"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Going to Mars, or What Are Humans For?

Also via Instapundit, this article about America's shrinking expectations that struck a chord with me:
There was a time – was it just a generation ago? – when Americans were legendary for doing vast, seemingly superhuman, projects:  the Interstate Highway System, the Apollo Missions, Hoover Dam, the Manhattan Project, the Normandy invasion, the Empire State Building, Social Security. 
What happened?  Today we look at these achievements, much as Dark Age peasants looked on the mighty works of the Roman Era, feeling like some golden age has passed when giants walked the Earth. 
It has always bothered me that, when I was a kid, I watched men walk on the moon.   But it's been nearly 40 years since we went there, and we haven't tried to go to Mars, which would have been the next logical step (to me anyway).  Instead, we have welfare and social security and Medicare and Medicaid.   We've spent our Mars fund on pills for grandpa.  

The question boils down to this:  what are human beings for?   Are we here simply to survive, to distribute wealth so that everyone has a modicum of comfort from womb to tomb, wrapped in the protective cocoon of the welfare state?  Or are we here to do great things?   This will sound mean, but no one remembers the 95 IQ man who worked in the fields in 15th century Italy, but they remember Leonardo da Vinci.   The former deserves dignity as a Christian soul, but that doesn't mean we should put limits on what the latter can do.   

An America worth living in or worth dying for is an America that tries to do great things.    

Here's how I would start.   First, we have to fix our long-term economy.   There are three interrelated problems:  tax rates, government borrowing, and entitlements.    We need to lower marginal tax rates and eliminate capital gains taxes to make America a great place to invest and work.   We need to severely cut government spending to balance our budget, and we need to do it today, not in five years.   We need to cap Medicare at a percentage of GDP, and we need to means test Social Security, and we need to do those things very soon.   We need to pass a Constitutional amendment permitting the federal government to cut public employee pensions, even after they've been "earned."  

Second, we need to fix our education system.   No one should go to college if they cannot become proficient in some useful, technical field - engineering, economics, mathematics, sciences.  No one should go to college if they cannot learn, well enough to speak and read fluently, a foreign language.  No one need major in these fields, but they need to be able to do a job in these fields once they get out.   Colleges need to have core curricula that will actually prepare students for real jobs in a globalized, technological world.   If colleges aren't doing this, they are committing fraud, and need to be investigated for racketeering.

Third, we need to solve our energy needs.   Here's where doing big things comes in.   We need to commit ourselves to having 100% of our electricity needs in 2050 being provided by nuclear power.  That means we need to commit ourselves to building lots and lots of nuclear power plants in every state.   We will need to fund the basic research we need in order to make them safe and efficient, but they are safe enough now to start.  (We should have been doing this for the past 30 years, and would have if the enviro-weenies hadn't whined about Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.

Fourth, we need to go to Mars.   We need to start planning to go to Mars now, and we need to set ourselves a goal of going to Mars by 2025.   Or else what are human beings for?  

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