Oh, yummy. Another disguised "life boat ethics" question. Let's see what shipping company's name is on the lifebuoys of this boat.
Line up the unlikely here.
- The project will have great benefits.
- The population is against it.
- Only the government can do it.
The question of "benefit" implies other questions. To whom and for what? If people are against it then this implies that the benefits do not accrue to them. The project is not generally beneficial. So 1 and 2 are contradictory.
As to 3. Why can only the government do it? We frequently hear about a "Manhattan project for X" and a "moonshot for Y." A "Manhattan project to cure cancer." Or "a moonshot to cure poverty." Or "a Manhattan project to solve global warming."
There are currently three billionaires doing space launches. One of them is doing so at a pace massively in advance of anything NASA ever achieved. SpaceX did 31 launches last year, and is on pace for 60 this year.
Oh, but NASA created all that tech. Did they? There is some argument that NASA of the early 1960s was a net benefit with regard to tech. And there is some argument that the excitement of the space program encouraged large numbers of school children to become scientists and engineers.
But from the 1970s on, NASA was a net drag on tech and space. They sucked up all the energy for space and did it not very well. The equipment SpaceX is using is largley created in-house. Research and development are far better off out of government hands, as shown by Terence Kealey in the book The Economic Laws of Scientific Research, funding from private sources is 50% higher, and has far less strings attached, than does government funded research. Tech advances faster without government. (So too does research of all kinds, including non-tech things like philosophy, the arts, history, etc. But that's another post.)
So the idea that only government can do it implies there is something unusual happening here. One might expect such a condition to arise if there was crash urgency or some need for secrecy. As in the real Manhattan project, which was developing a nuclear weapon during WWII. Or if there were overriding priorities that influenced the government to perceive benefits. Such as during the real Apollo project, which was driven by questions of prestige and surpassing the USSR.
That is to say, the lifeboat we are in is some sort of government need, not a benefit to the general population. The name on the lifebuoys is Big Government.
And the iceberg we hit is almost certainly one that was produced by government action in the first place. Possibly not the same government, as in the case of the Manhattan project.
Now, that is not to say that the situation could never arise. Or that it should never be considered for the government to do some project. Just that the result is going to be what we have today. We are digging ourselves out of 50 years of being held back by NASA. We are dealing with a nuclear industry that uses Uranium reactors because they are what the weapons program wants.
But we must be aware of the cost and evaluate it correctly. Maybe the project is not really worth the cost of two generations of people not believing that space flight can be done any other way than through gargantuan government expenditures. Or that nuclear reactors cannot be improved because funding for their improvement depends on the weapons program that does not care about improving reactors.
And if it is worth it, and it's not during a war, then the government can stop and explain why it's worth it. And if their explanations are valid then rational people will agree with them.
And if people are not rational? Well, you have exactly one place to look for that. But public education is yet another post.