Congress puts NASA and JWST on the chopping block

By Phil Plait | July 7, 2011 6:00 am

When I saw the Presidential Budget Request this year for NASA, I was heartened: lots of money for commercial space transport and science. Obama hasn’t been a vocal supporter of NASA, so it was a relief.

Congress has countered, however. The House just released its Appropriations bill that covers science funding for NSF, NASA, NOAA, and NIST. Almost across the board: cuts. Massive ones.

This bill (PDF) actually keeps NSF at the fiscal year ’11 funding, although that’s $900 million less than the Presidential request. NOAA is being cut $100 million (2.2%), or $1 billion less than requested. NIST: cut by $50 million over FY11 (6.5%), $300 million less than requested.

But NASA is the one where the cuts are nothing short of savage. The cuts total $1.64 billion from last year, which is nearly $2 billion less than requested. That’s a cut of 8.8%. A billion of that is due to the Shuttle retiring, but the galling part is that the House is requiring that all funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble’s successor, be cut entirely. In other words, they are canceling the JWST program.

To be fair, the JWST project has been over budget, behind schedule, and mismanaged for years. It’s sapped money away from other projects as well. But the reason this is so aggravating is that despite all that the pieces are built and currently being assembled. I’m not sure it’s cost-effective to cancel it at this point; better to put a hold on it, audit the whole thing top to bottom, and re-organize as needed.

JWST has been a real problem, but it will also be one of the most spectacular observatories ever built. A six meter mirror in space tuned for infra-red observations, it will see farther and in more detail than any space telescope ever built. It will see galaxies when they were first forming, it will image planets orbiting distant suns, and will map our Universe like never before.

At this point, canceling it means billions of dollars will be thrown away, when the cost to complete it is far less*.

Since this is a House budget bill, I called my Representative, Jared Polis, and left him a message. I also tweeted him:

A little while later, he replied:

How cool is that? So I thanked him:

… and I retweeted his tweet. I noticed a while later several of my followers had tweeted their Reps, too. I don’t recommend communicating with your own Congresscritter only this way; emailing or a phone call in addition is better. If you feel strongly about this, please contact him or her.

As I understand it, the bill will get out of the subcommittee today and probably go to the full Appropriations Committee next Wednesday. The Senate will create its own version, and then the two bills will have to be reconciled before going to the President to sign. Canceling JWST may just be saber-rattling, but either way contacting your Rep is a good idea. We have a long way to go here; this is just the opening salvo.

Other people have written about this as well, including:

Julianne at Cosmic Variance
Risa at Cosmic Variance
Amanda Bauer
The e-astronomer
Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance
Sarah Askew
Space News
The New York Times

Read those sites to get more info. And stay tuned; if this goes to vote I’ll have more info as it comes in.


* The JWST situation is similar to the Constellation rocket program which was also over budget and behind schedule. In that case, I supported the cancellation because it was still early enough in the project to actually save money, and it was unclear the rocket would work as promised. JWST is almost done, and is expected to surpass Hubble in many ways.

Comments (149)

  1. I contacted my Rep by email yesterday.
    I suggested that he get the money from the defense budget.
    He’s a Republican, though, so it’ll prolly fall on deaf ears, (I simply MUST get “The Republican War On Science”) but I gotta try, ya know?

  2. Nigel Depledge

    Not being a USAian, I can’t contact my Rep about this.

    But those sure look like some hugeous cuts. Perhaps not so much in absolute terms, more because even holding funding at last year’s level is a substantial cut in real terms, because of what the world’s economies have been doing over the last couple of years.

  3. Zucchi

    $2 billion is about a week of our current (never-ending) overseas military misadventures.

    I’ll contact my Rep — even though I live in a Republican county in Georgia. But, the people have to speak up sometimes.

  4. Paul

    The country is solvent right now only because interest rates are low. Once they have to rise, we either see increasing interest payments as short term treasuries come due, or the fed “prints” ever increasing amounts of money (causing hyperinflation). To avoid this, huge cuts in all areas of the budget are inevitable.

    But go ahead and write your congressman; I’m sure when vastly more popular programs are being cut it will be easy to funnel more billions to another poorly managed NASA program.

    Reports at nasawatch.com say the current JWST plan still doesn’t work, and it wouldn’t be ready to go until after 2018 anyway. It’s time to put this program down.

    http://nasawatch.com/archives/2011/06/jwst-srb-new-ba.html

  5. Mike

    If you want to sell this to the current Congress, comparing it to defense spending is a bad idea. If you contact you reps, emphasize American exceptionalism. Astronomy is one field where the US leads the world by far in degrees granted, papers published and missions launched. Science in general is one of the few government programs where there is actual accountability and budget discipline. Funding science is something that conservatives should rally behind as its one of the few shining stars in our bloated government.

  6. Ray

    Yeah, lets continue to spend money we don’t have. Programs, all of them, need to tighten up if we want to cut deficits. This includes defense, space, and everything else.

  7. Hugo

    I saw the new first in the IceHunters site and I’m really worried about this, I hope that we can find a way to resolve this because is very sad to see how the politicians play down the importance of something like this. I live in Argentina, but this kind matter affects us all.

  8. Caleb

    NNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. “$2 billion is about a week of our current (never-ending) overseas military misadventures.”

    Right. The US military budget is $1.5 million. Per minute. Nice to put some things in perspective.

  10. Mick

    The science that the JWST will bring will benefit all of humanity.

    So why shouldn’t people like me from other countries write to Congress and try to convince them otherwise? I am from Australia and I’m very much looking forward to what that telescope can do. Who do I write to?

  11. Carl

    Republicans don’t need no stinkin’ space telescopes. The Bible tells them everything they need to know about the universe.

  12. gdave

    “At this point, canceling it means billions of dollars will be thrown away, when the cost to complete it is far less.”

    This is a classic sunk cost fallacy. It shouldn’t matter how much has already been spent. The relevant question is, going forward, is spending the amount of money necessary to complete the project worthwhile?

    I’d certainly like to see the JWST completed and making marvelous new discoveries, but with 40% of the federal budget currently funded by debt, some cuts have to be made somewhere. An 8.8% cut in NASA’s budget certainly doesn’t seem out of line to me, given the severity of the overall cuts needed to balance the budget, even with significant tax increases.

    And NASA’s spending should be based on how worthwhile a project is in and of itself, and how expensive it will be to complete and how cost-effective it will be from this point forward, not how much has already been spent on it.

    All of that being said, I do think it would be a better idea for Congress to set out NASA’s overall budget, and let NASA’s administrators and scientists allocate their scientific funding dollars, rather than specifying a particular program to zero out.

  13. Gus Snarp

    This is tough. I would prefer not to cut our already anemic science funding, and eliminating all funding to the Webb is just, well, stupid. I also think that, in general, a huge mistake has been made by the President in agreeing we need to cut the deficit right now. We don’t. *More on that after the TL;DR. The Republicans control the house, and they’re not going to change their minds on any cuts. Meanwhile the Democrats, especially the President, have consistently caved to Republican demands. I have little hope on this. Right now the debt ceiling talks include drastic cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, cuts that will deeply hurt millions of people. I want to maintain NASA funding, I want to maintain JWST funding, and I will reach out to my representative, who will immediately send me a form letter telling me how proud he is of his decision to cut funding to everything under the Sun. But ultimately, it’s more important to me to save Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

    *I heard Eric Cantor on the radio today saying that we cannot raise taxes “in this sputtering economy” when we need more jobs. This is the ultimate in hypocrisy. Surely he must realize that every dime the government spends creates jobs. The simple truth is that cutting spending hurts the economy. Raising taxes can hurt the economy too, I admit that, but claiming we need drastic spending cuts right now, but can’t raise taxes because the economy is bad, is just plain ignorant. One can debate endlessly which element is more powerful, but you can’t deny that government spending creates jobs. If the Republicans have their way with drastic cuts the economic recover will slow, or stop, or crash. Since the biggest cuts are to the social safety net, that slow down will hurt worse, and it will be magnified. It is very likely the effect will be big enough to reduce growth to the point that government revenue declines and the deficit will therefore INCREASE. I firmly believe the Republican know this, and they don’t care. Cantor’s statement makes it clear that this is about using the leverage they have to get their agenda, not about helping the economy or reducing the deficit. If they cared about the deficit they’d have voted against raising the debt ceiling all those times throughout the Bush administration. What I don’t get is why Democrats are agreeing with them that the deficit should be cut right now. Surely the President has at least one reasonable economic adviser who’s at least explained to him that our debt is not like Greece’s debt, or even England’s debt, and nothing like your family’s debt, and that there’s at least a strong probability that cutting the deficit will wipe out the recovery. I think he’s heard that message, but the Democrats are just pandering, terrified that the Tea Party represents more than the lunatic fringe it has so far shown it can motivate, and confident that the American people don’t get that our personal debt is not the same as government debt and have fallen for the Republican deficit hawk mentality hook, line, and sinker.

    So the problem is, we’ve got a lot bigger hurdle to clear than just a few line items in the budget if we’re to save the Webb, let alone save America.

  14. Jason

    I am the last person to be anti-science, really, but We have some very very hard budget choices to make. With literally trillions of dollars of deficit, not counting the Social security and medicare uncounted liabilities something will need to be cut. I hate that we seem to be stepping back from space altogether, but do we have a choice? At least till we get the Federal Fiscal house in order? The spending cuts have to come from somewhere, and in reality everywhere. We cannot possibly fix this problem if we protect certain projects and let others go, because then it goes back to … “protect my project, and I will protect yours” and nothing gets done. Then the Fed prints more money to cover our debt, the dollar drops in value more and the spiral continues. The only reason the US economy hasn’t tanked yet is because the sheer size and power of it allows us to fall much further than any other country could and still survive. s much as I want the US to go to space, to have a new telescope, to send the US to the moon and mars such ventures are expensive, even more so when done by the government, and we simple cannot afford it now. It sucks, and instead of screaming at the “anti-science republicans” blame both parties for decades of deficit spending on vote-buying pork and programs that landed us in this mess.

  15. JWST would be best thing since Hubble and Voyagers. Yeah Apollo was impressive, but ammount of data we got from those, and insane data and imagery we’d get from JWST…

    It’s devastating news.

  16. Gus Snarp

    Just think about this, @gdave, above, notes that we’re spending about 40% over income right now. A friend of mine recently stated his opinion that we should cut everything 40% across the board. But just what do people think would happen if we suddenly eliminated 1.4 trillion dollars of Federal spending? What do you think that would do to the economy? Really think about that. And this guy telling me this claimed that I knew nothing about economics. I know enough to know that subtracting 1.4 trillion from the economy would be devastating if the economy were booming, let alone now.

  17. Jake

    Wow! These are devistating, Im not american so I can’t contact anyone, but whats sad is these cuts affect the science community across the globe.

  18. Casey Dreier

    Admittedly, the JWST is a hard program to defend due its terrible mismanagement and sapping of funding for other research. However, if NASA is not pushing the envelope, what justification does it have to exist? This is precisely the kind of project NASA needs to do.

    I believe that this project is worth saving. The potential scientific results alone are worth it. But really, in order to finish it, the project needs more money (and a new management team).

    I’ve written a physical letter to every member of the appropriations subcommittee (http://appropriations.house.gov/About/Members/CommerceJusticeScience.htm) asking them to restore funding to NASA and the JWST. I’m also writing my own representative. Since the relative amounts of money we’re talking about here are rounding errors on the actual budget, this is something our country can easily afford.

  19. Messier Tidy Upper

    What a miserable week of news here and elsewhere on my favourite science blogs. :-(

    First, the whole flamefest explosion over Rebecca Watson’s simple “Guys, don’t don’t that – don’t be creeps and hit on women in an inappropriate way” thing followed by Richard Dawkin’s clueless hole-digging replies. Now this, JWST being on the chopping block and NASA and space exploration facing such savage and bleak cuts. I feared something like this would happen. :-(

    Funding space exploration and science generally is an investment. One we cannot afford NOT to make.

    ***

    Some possibly pertinant quotes :

    “We had our hands on spaceships and we learned how to make them increasingly safer and then Washington pulled the plug. … We won’t have the ability to put an American on the space station, in an American rocket, for at least a decade … [SNIP] … When Obama cancelled Constellation, he cancelled the pride that every American should have in our accomplishments. One half of one percent of the federal budget funds NASA and they can’t afford this program?”
    – Gregory Cecil, Space Shuttle tile technician quoted on page 47, “Throttle down” article in ‘Air & Space’ magazine, Nov 2010.

    “This [space] is the new ocean and I believe the United States must sail on it and be in a position second to none.”
    – President John F. Kennedy after John Glenn’s first orbits in ‘Friendship-7’ on Feb. 20th 1962.

    We landed on the Moon in July 1969, last left bootprints in the lunar regolith Dec. 1972. Flew the Space Shuttle’s maiden flight in 1981, will fly it for the final voyage within weeks or months. Will be Shuttle-less, Apollo-less rocket-less all too soon.

    Those private space agencies had durn well better work. Or we’re boned.

    “Many people have asked me why I am taking this flight. I am doing it for many reasons. First of all, I believe that life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster such as sudden nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers. I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space. I therefore want to encourage public interest in space.”
    – Stephen Hawking, 8th January 2007 – interviewed before taking a zero-gravity flight for his 65th birthday.

    No future? Sadly the direction we’re heading right now or so it seems.

    I know the USA is in big economic trouble but .. durnnit. There has to be better ways out of it than this! Prospects for the future keep looking grimmer all the time. :-(

  20. Jason

    @Gus
    Gus, what would happen if you suddenly had 40% less withholdings taken out of your paycheck?

    You do have a point, if we were to immediately cut Federal spending by 40% it would be devastating. But it took years and years to reach this point. If we start cutting spending, reducing the Federal budget gradually and allowing that money to shift back to people’s pocket books, wallets, and business AND make the US a business friendly environment then not only can we reduce the deficit by spending less, but as business comes to the US and investments increase then revenues will go up and we can eliminate or vastly reduce the deficit. It may take time, but if the US shows a commitment to getting its fiscal house in order then we can restore the dominance of the dollar as a world reserve currency and strengthen our economic position. It will take time but we have to start somewhere.
    And increasing spending is not going to work. How about a 5% reduction in budget per year till the budget balances. Then limit growth of the budget to the inflation rate.

  21. The sad thing is the money to fund NASA is there in spades – but tax loop holes continue to let the money disappear.

    Google’s tax dodges in 2010 alone is 1/4 of the total NASA budget. That’s just one corp.

    So how about we stop the BS, make people and corporations actually pay what is due (including ending the failed deal to not tax religious organizations, they obviously haven’t kept up their end of the bargain to stay out of politics) and not be so short sighted as to cut science and education – the things that actually drive innovation and create jobs and a better livelihood in the long run.

  22. Gus Snarp

    @Jason – You can’t cut the deficit when the economy is this weak and you have a trade deficit. It won’t work, and it will hurt the economy. And you’re suffering from a few misconceptions beyond this common one:

    Then the Fed prints more money to cover our debt, the dollar drops in value more and the spiral continues. The only reason the US economy hasn’t tanked yet is because the sheer size and power of it allows us to fall much further than any other country could and still survive.

    The Fed does not simply print money to cover our debt. The dollar is not falling, and when it does, it is not because of the Fed (not) printing money, it’s because of global trade flows. The reason the US economy hasn’t tanked yet is that we are spending lots of money to prop it up, particularly automatic, as well as voted, increases in social safety net spending. The weak economy is a major cause of the current large deficit, not a result of it. The deficit is preventing economic collapse, not hastening it. The Federal budget and the US economy are tightly entwined, but they are not the same thing.

  23. Cindy

    Just contacted my rep, Rush Holt (D. NJ12). I’m fairly confident that he’s for restoring the funding as he has a Ph.D. in physics and used to run Princeton Plasma Lab. I made the point that I’m a high school teacher and I’ve seen how much the Hubble images have inspired many of my students.

    I wish that Congress had more backbone – both parties. I’m surprised that the Tea Partiers aren’t for closing the tax loopholes that let the richest 1% of Americans pay less taxes. This is a case where we’re being “penny wise but pound foolish”.

  24. Messier Tidy Upper

    @10. Craven :

    JWST would be best thing since Hubble and Voyagers. Yeah Apollo was impressive, but ammount of data we got from those, and insane data and imagery we’d get from JWST… It’s devastating news.

    It is indeed. :-(

    Personally, I think the Apollo missions were the greatest thing that our Human species has ever done – and the Space Shuttle and Space Stations come second with the Voyager missions third. But yeah, I can see a strong case for the Hubble Space observatory being high up that list too.

    What the BA said once here :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2007/11/28/why-explore-space/

    Many people dismiss space exploration as a luxury, but this attitude is not only wrong, it’s dangerous. Satellite technology has revolutionized our planet in almost every way. .. [Snip] .. Some estimates say that for every dollar invested in the Apollo program, more than 20 have been returned. That’s a huge payoff! Computer tech, communications, rocketry, and many other fields have benefited hugely from space exploration. And there is one more reason. Humans strive to learn, to explore, to push boundaries, to see what’s around the corner. This is in many ways a fundamental need, and space exploration is a fantastic manifestation of that. … Even if the other reasons were not there, this alone should be enough for us pursue our exploration.

    Is 100% correct. Why does that seem to always be so easily overlooked by those in power?

    See also here where the BA references Neil D.G. Tyson’s article :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2007/08/06/neil-tyson-on-exploring-space/

    & here where he exposes the silliness of anti-space exploration statements by Katie Couric :

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2006/10/18/katie-couric-is-a-bonehead/

    all spot on pieces in my view.

    But it looks increasingly like the JWST and NASA generally is going to be one of the United States sacrifices to the economic gods. :-(

    Economics is, I think BTW, a psuedo-science.

  25. Kay

    I’m not quite eligible to vote yet, so I don’t know if what I say really matters. All of my Senators and Congressmen are republican… The annoying thing about asking for cuts to defense is that my dad works in defense. When the government says, “oh, yeah, we’re making cuts to the department of defense” they cut 10% of jobs, do pay freezes, etc….. but only on the average middle class citizen. The main offices act like there haven’t been any cuts. *head desk* I’m so confused about whose side to take when I start voting…

  26. Nelson

    I agree with gdave on this one.
    The costs already incurred are irrelevant to the decision to continue or not. As mentioned, these are sunk costs. All that matters is how much more needs to be spent and what the economic benefit will be. By economic benefit I do not mean only the financial benefit, but the intangible value the JWST will create by advancing science and knowledge and the spillover effect on the economy and society as a whole.
    It’s not by coincidence that countries with high levels of GDP per capita invest significant amounts on research.

  27. Yoweigh

    Just sent this to my representative:
    “Congressman Richmond, The 2012 House Appropriations bill cuts NASA funding by over 8% while cancelling the James Webb Space Telescope. I am writing today to urge you to restore funding to NASA, especially the JWST. This project has the potential to revolutionize astronomy and capture the public imagination much like the Hubble telescope has over the past two decades. The United States needs to maintain its leadership role in the space sciences, and Louisiana has interests in this area as well.”

  28. DaveJ

    Gdave beat me to it. (Maybe it’s the name?) As much as I would like to see JWST fly, the justification used here is indeed a sunk cost fallacy and therefore easily dismissed. I just wish the folks who use the same reason to keep us embroiled in foreign wars would realize that their reasoning is just as fallacious.

  29. Jason

    @16 cindy

    In 2008, the top 1 percent of tax returns paid 38.0 percent of all federal individual income taxes and earned 20.0 percent of adjusted gross income according to the tax foundation.
    That means that though they only earned 20% of the income they paid 38%, which to me seems more than their fair share.
    What would be a fair share?

    http://www.taxfoundation.org/news/show/250.html

  30. t-storm

    We need cuts, we need to raise taxes. It won’t be as horrible if we do it gradually.
    How about getting rid of the thugs at the TSA? How about auditing every govt. agency to remove waste. Fire the dead weight. Don’t kill a program that will benefit science, but on the next one enforce cost controls.
    The stupid F-35 is a huge boondoggle, way over budget and the F-35B might not even work ever.
    Make the government workers pay for their benefits at a rate consistent with the private sector. Eliminate double dipping.
    I could go on.

  31. gss_000

    Here’s the thing about the Webb telescope: last year there was a review of the program and while they did find some management issues, one of the *big* findings is that it was not wasting money. Money was being spent appropriately, just the organization needed reworking. Furthermore, NASA already is auditing the program and restructuring.

    Personally, I didn’t like the cancellation of Constellation. It needed to be reworked, and I could see abandoning Ares for Atlas V or Delta IV. But these large projects are always going to need to be restructured over time. You fix the problem, not abandoning it. And like Phil said, they just finished polishing some of the mirrors. It’s a big shame if they cancel something like this.

  32. terryp

    i’m really confused as to how jwst can be cancelled outright when other countries’ space programs are involved (esa and csa); how does that work?

  33. Ken

    “that’s $900 million less then the Presidential request.”

    Perhaps they need to put the money into continuing education for grammar? (This should say “less than”, and that error is all over the post.)

    Sorry, I usually try to control my inner pedant, but I saw one, “than” another, and this was more “then” I could bear.

  34. Messier Tidy Upper

    First, the whole flamefest explosion over Rebecca Watson’s simple “Guys, don’t don’t that – don’t be creeps and hit on women in an inappropriate way” thing

    Admittedly this is on a bit of a tangeant here but while thinking of Rebecca Watson – and on space exploration’s near future (very near!) – the Skepchick herself has just posted this :

    http://skepchick.org/2011/07/the-last-shuttle-launch/

    on the final ever Space Shuttle launch.

    While this :

    http://almostdiamonds.blogspot.com/2011/07/letter-to-professor-dawkins-from.html

    seems to me to be the best of all the numerous posts about the whole sorry business and something I wish everyone would pause and read. (If you haven’t already.)

    Whilst back to the last Space Shuttle flight see :

    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html

    The countdown clock is now ticking at 1 day, 53 minutes & 31 seconds to go although the weather could be a problem and cause the traditional launch delays.

  35. Benji

    This is SSC all over again. Just waste money, scrap the project, and wait for the Europeans to do better…

  36. QuietDesperation

    The problem with things like JWST is you can’t really “budget” them. You can bid on your best guess, but this isn’t building an office block that’s two floors taller than the other office block you built last year. It’s a brand new, complicated piece of technology. I’ve long said the idea that you can perfectly budget a new space probe or next generation fighter jet or whatever is a fallacy.

    And, no, I don’t really have an answer. Maybe there isn’t one. One idea I’ve had is that the government develops a small corps of managers that are experts in tech and science program management, and when a private sector company wins a contract, they have to accept a manager from that corps. The manager would be selected early on, and would be involved in the initial request for quotes.

    And this guy telling me this claimed that I knew nothing about economics.

    Cato has a good, detailed plan that, even if you disagree with them, illustrates the factors involved. Like I always say, you have to shed your ideology, stop thinking there’s one or two magic numbers two twiddle, and realize these situations are hugely complicated.

    http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/balanced-budget-plan

  37. Gary Ansorge

    An old saying goes “Seek and ye shall find. Ask and ye shall be answered.” JWST is one of those devices we use in order to seek and ask. It’s extremely high tech and high tech costs money. That they’re over budget is just one of the results of our limited ability to see the consequences of our actions. Build a telescope that’s never been dreamed of before and the development costs will most likely exceed initial estimates by a factor of at least two or three. If we stick with the tried and true, we cannot grow.

    My brother The Rocket Scientist once said “The consultant that says the project will cost the most and take the longest is the one we should heed. He’s more likely to be right.”

    So, the JWST is 99 % there and they want to drop the last one percent? Reminds me of the (fictitious) swimmer crossing the English channel who said ” I can see the shore but I’ll never make it. Guess I should turn around,,,”.

    He drowned,,,

    GAry 7

  38. Daffy

    #21: (This should say “less than”, and that error is all over the post.)

    Ken, that’s a run on sentence.

  39. QuietDesperation

    @Gus Snarp

    People use the term “printing money” as slang for creating debt. Hey, they still print out the bond certificates, right? ;-)

    If I could go back in time and convince John Maynard Keynes to go art school instead, I would.

  40. Chris

    When I was in high school we had a trip to Fermilab. One of my classmates asked the question “How can you justify spending all that taxpayer money when we don’t have any immediate benefit?” I guess this must come up quite often because he explained that of the trillions of dollars the US spends, most on the DoD, only a tiny fraction goes to science and research and an even tinier fraction goes to Fermilab. While billions sound like a big number, it feels like wanting to save for a car by cutting out one Starbucks a week and ignoring the satellite bill. Why do we need more advanced military aircraft, no other country comes close. Why do we need so many aircraft carriers, I think the most another country has is 2, we have a dozen. Actually with the drones now, we can just deploy those much cheaper drones. You can get a couple drones for one fighter jet.

  41. John

    @Ray discretionary spending cuts won’t make any real dent. Cuts need to be made in defense, social security, and Medicaid and taxes need to be raised. The rest of the budget is pretty much less than rounding errors on those three.

    *disclaimer, I am socially tolerant/in favor of helping poor / fiscally “mathpublicrat”

  42. Makoto

    I need to move. My congressfolks hardly ever respond to my messages (email, physical mail, etc), and when they do, it’s with press releases that repeat their stance… the opposite of what I was asking them to consider. Yay, Texas. You’re quite lucky, BA!

  43. Paul

    That they’re over budget is just one of the results of our limited ability to see the consequences of our actions.

    Actually, they’re over budget because there’s a perverse incentive to lowball estimates of costs when getting projects approved. If there’s no penalty to doing that, and if it makes it more likely your program will be funded, then the managers selling the project will lie (to us and to themselves) about how much it will cost.

    How do you stop this nonsense? By putting in the penalty of canceling a project when it goes significantly over budget, and demoting or firing the management that gave the bad estimates.

  44. This drives me crazy. The absolutely tiny amount of money NASA receives relative to all of the stupid things the government does with money and they put stuff like this up as soon as they can for destruction. Something that has meaning and purpose for humanity and understanding, yeah that’s not worth anything… but sure we can spend thousands of percent more on war and weapons… because that has advanced humanity so often. Let’s keep sending people off to their death with long-lost reasoning and avoid understanding the roots of all existence. What a great choice.

    Everytime I see something like this I lose hope in polticians as a whole. They’ve pretty much broken off any understanding of what is good or ethically right and seek only to propagate their party’s rhetoric. It’s sickening. It’s like the only thing you can do now when voting for an American politician is select who will do the least terrible things while in office.

  45. Beth

    Thanks for bringing this up, Phil. I contact my new rep, having moved recently, by both email and Twitter. She’s a democrat, and we have NASA Ames in the area, so I’m hoping she’s already opposed to this cut, but we shall see.

    Too bad there doesn’t seem to be a SETIcon this year…

  46. Nigel Depledge

    Mick (11) said:

    The science that the JWST will bring will benefit all of humanity.

    So why shouldn’t people like me from other countries write to Congress and try to convince them otherwise? I am from Australia and I’m very much looking forward to what that telescope can do. Who do I write to?

    I wonder if Congress would permit NASA to enter into partnership with other countries to get the JWST off the ground?

  47. MT-LA

    @Kay (#26)
    The key is…don’t take “a side”. This isn’t about us vs. them. It isn’t about right and wrong. The best way to approach this is through education. Educate yourself about any candidates that are running (prez, senate, rep and others) and choose for yourself. Don’t let someone else tell you how to vote.
    If you disagree with the people that have been elected to represent you, then organize with like-minded people and make your disagreements known. But do so in a CIVIL way.
    Good luck!

  48. davidlpf

    Part of the problem is that the republicans seem to be very short sighted. They do not realize the long term consquences of their actions. Like the the fruit flies Palin complained about. The research would help farmers that grow olive trees and help the economy in the future. Yes there are huge problems with the budget and the economy but you are not going to solve them with the same solutions that are going to get you elected in the next election. There is also the present culture of science being bad because it contradicts religion so science is fighting a losing battle in the republican party. Plus there are the two wars the republicans got the USA into. The one in Afghanstan was just but the one in Iraq was for revenge over the last war. I personally think that the past republican adminstration in the White House is responsible most of the current stuation. I think if Obama and the democrats should have let the Republicans win the last election so we would see probably see the same results overall that is happening now. The issue that lead to the current economic crisis was a lot of short term thinking and getting the biggest profit right away and not worrying for the long term consquences to your actions.

  49. Shamik

    I would, but my representative resigned after tweeting pictures of his dick. I’ll try both my senators, who seem like very reasonable people…

  50. davidlpf

    See that happens when you are a dick.

  51. “In 2008, the top 1 percent of tax returns paid 38.0 percent of all federal individual income taxes and earned 20.0 percent of adjusted gross income according to the tax foundation.
    That means that though they only earned 20% of the income they paid 38%, which to me seems more than their fair share.”

    Such statistics are often brought out to demonstrate that the rich pay more than their “fair share”. However, if the top 1% pay 38% of the income tax, then that is because this top 1% earns a HUGE fraction of total income (more than one might at first think since many of them should be paying even more taxes, if all the laws were enforced—get rid of the legal loopholes and they should pay even more). It is this statistic which shows the sickness of society. Yes, those who work more or harder should earn more (gross and net), but someone who earns 1000 times what I do cannot work more (there isn’t enough time) and, by any sensible definition, does not work 1000 harder.

  52. QuietDesperation

    I personally think that the past republican adminstration in the White House is responsible most of the current situation… …Plus there are the two wars the republicans got the USA into.

    Our current problems have roots that go back *decades* if not nearly a century if you want to track down every legal issue and foundation.

    But keep playing at Party loyalist. It’s working SO WELL!!!

  53. QuietDesperation

    Educate yourself about any candidates that are running (prez, senate, rep and others) and choose for yourself.

    I do. That’s how I realized they are all sociopaths even at the primaries, so I either vote for some third party, or I leave that ballot entry blank.

    But, hey, go [PARTY_OF_CHOICE]. You can do no wrong and it’s [THE_OTHER_PARTY] that is full of evil scum! Rah rah rah, and so forth.

    There. Am I doing it right? Should I shake my fist more? I need to shake my fist more, don’t I?

  54. davidlpf

    Yes there are many issues that go back a long time in the US. Some of these issues result from progroms and instuition in different regions of the country. Each region has had its problems and black spots. But the banks could of been better regulated under Bush and under Clinton as well but the Republicans were more interested in what happened in Clinton pants like this time some were interested in Obama’s place of birth. In the last election at first I supported McCain then as things went all pair shaped I supported Obama.

    I am actually a Canadian so I did not vote for either. I was just making observations from the outside. I actually generally vote conservative because I generally support some of there platforms not all parts mind you.

  55. Missy

    I just emailed my congressman and expressed my concerns as well as gave him a couple links or articles to look at. I explained that while I am a space nut I was worried I would not be able to explain my concerns well enough on my own and urged him to take a couple moments to read them. I really hope he does….

  56. Chief

    I read here about having the government of the US come up with a proper and long term budget plan. I remember reading about Clinton and his long term plan with a vast reduction of the debit by 2010, thank Bush for canceling a good thing and spending with no thought of future. It looks like since the New Deal works of the 30’s, and war time work of the 40’s, the history of the government mechanisms since then have no way of proceeding in a all for one, one for all direction. Too many high ups want their own piece of the pie and damn the consequences.

    I was looking forward to the JWST but was surprised that it was still 7 years from launch. I agree that a hold and reaudit would be better than outright mothball of the technology already invested in.

  57. MT-LA

    @QuietDesperation: No…you’re not doing it right. In fact, going with [PARTY_OF_CHOICE] is the exact opposite of what I said in the very first line. Whatever you are “doing” is probably being done simply to get a reaction.

    But then again, I wasn’t addressing you. I was addressing the too-young-to-vote poster who was having a conflict deciding how he/she may vote in the future. Kay @#26 is obviously having trouble deciding between the good of the country and the good of their family – which is problem that more people should struggle with.

    By contrast, you are cynical, beyond help, and wholly uninteresting.

    Good Day

  58. Brian

    Sent an email to my local rep and the two state senators of Virginia.

  59. Dave

    We spend $190 million A DAY in Afghanistan.

  60. frankenstein monster

    this is what I predicted long ago. Once you have decided that the future of mankind does not lie out, in the space, and axed the manned space program, there is no point to care about the rest of the universe at all, and the unmanned space will inevitably follow.

  61. BJN

    In the links above condemning JWST for being mismanaged, I didn’t see any information about mismanagement. Yes, the project’s overbudget and the launch date is shifting later and later. I gather that the “mismanagement” charge come from people who figure that you can build extreme bleeding-edge technology without running into unexpected problems, and that you should ignore any opportunities to improve the technology substantially but at added cost and time.

    If there is evidence of real mismanagement, show me. I’ll send my email in support of NASA and JWST funding. Extremists are doing their best to send this country back to 1950 and I’m tired of being led by the myopic, selfish, loud, and ignorant on the right.

  62. frankenstein monster

    Extremists are doing their best to send this country back to 1950

    I would take 1950 any time. Your country is heading to make a small pause around 950 AD, and then a big plunge together with the rest of the entire frakkin world back to before 19500 BC. Like back to the 70000 BC Toba bottleneck. This time with the added value of radioactive fallout.

  63. SLC

    The solution to the JWST is very simple, postpone further manned space explorations for a period of years. Of course, anyone having the temerity to suggest such a thing will join Bob Park and Steven Weinberg in the set of people who don’t know what they are talking about.

  64. Keith Bowden

    I just sent a brief email to my congressman via his website, simply asking him to support the full budget for NASA and the James Webb Space Telescope.

  65. frankenstein monster

    The solution to the JWST is very simple, postpone further manned space explorations for a period of years.

    and the result would be they will get both ‘postponed’ indefinitely. No thing can be ever done by postponing it each time you don’t feel like working at it.

  66. Phil,

    “over budget, behind schedule, …”

    This is putting things mildly, to the say the least. The latest review puts JWST running at over triple the original $2Billion — now project to be $6.5 billion. The mission was supposed to overlap with Hubble. Latest review projections put launch sometime around 2022. This is simply insane, about as badly managed as one could ever fear. Speaking as someone who has worked on a number of NASA missions, I understand the grief. But, really, I find this sort of performance gross in the extreme. It is also simply not true that the cost to finish is less than that spent already. If the cost/schedule projections are this bad already, they are pretty much guaranteed to only get worse. The Pentagon freely enjoys such behaviour, but no one else can or should expect treatment like that.

    It seems unlikely that this budget will pass Congress, but who knows? Instead of relying on that, however, the astronomical community, and NASA in particular, should view this as a wake-up call, and take positive steps to correct this errant performance.

    Though I do agree with much of the sentiment expressed here, that this is further evidence of the future of US science being dumped down the rabbit hole, that trend began long ago. It’s only now that a radical cut like this is waking people up to what has actually been happening for years now.

  67. @John,

    “discretionary spending cuts won’t make any real dent. Cuts need to be made in defense,…”

    Defense is discretionary spending, and it is approximately 54% of discretionary spending right now (http://www.warresisters.org/pages/piechart.htm). More, if this trend continues.

  68. Tom

    Wow, and here I thought we were just losing our manned spaceflight program after STS-135. Our whole space program is getting flushed.

  69. Chiming in support of Gus Snarp (and the ghost of JM Keynes).

    Economics is the description of human behaviour in relation to work and welfare. As such it is open to experiment and empirical observation. It is therefore a science. It doesn’t matter how much any individual economist is wrong: the discipline can advance on the basis of evidence.

    What’s more, it is in practice like other disciplines: there are prominent areas of disagreement among academics, but there are also large areas of consensus that are much less visible. What’s wrong is the public perception. In this regard economics is not unlike climate science, evolutionary biology, and so forth. It also has counter-intuitive findings: e.g. in a depressed economy, the government should increase the deficit, cf the idea that a small increase in a trace gas can have hugely disproportionate consequences, or that random variation can lead to ordered complexity.

    It strikes me that this is the big challenge for skeptics today: to take on economics, and not just accept libertarian or conservative (or even, in other times and places, socialist) talking points. Until this is done, problems like this will come up again and again.

  70. Tom

    Stupid question, but how do I find what congressman for my area to write to? Google “[my city] congressman”?
    That comes up with a republican guy that I didn’t like and certainly didn’t vote for. But if that’s what it takes, he’ll get an email.

  71. Jason

    @67 tom You can probably look it up at firstgov.gov and just because you don’t like and didn’t vote for the guy doesn’t mean he didn’t get elected
    I can point to certain individuals in office as evidence of that. :)

  72. frankenstein monster

    It also has counter-intuitive findings: e.g. in a depressed economy, the government should increase the deficit, cf the idea that a small increase in a trace gas can have hugely disproportionate consequences, or that random variation can lead to ordered complexity.

    The counterintuitive part would be no problem if the people were not in thrall of delusional ideologies that deny it.

  73. Stan9fromouterspace

    MT-LA: “cynical, beyond help, and wholly uninteresting” is possibly the most accurate description of virtually everyone I have seen with a camera pointed in their direction lately in the political arena. It doesn’t make me want to vote, it makes me want to vomit until my ears bleed.

    Sleep well.

  74. Gus Snarp

    @Tom – http://www.house.gov. There’s a little “Find my representative” box in the top right. Put in your zip code and it will give you the right one. Might not be the guy you voted for, but there could be more than one for a city (like my city, which is split down the middle to dilute the urban (Democratic) vote and create solidly Republican districts.

  75. QuietDesperation

    “cynical, beyond help, and wholly uninteresting” is possibly the most accurate description of virtually everyone I have seen with a camera pointed in their direction lately in the political arena.

    They are in office for themselves. Nothing more, nothing less. They don’t care enough to be cynical, there are plenty of drugs for treatment of sociopathy and they are interesting in a criminal profiling sense.

  76. CB

    Considering sunk costs is not strictly speaking a fallacy. It’s the rational consideration of two possible ROI outcomes: One in which you have spent $X and gained nothing, and another in which you have spent $X + $Y and gained Z. Now, obviously if you only look at X and say that because X is large we must continue, that is irrational. You must look at Y and Z and see if that is worth it. But X is still relevant even though it is “sunk”. It wasn’t literally sunk into a hole in the ground and forgotten, it was used to construct a good deal of the result. So one of the factors that will determine if Y is worth it, is how it compares to X. One of the things that probably has people referring to it as a fallacy are the cases, quite common in Defense contracting, where X may be large but Y is not just larger but unbounded. Yet observing this means considering both X and Y, as is only rational.

    So BA’s statement which essentially amounts to: We have already paid for a great deal of the work for the JWST, it is worth it to continue, is not a fallacy.

    Also, as far as cutting JWST for the sake of reigning in the deficit — it is as to putting a grain of sand in front of a tsunami. Yes if you pile up enough tiny cuts they equal a big cut, but you can still do that and leave many meager $billion projects alone. Once again it goes back to looking at what the cost is and what we gain. The gains from the JWST are the answers to fundamental questions about our universe. Science that it could take decades to conduct if we cancel JWST now, and in so doing put science behind by decades. Science that if we want to explore we will need to build another telescope!

    It’s similar in many ways to the SSC — another case where people were saying sunk costs were irrelevant, and that we couldn’t afford it. That project had far worse budget issues than JWST, and the Y was more than twice again the X. Yet, imagine if we had built it, and the questions we’re hoping the LHC will answer for us soon — and more — were instead answered fifteen years ago. Would the LHC have even be built? Or would the agencies that built it have instead built a different device, to explore the new questions that the SSC had raised? How far ahead could we be in our science?

    So think about that when thinking about sunk costs. Think about the future. The $billions sunk into JWST already are $billions we won’t have to spend re-creating it in another decade or two or whenever we finally decide to do it. We can instead spend that money building on what JWST has already taught us. But only if it is launched.

  77. Mike

    So now we add the end of the JWST to the end of SETI’s array, and we got nuthin’ … sigh.

  78. frankenstein monster

    The $billions sunk into JWST already are $billions we won’t have to spend re-creating it in another decade or two or whenever we finally decide to do it.

    don’t worry about that. the end of this road is abandoning any research forever. so you won’t have to pay it twice.

  79. V'Ger

    i request that you complete JWST so i can add it’s data pattern to my three-dimensional data storage facility.

  80. CB

    don’t worry about that. the end of this road is abandoning any research forever. so you won’t have to pay it twice.

    Oh thank goodness! I was worried there. ;)

  81. Caleb Jones

    I called two of my state representatives, one who is actually on that appropriations committee (but not in my district) and one that isn’t on the committee but is in my district.

    I told both that one of the tremendous benefits of the Hubble program turned out to be public science awareness and education. And that the JWST as well as other such instruments have an immeasurably positive affect on the public.

    I also pointed out that the remaining funding required to see the JWST through to completion in 2016 amounts to roughly 0.0125% of the total federal budget annually (based on 2010 numbers).

    –hopefully my math/sources on that aren’t wrong–

  82. Schnee

    from my seat at NASA Space Flight . com, I am looking at the shutting down of NASA as a leading edge BEO Explorer; we now have only the commercial sector moving forward, in LEO and the Race to Explorer Planet Earth and Global Climate Science; my predictions are, that NASA will NOT have a replacement for the Shuttle in it’s next budget, simply depending on the Russians until Commercial Space comes on line in 2017 and the Exploration of Mars will be cancelled until 2020’s because of the Economy, after the only reaction to the cutting of the JWST will be by a small cadre of Space Cadets; voter apathy will set in, and further tax cuts for the top 10-30 percent of the wealthiest in the country will be put forward as rational job creation, using the Reagan Economics Model of the 80’s, and when tax revenue falls, so we will have the justification for further cuts to programs for the lower 40 percent of citizens, and increases in spending on prisons and law and order to keep that 40 percent in line; and a new war will be found to put the cannon fodder (our young people who might protest) to good purpose, raising the Patriot Sentiments of the Country to support all of this and demonize anyone who complains; why would we want to learn about where we came from, it’s as one poster said, “It’s in the religious books; don’t believe science!” the emperor has no clothes!!

  83. Mike Mullen

    What I find truly bizarre is that practically in the same breath that they cancel JWST because of mismanagement and cost ovverruns they give the go ahead for Constellation 2.0, AKA the SLS. To my mind this suggests cutting the JWST is just an empty gesture, Congress trying to look like they are ‘tackling the debt’ and hoping no one notices what a tiny drop in the ocean this really is.

  84. SLC

    Re frankenstein monster @ #64

    Of course, I should have added that the savings from delaying further manned space exploration should be used to complete and launch the JWST. The cost of the JWST is chicken feed compared with the waste of money on manned space flight. As Bob Park and Steven Weinberg say, manned space flight serves no useful scientific purpose.

  85. Schnee

    79. SLC Says:
    July 7th, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    Absolutely, those savings that we made in cancelling Apollo and redirecting the money to fighting poverty, crime, debt, medical break throughs in curing cancer, MS, HIV, etc and expanding educational opportunities; WOW, the wonderful ROI we got from all that redirected money, that has saved our society from the low life’s in it; the wonderful educational benefits that were given to the lowest tier of society (boot camp and cannon fodder) while at the same time bring the poverty level of that tier up by it’s boot straps by giving tax breaks to wealthy corporations to make the job market boom; are you seeing the benefits in medicine, curing all those nasty diseases, yup, we’ve really done wonders in the past 40 years; so lets do it all again; perhaps we can put off BEO until 2050 this time and save even more money;

  86. Jack Dubious

    Its all in the name. They should have called it the “Ronald Reagan Space Telescope” . No way the republicans would have tried to cut that.

  87. Grand Lunar

    It’s ridiculous to see what really amounts to small change being cut by Congress, while bigger expenses go unchecked.

    If anything ought to be cut, it’s SLS.
    Cut that, and use either evolved Atlas 5 rockets or SpaceX’s Falcon rockets to get humans to BEO.

    Despite the management problems, JWST seems too good an observatory to let die.
    I would love to see what it can show us.

  88. gdave

    @CB:

    I could just as well propose two alternate scenarios:

    1. Spend $0, gain nothing.
    2. Spend $Y, gain outcome Z.

    From this perspective, $X (the amount I’ve already sunk) is completely irrelevant. X has already been spent, no matter what I do now, or in the future. It is a sunk cost, and it is a decision making fallacy to spend $Y based on $X.

    And the argument BA seemed to be making was precisely that we should finish the JWST because we’ve already spent $X, which is simply irrelevant to whether spending $Y to achieve outcome Z is worthwhile.

    You do raise a valid point that X is not literally sunk – it has bought some capabilities. Finishing the JWST now will be a lot cheaper than starting over again in a decade or so. And, of course, there will be the opportunity cost of all the lost research time that we would have had had the JWST been completed on the original go-round. Of course, that assumes that we will decide to build the JWST or a similar project in the future.

    If there is a legitimate argument to be made that the JWST should be built sometime in the foreseeable future, than it definitely is worth it to continue funding it now and take advantage of the investment already made. But if JWST isn’t worthwhile, then the fact that we’ve already spent billions of dollars on it doesn’t make continuing worthwhile.

    All of that being said, I don’t actually oppose the JWST. If the senior decision makers at NASA decide that the additional expenditures needed to complete JWST are scientifically justified, then by all means I agree it should be completed. As I stated in my first comment, I don’t like the idea of Congress cutting specific NASA programs like this. Figuring out which specific scientific projects are worth funding should be left to the subject matter experts, not micro-managed by Congress.

    But if anyone wants to argue for how worthwhile it would be to complete the JWST, it should be based on the merits of the JWST itself, and the return (whether financial, intellectual, inspirational, or whatever) on current and future outlays, not based on how much we’ve already sunk.

  89. Aaaaarrggghhh!

    JWST? Really? Noted that it has issues, but that would be terrible. I’ve been patiently following progress for some time, and really hoping that we would see some results.

    Edit: Anybody remember how big of a disaster many people proclaimed HST to be at the time?

  90. Pete Jackson

    There is still hope. Cutting JWST would only get through the Senate over Barbara Mikulski’s dead body. Too bad that this is probably her last term.

  91. CB

    From this perspective, $X (the amount I’ve already sunk) is completely irrelevant. X has already been spent, no matter what I do now, or in the future. It is a sunk cost, and it is a decision making fallacy to spend $Y based on $X.

    However that scenario does not describe reality, because spending $0 is not an option. Spending $0 additional is an option, but that option acknowledges the reality of what has transpired already.

    Fallacious decision making is ignoring context, as if dealing with an idealized independent event, where the past and future do not matter. The actual situation in the present is that you can spend $Y to complete Z, a project that costs $X + Y. So, you cannot ignore X and yet claim to be making a rational decision. It is a fallacy to only consider X, but similarly it is a fallacy to only consider Y, or Z.

    And the argument BA seemed to be making was precisely that we should finish the JWST because we’ve already spent $X, which is simply irrelevant to whether spending $Y to achieve outcome Z is worthwhile.

    Just to repeat the point: Y/(X+Y), and therefore X, is definitely a relevant factor for deciding if it is worthwhile.

    You do raise a valid point that X is not literally sunk – it has bought some capabilities. Finishing the JWST now will be a lot cheaper than starting over again in a decade or so.

    Indeed, and in fact the “sunk costs” that everyone talks about when talking about the “sunk cost fallacy” are almost never literally sunk, which is why calling it a fallacy is itself the fallacy. :)

    In cases where the sunk costs were more grossly wasted than is the case with JWST (say, billions of dollars of aid to Iraq that vanished without a trace), then you could argue that the sunk cost matters less, but that will bear out in the fact that your cost to complete the project will have been largely unaffected by the previous spending. Notice that it is still only valid to ignore the sunk costs after considering them for that specific case. Not considering them in the first place would be foolish.

    And, of course, there will be the opportunity cost of all the lost research time that we would have had had the JWST been completed on the original go-round. Of course, that assumes that we will decide to build the JWST or a similar project in the future.

    Right, it assumes we want to continue pushing the boundaries of science instead of stagnating.

    Frankly, I’m going to assume that we will want to progress as a nation and species because otherwise there would be no point to this conversation at all as it would just be a distraction from my canned food and ammo hoarding. ;)

  92. SLC

    Re Schnee @ #80

    Mr. Schnee apparently has some kind of a reading comprehension problem. To make it perfectly clear so that there be no misunderstanding:

    1. Postpone further manned space exploration for several years.

    2. Use that money that would have been spent on manned space flight to get the JWST completed and into space. The JWST has far greater scientific potential then any manned space efforts.

    I suspect that Prof. Bob Park will have something to say on this issue on his Whats’ New web site in the near future.
    But of course, there are those in these parts who insist that Prof. Park doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  93. Astrofiend

    Hmmm – this seems to be how they do business in the States. Many of NASA’s biggest projects of the past few decades have been cut and then restored and then cut and then restored. Cobe, Hubble, Spitzer, Gravity Probe B, and more have all been killed off only to be brought back.

    I’m not sure how this will pan out – The fact that this is an international project the scale of which has never been pulled out of before by the U.S. makes it less likely to be killed. There are significant international contracts/treaties in place for this project and the ensuing legal battles would cost a bunch too. However, the U.S. has not been in a spot this tight in living memory. Maybe they will kill it, but more likely is that it is political posturing from the conservatives – go after a high profile target, the dem voter base get pissed, the dems then reinstate it through almighty effort, and then the repubs can then trumpet how the dems are trying to spend money like it’s going out of style. Everything in politics is a game – the pollies on both sides couldn’t care less about jobs or the economy or the advancement of knowledge or ‘hot button’ issues – they’re all used as moves in the game, and the game is to get into power.

    The thing that really pisses me off is the TRILLIONS spent on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, when we all know that these perpetual bastions of sh**iness will be ruled over by ruthless thugs again in 10 years tops, just like the rest of the Middle East. We will have literally wasted trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of innocent and not-so-innocent lives so that the big US corporations could make some more dosh.

    I despair!

  94. Schnee

    96. SLC Says:
    July 7th, 2011 at 5:29 pm
    no problem with reading comprehension, just a longer view and broader amount of reading perspective than BA and Astronomy Articles; NASA is about to be downsized and marginalized as far as Space Exploration BEO is concerned; it will be in the later part of this Century, after 2048, when I turn 100, that we will see US Commercial Space tackle BEO; you will see SLS/Orion and Mars Exploration cancelled in the first years of the next administration, regardless of who wins, and the closing of redundant NASA branch offices, that don’t deal with Earth Sciences and Aeronautics;

  95. I like the optomistic way you say, “Audit the whole thing, and then reorganise as needed.” Why, it’s almost as if you’re saying that with a straight face. I was under the strong impresion that NASA can’t simply ‘reorganise as needed’ and has never had that capability. How much they spend, on what, and in which congressional district has never been their choice.

    Any percieved ‘waste’ is in practice a downpayment on getting the votes for next year’s budget, and it is often very hard to reperpose that for anything useful.

  96. CB

    @ ANTIcarrot:

    Audit and reorganize the project. What NASA works on is dictated by Congress, but they do have leeway within those bounds to organize their projects as they feel is necessary. Congress does not dictate the entire organization structure down to first-level managers and the specific tasks of individual engineers. They may require that the project use parts from a supplier in a certain district, etc, and yet, what Phil suggested isn’t unreasonable at all.

    If Congress doesn’t dictate that they shut the program down. Not much NASA can do then.

  97. shunt1

    With President Bush, NASA was task with a mission to Mars with Moon explorations as “stepping stones” to perfect our manned space exploration technology.

    Friday (if we are lucky) will be America’s last Shuttle launch and the end of NASA’s space program.

    I watched the chimp “Ham” being launched into space and my father allowed me to skip school to watch every single launch since then. Since “Ham” went into space, I have not missed watching a single space mission since. I grew up with the NASA space program!

    BTW, I was lucky enough to visit “Ham” in Alamogordo before he died, and I was honored to spend some time with my original space hero!

    When the third space shuttle landed at White Sands Missile Range, my very young daughter was there to watch it land on Northrop Strip.

    ….

    How has that “Hope and Change” been working out for you?

    ….

    Personally, I just want to cry…..

  98. Left_Wing_Fox

    America; where science, jobs and assistance to the vulnerable are on the table, but taxes and military spending aren’t. All thanks to one political party is willing to pay chicken with the nation, and the other unable or unwilling to oppose them.

  99. shunt1

    @102 Left_Wing_Fox

    Perhaps this is the difference between you and me. I do not ask the government for help, because I will always make things happen.

    I lost my job two months ago, but have refused to allow the government to control my life by accepting assistance.

    My wife and I drove to Colorado from Minnesota for the 4th of July weekend and had a fantastic time exploring Bolder, Colorado Springs, and everything outside of the city of Denver. We ended our “four day sprint” watching the fireworks in the Black Hills and finished it at Mount Rushmore.

    Ok, so I do not want to live in a large city…

    If I can not find a new job in Colorado, then I will create a new one! That is how I think and why I will always make a difference.

    Twenty years ago. I fell in love with Colorado Springs when I was working with the Army Space Command, but that city was no longer like what I remembered so long ago. Today, it is way too large for it’s limited area. Lovely to visit, but not somewhere that I want to live.

    I do not ask for the goverment to help me, because I am the type of person that will always make things happen, no matter what the subject is.

    If I do not have specific knowledge on a subject, then I will read every Ph.D thesis on the topic until I am current on the most resent technology.

    BTW, Bolder Colorado is a fantastic city and I was amazed at how friendly it felt to both of us.

    I WILL be moving to Colorado!

  100. shunt1

    Bolder = Boulder.

    An honest error, but I am rather curious about the history of the spelling.

  101. What I would like to hear from congressmen is how they will explain this to canadians and europeans who also spent millions of dollars on this project. I’m not sure they will be happy about it…

  102. Don

    Yeah sure, Shunt1, you won’t ask the government for anything? How exactly did you drive to Colorado? Do you have some sort of private road only you can drive on, you being self sufficient and all?

  103. spiridonia

    Please, someone answer me this, where is all the [insert colorful metaphor here!] money going? Oh, I forgot, it’s going to the invasion of countries who we think are impeding on our freedom to invade countries who don’t do what we want. Idiots!

  104. QuietDesperation

    I could just as well propose two alternate scenarios:
    1. Spend $0, gain nothing.
    2. Spend $Y, gain outcome Z.
    From this perspective, $X (the amount I’ve already sunk) is completely irrelevant. X has already been spent, no matter what I do now, or in the future. It is a sunk cost, and it is a decision making fallacy to spend $Y based on $X.

    It still matters, though. $Y is a function of $X. If $X is 99% of the cost to get Z, then $Y is just 1% more to get some science done. If $X if 50% then, yeah, spending another $Y=$X is less attractive. $X is gone, but the amount $X has already bought us is important in deciding to move forward or bail out.

  105. QuietDesperation

    I lost my job two months ago, but have refused to allow the government to control my life by accepting assistance.

    I’m the biggest “rugged individual” type you will find, but if I lose my job, you can bet dollars to donuts I’ll take every unemployment check I have due. I paid my taxes into that system. Same with Social Security. I don’t even factor it into my retirement plans, and would happily opt out of paying into it, but should it actually remain solvent, yeah, I’m getting my share back.

    Ok, so I do not want to live in a large city…

    I hear that, and I’m in a more suburban area. I can’t stand living 20 feet from my neighbors, and these are people I get along with. I’m thinking of starting too look for some acreage in the mountains around Southern California what with prices being so down. I don’t need to get it at the exact bottom because it’s retirement property. I won’t be selling it again.

  106. QuietDesperation

    They should have called it the “Ronald Reagan Space Telescope” . No way the republicans would have tried to cut that.

    Hard to say. I wasn’t exactly Reagan’s biggest fan (maybe Congress outspent the revenues, but you had something called the veto, Ronnie), but the current GOP makes me miss the guy. Cripes, these people are making me miss Goldwater, wild SOB that he was.

  107. John Hamilton

    Announcing PLAN B:
    Apparently we MUST convince congress that there are
    terrorists on the moon plotting attacks on the world.
    We will then promptly up NASA’s budget, invade and OCCUPY the moon for the
    safety of all world citizens.
    Space travel will then become cheap due to quantity of flights,
    the aerospace industry will become whole again, Florida will have alot less unemployed scientists, engineers and technicians – BUT the TSA will inspect every flight(!)

    I think we need to have life imitate art and just like the movie NETWORK, open our windows and scream to the world “We’re mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore!”

    Whew, that felt better.

  108. Austen Redman

    How much would it cost to complete? Would they accept donations like SETI?

  109. Zucchi

    It’s arithmetically impossible to cut enough spending to noticeably affect the debt, unless we destroy Medicare or decide to give peace a chance. However, the few million richest Americans are sitting on top of trillions of dollars. There exists a simple mechanism to force them to invest that money in their country.

    About 20 years ago, I started being worried that China would have a successful manned Lunar program while we’re still piddling around two hundred miles up. CNSA didn’t exist then, but now it does, and they’re serious. Maybe when Chinese astronauts are tromping all over Tranquility Base we’ll remember there’s a universe beyond LEO.

  110. Nigel Depledge

    Jason (15) said:

    The spending cuts have to come from somewhere, and in reality everywhere.

    You have not made a case to support this statement. Assuming that spending cuts are the correct strategy, there is no reason at all that they should come from everywhere.

    Perhaps they should first come from those areas of government that are (1) most expensive and (2) least valuable.

    NASA is probably one of the smallest government agencies. It is also, however, one of the most high-profile.

  111. Left_Wing_Fox

    You worked for the military and claim you accept no government assistance? You’re as self-sufficient as a mosquito; an ungrateful parasite mocking the symbiotes.

  112. frankenstein monster

    Of course, I should have added that the savings from delaying further manned space exploration should be used to complete and launch the JWST. The cost of the JWST is chicken feed compared with the waste of money on manned space flight. As Bob Park and Steven Weinberg say, manned space flight serves no useful scientific purpose.

    That is not how it works, however. Without the perspective of mankind expanding to space, all space science is purposeless. By the same logic that declares manned spaceflight useless, there is no point either, to pay billions to satisfy curiosity of a few eggheads. So if you axe the manned space program, the unmanned will inevitably follow short after that. And look at the current NASA budget – it is already happening.

  113. Gus Snarp

    I love this graphic for a little perspective. Find NASA. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/02/01/us/budget.html

    There’s one for the 2012 budget request too, but the coding seems screwy on this one:
    http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/newsgraphics/2011/0119-budget/index.html

  114. Adam

    @Vagueofgodalming and @Gus Snarp

    I thought I detected a bit of Keynes in @Gus Snarps comments, but I would like to point out your view is by no means held universal by economists. The keynesian view that government spending increases the velocity of money, wars help the economy, ect. is rejected by many.

    I tend to agree with those that believe money spent in government is inefficient and could be
    better spent in the market. The professor who made this video makes a good argument (it is a rap video, but they bring up good talking points) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTQnarzmTOc

    I’m by no means an economist, but in my brief study of the field i’ve realized it is extremely complicated and no one really has a full grasp on it. Like @Vagueofgodalming said we have to treat economics like a discipline by continually looking at the evidence.

  115. Beelzebud

    It’s pretty amazing that while Republicans were piling up that debt, we never heard them talk about deficit reduction. It was only when Democrat came in that they pushed that line hard. So now, in a time when we should be stimulating our economy (things like engineering jobs at NASA), we instead decide to just cut everything, while giving the top 1% tax cuts, and while we still are stuck in 3 theaters of war.

    It’s just an amazing trick. You have people here in this thread, saying that we need to cut programs, and none of them mentioning the fact that the top 1% have had tax cuts for over 10 years, which have done nothing to help the economy.

    Hedge fun managers get to pay nothing in taxes, and the rest of us are supposed to accept cuts to the social safety net, and things like NASA, so that guys like David Koch can die with 300 billion dollars instead of 200 billion dollars.

  116. Beelzebud

    BTW: Some food for thought.

    The Pentagon can not account for 7 billion dollars in cash, that was shipped to Iraq on pallets.

    That was 1 billion more than this project, including the cost overruns. I think we got the better deal with the telescope, than duffle bags of money going to mercs.

  117. CB

    @ Don:

    Yeah sure, Shunt1, you won’t ask the government for anything? How exactly did you drive to Colorado? Do you have some sort of private road only you can drive on, you being self sufficient and all?

    Heh. Or how about the fact that they didn’t have to fear for their possessions or life at every pit stop along the way, because other people chose to rely on the social safety net when they needed to instead of turning to a life of crime, with the police to keep the rest reigned in.

    I always find these “I don’t need anyone else!” individualists to be funny, because they always ignore the aid they have received, starting with, you know, a stable and functioning society. And how they always seem to assume that in their Individualist Utopia, everyone for whom this system doesn’t work out is going to just quietly lay down and die, rather than embrace Individualism’s logical conclusion.

    @ Beelzebud:

    Obviously the problem is we just didn’t give the rich enough tax breaks. I’m sure once we lower them enough everything will be great.

  118. Gus Snarp

    @Adam – That is the best response I’ve ever gotten on the internet from an anti-Keynesian. Usually it’s more like: “Oh my God, you idiot, you don’t know anything about economics!” Oh, wait, I told that story already.

    Anyway, you’re right, economists disagree on the extent to which spending or tax cuts will affect the economy, but they’d have to be completely ignoring reality to claim that drastic spending cuts will not hurt the economy. There is an argument over whether spending is a more effective stimulus than tax cuts or vice versa, but its pure ideology to claim that we can propose massive spending cuts and not hurt the economy. Particularly in the current situation. The other factor is situational. An economist who is serious about finding answers, not just the ones that fit politically, will acknowledge that different economic situations call for different remedies.

  119. Gus Snarp

    Also, did anyone notice the line attached to the NSF funding to prevent the release of Guantanamo detainees?

  120. Adam

    @Gus Snarp – You are probably right, drastically cutting spending would hurt the economy, short term at least. The economy would probably be shocked pretty hard because prices would get out of whack and take time to stabilize.

    I do believe government spending distorts prices and incentives, which is why I would be in favor of a systematic reduction in goverment spending (except for scientific research, one of the few areas that has been shown to have a high return). I have seen people claim that running a deficit can be used spur the economy, which might be true in some cases, but that does not mean running a deficit every year is a good thing.

    As always, I’m open to have my mind changed with good evidence! I just have not seen it yet :)

  121. MaDeR

    I will take aside issue of programs and spending unrelated to space that deserve cuts more, if you want to save money.

    I will just focus on state of JWST. It is horrible. They should cut it. And ban these management geniuses that proposed and give these “very optimistic” – ie made up to approve project – estimation of costs from working (hey, I can dream).
    I read somewhere that this farce could go even beyond 2020 (there goes this idiotic 99% proposed by some posters above)! This is totally uacceptable. This project is already complete management failure.

    By the way, I do not want cuts to NASA. But JWST deserves chopping block milion times over, regardless of time (prosperity or recession or crisis). Not only by itself, but also by parasiting on other programs, taking away money from them.

  122. JediBear

    You are very lucky to have a sane Congresscritter. I’m stuck with Doc Hastings. It’d make me want to move to another district, but that would just make the problem worse.

  123. JediBear

    @118. Adam,

    But that’s the problem. There are two kinds of economists, those who actually look at the evidence and draw conclusions supported by it (“Saltwater” Economists) and those who are so obsessed with the beauty of their pretty, pretty model that they can’t stop staring at it long enough to notice that it doesn’t actually predict anything that actually happens in the real world (“Freshwater” Economists.)

    Anti-Keynesians are the pure-Chiropractics of the economic world, and are a big and important part of the Movement Conservatism that helped to create the current crisis and is working tirelessly to destroy the country.

    So yeah, Economics is a big, complicated field. Not all economists agree on everything. But fiscal stimulus is macroeconomics 101, and expansionary austerity is a lie.

  124. Charlie Brown

    Funding NASA is funding our future. To those who seem to think Republicans are to blame and are not in favor of supporting our space program, you’re either blind, deaf or dumb. Probably, as is usually the case with knee jerk liberals, all three.

    Take a look at the Democrats in Democrat-led majority in the Senate (who vote on the budget) and the President’s cancellation of Bush’s Ares and Orion Constellation Moon and Mars missions and submitting his own ‘vision’ of our mission in space, then tell me the Democrats support NASA. Pure nonsense.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=nasa-budget-constellation-cancel

    JFK is turning over in his grave. Where are the real Democrats, who actually care about education, science and the nation’s future, I ask?

    It’s ironic that the one thing the government should oversea is a space program is the one thing the president is letting the market govern and administer.

    There is no way the private sector can afford the redundancy required or quality control emulated by NASA. And the first fatality (they will happen) investors will scramble to secure their profit margins putting launch schedules and missions in jeopardy each and every time there’s a setback. That’s no way to run a space program. Also, USAF and Navy personnel who have piloted and commanded all Shuttle missions are now to work for Virgin or other companies to fly their aircraft? It’s not going to happen. It’s folly to end the shuttle prematurely (air frames built for 100 missions, they’ve flown on average 1/3 of that) and with no successor. Whatever savings the government will penny pinch will be lost in the technology and innovation now in the hands of other nations. Penny wise and pound foolish, as we sell our futures away to the lowest bidder.

    Charlie Brown’s famous line, “I got a rock” now applies to NASA, thanks to President Obama and Democrat-led Senate’s massive cuts to the space agency. All they can see are asteroids in our future. Very sad, indeed.

  125. Mircea

    The space is first in the economics cuts? Yeah right, they don’t need another mirror to look at the sky……

  126. JMW

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. You people are using economically bombing yourselves back into the stone age.

    I’ve read several analyses that suggest that Ronald Reagan’s mililtary spending spree brought down the Soviet Union, as it forced them to spend more on their military and their economy couldn’t stand the strain. Now, thanks to the “war” in Iraq and Afghanistan, you’ve done the same thing voluntarily to yourselves. Your economy is addicted to military spending, and now you’re about to hit rock bottom and OD.

    And now, I don’t take any great pleasure in this fact.

  127. gdave

    @CB and @QuietDesperation:

    A vital factor you seem to be ignoring is opportunity cost. In a finite budget, money spent on option A is money that isn’t being spent on options B, C, D….

    Let’s try it this way, with a slightly more concrete example. Suppose I have $100 million (Y) to spend, and two projects, P1 and P2, which are both projected to be $100 million from completion (Y1 = Y2 = $100 million). I can therefore only fund one to completion. If I prefer outcome Z2 to Z1, clearly I should fund P2, regardless of how much I’ve already spent on each. X1 and X2 (the amounts already spent) are simply irrelevant to whether I should fund P1 or P2.

    Of course, past spending can be useful evidence for the efficacy of future spending. Let’s further suppose that X1 = $1 billion, twice P1’s original total projected cost, and that P1 has consistently hit its benchmarks late and over-budget, or failed to meet them at all. On the other hand, X2 = $50 million, and P2 has consistently hit its benchmarks on time and on budget. Now, by your suggested criterion, Y1/(X1 + Y1) = 0.09, while Y2/(X2 + Y2) = 0.67, so I should fund P1. But clearly that’s fallacious in this example, right? If I value Z1 and Z2 equally, I should fund P2.

    Of course, if I value Z1 more than Z2, it might be worthwhile to “put a hold on [P1], audit the whole thing top to bottom, and re-organize as needed,” and fund P1 in preference to P2. But that decision needs to be justified based on the value of Z1, not the relative sizes of X1 and X2, which are sunk costs.

    In the real world case in question, the Republican majority in the House has decided to devote $Y to deficit reduction in preference to completing the James Webb Space Telescope. You may disagree with that decision, and you may well be right. But if you are, it’s because spending $Y on astronomical discovery is preferable to spending it on deficit reduction, not because of the size of $X, and that should be the basis for fighting for continued funding for the JWST.

    BA, if you’re still monitoring this discussion thread, you are an eloquent, passionate, and inspirational spokesman for science and astronomy. If you are are serious about how valuable JWST is, please, please, please, make an argument for it based on its merits, and the value we can get for the future outlays needed to complete it, not based on how much we’ve already sunk.

  128. Bruce

    Phil, I see why you’re so upset. You’re OK with the cancellation of Constellation because your beloved Obama did it, but you flip out when the House proposes to cut JWST because it’s run by Republicans.

    Over budget, behind schedule, mismanaged for years. But keep throwing money at it. Spoken like a true Democrat.

  129. QuietDesperation

    A vital factor you seem to be ignoring is opportunity cost. In a finite budget, money spent on option A is money that isn’t being spent on options B, C, D….

    *shrug* Wasn’t ignoring it- it just wasn’t part of the discussion at hand which was how sunk costs should be considered as to how close to a goal they have already placed you.

  130. QuietDesperation

    By contrast, you are cynical, beyond help, and wholly uninteresting.

    Aw, does that mean I can’t hang out with the cool kids like you?

    You are correct, actually. The truth *is* boring and uninteresting and leads to cynicism. As a skeptic, though, I have no choice but to go with the truth.

    Beyond the help of what? Buying into ideology and illusions? No thanks. My uninteresting cynical approach to life has made me a very comfortable living.

  131. Phyllis

    I share your dismay, Phil and truly wish that the GOP cared this much about bloated government spending in 2000-2008. Let us not forget how we got to this dire situation. “Defense” spending constitutes more than all other forms of discretionary spending COMBINED, yet when we try to pull our troops out of the two ill-begotten wars we’re mired in, we hear that it’s unthinkable. Why are we cutting funds for education, space study, innovation, protecting the environment, while simultaneously awarding double tax breaks to the wealthy, tax holidays for corporations reporting record profits (during a recession, no less) and granting stimulus dollars to Big Oil? I can’t help agreeing with Bill Maher: he says we’ve been told for years that Republicans are the party of fiscal responsibility, yet their policies have caused more damage to our economy over the years. We’re told that the Republicans are the party of defense and domestic security, yet the Bush foreign policies did more to risk the safety of Americans both at home and especially abroad than any other president did before him. Maher concludes with an obvious question: So, what exactly do the Republicans DO?? I’ll be emailing my congresscritters (BTW – LOVE that term, will so be using that gleefully in future!) to beg for the completion of the James Webb; my kids and I have been eagerly waiting to see what astounding discoveries it could bring!

  132. gdave

    @QuietDesperation:

    *shrug* Wasn’t ignoring it- it just wasn’t part of the discussion at hand which was how sunk costs should be considered as to how close to a goal they have already placed you.

    But it IS a part of the discussion. Considering sunk costs when making a spending decision is a fallacy precisely because $Y spent on completing Project 1 is $Y not being spent on Project 2, 3, 4…. The return on investment for $Y has nothing* to do with how much you’ve already spent. As in my hypotheticals above, even if you’ve spent enormously more on Project 1 than on Project 2, if the payoff for spending $Y on Project 2 is bigger, you should spend it on Project 2. Sunk costs are precisely that – sunk. They are gone and not coming back. Those sunk costs may well have bought you considerable assets you can leverage to make additional investments pay off hugely, but the amount of money you’ve spent in and of itself should be irrelevant to current and future spending decisions.

    Again, the Republican majority in the House has decided that the money it would take to complete JWST would be better spent on deficit reduction. Again, you may disagree, and, again, you may well be right, but the amount already invested in JWST in and of itself has nothing to do with whether spending the money to complete it will have a bigger payoff than reducing the deficit by the same amount.

    At this point, I’m fairly certain that one of us doesn’t understand what sunk costs are, and, furthermore, neither of us is likely to convince the other. (shrug) See you in another thread.

    *Nothing except in two senses. First, of course, if a project was worth spending $1 billion on, presumably it’s worth another $100 million to complete, and your payoff for that $100 million will likely be substantial, since you’re leveraging the assets you’ve bought with the $1 billion you’ve already invested. But if the payoff for spending $Y on Project 2 is more, that fact that X1 > X2 doesn’t change anything. Second, as I acknowledge in a previous comment, if you’re going to build the JWST no matter what at some point, it of course makes sense to complete it now for a small fraction of what it will cost to start over from scratch in the future. But it’s non-obvious to me that the JWST must and will be built sooner or later.

  133. QuietDesperation

    At this point, I’m fairly certain that one of us doesn’t understand what sunk costs are, and, furthermore, neither of us is likely to convince the other.

    No, I just don’t give enough of a damn to keep writing mini idealized treatises about it.

  134. Gus Snarp

    @Adam – If you’re still lurking about this old thread, I have a question for you. This is a serious question, not a snarky response. What do you think restored America’s prosperity and created a long period of strong economic growth after the Great Depression?

  135. Timothy from Boulder

    Two things to contemplate in the decisions to move forward with JWST that I haven’t heard voiced anywhere else.

    1) Funding JWST through launch does not guarantee that the anticipated science and astronomical supremacy will be achieved. JWST is a tremendously complex optical system and any number of mechanism failures can render the telescope useless. Because of its L2 point orbit, repair is impossible. While NASA has had a number of successes recently, it has had its share of mission failures as well. While we all hope for the best, spending the money on a single large program does not guarantee success.

    2) If the program is cancelled, the entirety of program funding is not “wasted.” Just as other have pointed out the auxilliary benefits of other space programs, the work already done on JWST has revolutionized the technological capabilities to manufacture ultralightweight beryllium mirrors and the techniques to perform phase control on multiple mirror systems, as well as numerous technological advances in lightweight structures and deployment. There are doubtless hundreds of other similar advances that have already been paid for and developed. That money is not lost, the technologies have been invented and refined and are a part of the total benefit the program provides.

  136. Grimoire

    What do you think restored America’s prosperity and created a long period of strong economic growth after the Great Depression?

    Can I play?

    World War II and ditching the Gold Standard.

    I know you are looking for The New Deal, but there is *NO* consensus amongst economists on that one. The science is not settled.

  137. Adam

    @Gus Snarp – Yep I’m still lurking :)

    What do I think ended the great depression? If I want to be honest I should say I don’t know, haha, but I’m sure we would both agree the New deal did not end the great depression, and in fact may have prolonged it (according to this study http://newsroom.ucla.edu/portal/ucla/FDR-s-Policies-Prolonged-Depression-5409.aspx the new deal prolonged the depression by 7
    years).

    Without putting words in your mouth I would assume you believe it was ended because of increased government spending on WWII? The timelines do match up fairly well, but we both know about cause and effect so because the timelines match up doesn’t mean the spending was the reason for recovery. On the other side, the small government supporters claim real growth started happening in 1946 after the war spending stopped and corporate and personal tax rates were cut.

    I don’t really have the economic toolset to evaluate these claims, but I will do my best. I tend to side with those who claim after the war the tax cuts and reduced government spending were what spurred the true economic growth. I believe that after the war people were optimistic and the reduced corporate tax lead to a friendly environment for businesses and entrepreneurs. People were free to start producing goods and serving each other, and they had the money and freedom to do so. People went to work and governments stayed out of the way, at least less than the previous 15 years.

    Now, why do I dismiss the claim that it was in fact the government spending that spurred this recovery? Well, it may have had an initial positive effect, I do understand aggregate demand and the fact that government spending in a sector will boost the price of that particular product. But I just don’t understand how putting people to work building tanks and bombs paved the way for future economic growth. Maybe the initial spending did help increase the value of American product, but the real growth came when people stopped making war tools and started producing useful products for each other.

    I do understand my arguments are general broad arguments, but lacking the ability to do a true economic analysis, that’s the best I can do. Also I don’t mean to create a false dichotemy, the ultimate answer may be a little of both arguments, or none. Either way, I enjoy getting into dicussions like this and always hold open the possibility that I’m completely wrong.

    Also, to the guy who said “freshwater” economists are like chiropracters, that’s a weak argument. As a skeptic you should be better at arguing than just throwing out ad hominems, pretty weak man.

  138. Gus Snarp

    No, Grimoire, WWII is exactly the answer I was looking for. The New Deal failed, much as the recent stimulus failed, because it was too small. But how did WWII end the Great Depression? Is it a magic spell, going to war simply rights economies altogether for no reason? Of course not. So the next question is, what does WWII represent, economically? The answer there should be quite obvious: massive government spending financed by debt and high taxes, particularly on the wealthy. In other words, WWII was Keynesian by its very nature. Sadly, because we only think that kind of spending is worthwhile if it’s for killing people, we’ll never know what would be possible if we spent it instead on really productive things, like modern infrastructure, education, and a greatly expanded space program (although the post WWII era gives us some clue, thanks to the GI Bill and the Interstate Highway system). Thanks for playing!

  139. So, the potentially greatest scientific instrument in human history is going to get a short-sighted axe from a bunch of wannabe budget-hawks? I don’t think so.

    Humanity NEEDS this telescope to fly.

    We’ve started a modest petition. We hope you sign it. More importantly, we hope you pass it on.

    The JWST will fly. Help us fight for our future.

    Petition: http://bit.ly/oy4ibI
    Facebook: http://on.fb.me/q7qf8L Spread the Word!

    find @neoteotihuacan or @somnastra on twitter

    We need American signatures. If you aren’t American, then FIND YOURSELF AN AMERICAN!

  140. Lisa

    Russia will be in charge of the space station. This statement alone sets one back. What will be going on behind our backs? Do I smell weapons in space?

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