Earlier this week Elon Musk gave a long-awaited presentation outlining his vision for colonizing Mars. Futurists, technophiles, and science fiction lovers were all no doubt entertained. I was certainly among them. As Stephen Hawking has explained, long term human survival requires expanding beyond Earth’s limits.
That said, I’m concerned with the degree to which government may play a role in his vision. If Musk self-finances his way to Mars, great, but his track record provides cause for concern. Veronique de Rugy explains in her latest column:
Musk is no stranger to cozy relations with federal and state governments. All three of his companies have benefited heavily from taxpayers. Yet despite generous green energy handouts, his SolarCity is heavily indebted. He now wants to merge it with his electric car company, Tesla Motors, which also benefited from almost $1.3 billion in subsidies. Solidifying his crony credentials, the epitome of crony capitalism itself, the Export-Import Bank of the United States, has subsidized the payloads for numerous SpaceX launches. The Ex-Im Bank’s chairman misrepresented this as support for “small business.”
Some of the benefits which Musk has relied upon were simply there for the taking, but others were created just for him by exploiting his connections in Washington. Overall, he has relied heavily on taxpayers to keep his current crop of companies afloat. If SpaceX hits a financial hurdle in trying to make space travel profitable, will its lobbyists descend on Washington in search of yet more taxpayer funds?
I’m not just concerned on behalf of taxpayers or because of the shoddy state of the federal budget, but also for the integrity of any potential Mars colonization plan itself. Government has a habit of mucking up everything in which it gets involved. Accepting taxpayer funds risks granting government bureaucrats the means to stand in the way of progress and innovation. As Veronique concluded, let those of us excited about the idea of colonizing Mars not only wish the mission success, but also that Musk has both the foresight and “the courtesy to leave taxpayers out of it.”