and they inevitably suffered from long lines and shortages of many basic items. As on Earth, the private sector, in the form of small vendors or chain stores, could best provide basic goods and services for people living in space. Such a vibrant economy, like that of America today, would provide opportunities for both large and small businesses and (eventually) new sources of tax revenue for the government.

New Freedoms

In The Case for Mars, Robert Zubrin states that people won’t move to other worlds unless they feel it offers a better life than what they have now. The Moon and especially Mars because it is so far away provide the opportunity to find new freedoms or at least more freedoms than might be typically available in our world. Zubrin offers a whole host of existing and new rights that the frontier might offer:

  • Freedom of Religion, Assembly, Speech, and of the Press
  • The Right to Bear Arms
  • The Right to Due Process and Trial by Jury
  • The Right to Face One’s Accusers
  • The Right to Be Free of Arbitrary Arrest or Long Imprisonment without Trial
  • The Right to Vote by Representative Government
  • The Right to Own Property
  • The Right to Be Free of Chattel Slavery
  • The Right to Equal Protection under the Law regardless of Race, Creed, Color, or Country of National Origin
  • The Right to Equal Opportunity Regardless of Race or Sex
  • The Right to Self-Government by Direct Voting
  • The Right to Access to Means of Mass Communication
  • The Right to All Scientific Knowledge
  • The Right to Knowledge of all Government Activities
  • The Right to Be Free of Involuntary Military Service
  • The Right to Immigrate or Emigrate
  • The Right to Free Education
  • The Right to Practice Any Profession
  • The Right to Opportunity for Useful Employment
  • The Right to Initiate Enterprises
  • The Right to Invent and Implement New Technologies
  • The Right to Build, Develop Natural Resources, and Improve Nature
  • The Right to Have Children
  • The Right to a Comprehensible Legal System Based on Justice and Equity
  • The Right to Be Free from Extortionate Lawsuits
  • The Right to Privacy

This is, admittedly, a very libertarian list; but it addresses what Zubrin believes are some of the evils of our current world, and lists the sorts of things that people might move to space to provide for themselves. Note, for instance, that many of Zubrin’s proposed freedoms relate specifically to the need for a less intrusive, more open, and more accountable government. As America was to Europe, so societies in space could be to Earth: shining experiments in governing that could change the perspectives of the people back in “the old country.”

The Moon and Mars also have plenty of empty space, the type of space that might enable religious orders to found monasteries on the Moon or even the top of Mt. Olympus on Mars. As we find new places in which to live the human experience, we will inevitably find new ways to express our relationship to God.

***

When we build a successful and flourishing economy in space, we will be able to apply the same decentralized policies and lessons to political problems here on Earth. In this way, space can serve as a political model for Earth, much as America became a political model for the Old World. Specifically, limited-government approaches to problems in space can (and must) be duplicated on Earth.

Improved Security Measures

Even before the space tourism market becomes an ongoing, regularly scheduled concern, “spacelines” are going to have to deal with security. They could subject themselves and their passengers and cargo providers to the existing mess at TSA, or they could act as a test market for new, improved security measures. Spaceport and spaceline operators could provide yet another laboratory in privatizing and decentralizing government functions. Instead of relying on minimum-wage, minimally trained Transportation Security Agency (TSA) employees, the new spaceports could be authorized to hire private, experienced security firms like the Boyd Group or the Blackwater Group to set up and execute security plans to protect especially vulnerable parts of their equipment.

The space tourism industry can lead the way in protecting the public, reducing liability concerns about itself, and setting new security standards. This can be done by having the aforementioned professional security firms develop plans that identify potential threats and vulnerabilities; prioritize those threats; use reliable, state-of-the-art equipment; and establish plans of action, mitigation, and response for the most important threats. Private security firms also have an advantage over government agencies because they are more easily able to assign responsibility when faults occur and take direct action to fire or replace ineffective personnel. They also can ensure that their employees are properly trained to protect the public–or lose their contract.

Taxation

Because space is, for all practical purposes, under-developed economically, it would qualify for tax relief or, in today’s language, it could be classified as an “Enterprise Zone.” Once business and manufacturing began in earnest, government could keep space a tax-free zone for the first ten or twenty years, meaning that goods or services produced in space would be tax-free until the space economy became a real, functioning environment. Once taxes were enacted, of course, those taxes would need to stay low.

And because space would be such a limited economic environment at first, the government could experiment with any number of low-tax schemes which have remained untried on Earth, such as the “flat tax,” the “Fair Tax,” or simple, uniform, and low customs duties. Based on the performance of such tax schemes in space, our Earth-based governments might find that they can make more money “the spacer way” than they would with their current intrusive, cumbersome bureaucracies.

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Responses

  1. Everyone understands the need to develop new skills, gain more knowledge and keep the children safe when parents are working .The most important factor in making children successful for any program is the relationship between the children participating in the program and the adults Our children need educations that equip them to deal with the unknown things in their life.

  2. >>Our children need educations that equip them to deal with the unknown things in their life.<<

    Agreed. A “good education” has yet to be fully defined. The Greeks were the first Western culture to give the matter some thought. You need both rote knowledge and problem-solving. A little culture, a little history, a little technology. If a child is good with their hands and not terribly interested in book learning, they should be given every opportunity to develop a solid trade. If a child a very good with symbol manipulation (words, numbers, shapes, etc.), s/he will most likely go to college. What’s to be done with the vast majority of kids, who aren’t exceptionally skilled in any one thing or don’t know what they want to be when they grow up? This has always been the great challenge.

    Space exploration and settlement will compound the problem to some extent, because you’re not just teaching kids what they need to know/do to survive, but they must also have some idea of what sort of society they’ll be helping to build. Ideology, too, will follow us into space.

    I don’t know what all those answers are (if I did, I’d have taken a MUCH different career path), but I keep educating myself on these issues because they’re important to me. Whatever educational reform is undertaken next, I don’t think test-based education (No Child Left Behind) will be the way to go.

    Thanks for your inputs. I guess I have more reading to do.


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