No Panaceas

Saturday, February 08, 2003
There have been lots of Lebron James articles, of course. Here's a new one by Allen Barra over at Salon. To me labor exploitation is just a manifestation of a larger problem, but Barra is probably right that the courts are a huge threat to the NCAA's way of doing business with its athletes.

Friday, February 07, 2003
I’d love it if one day someone can explain to me just what the hell government is doing in the entertainment business. If there is any place that the free market works just fine, it’s in entertainment, especially mainstream sports entertainment. Yet, all across this country we have tax-subsidized governmental institutions using indentured labor to field moneymaking enterprises that have utterly nothing to do with the institutions’ actual missions. It is bad enough with college football and basketball, but now high schools are joining in. Oh, and what a shock, Lebron James sees his high school making huge dollars off of his free labor and decides to take a little bit for himself. What’s the response? Outrage. He’s supposed to be an amateur, a student-athlete. Right.

Virtually every political columnist and blogger in the world has now weighed in on NASA and the future of the shuttle program. Despite having friends and family whose jobs depend on the shuttle program, I am one of the many who sees little need for the shuttle or the space station. At the same time, I am a strong advocate of putting resources into space science, almost none of which requires manned space flight (at least at this juncture in our technological progress.) But here is the problem. Manned space flight is politically sexy. It garners media attention, it excites a hero-worshiping public, and it curries the favor of politicians. (To be sure, NASA squandered much of the cache of human space travel by making it seemingly routine; ironically the Columbia disaster will help revive the drama of space flight when [eventually] it begins anew.) This sexiness helps cement the political coalition that funds the shuttle and space station. In its wake it carries the important stuff, like Hubble and Genesis.

The feeding frenzy against NASA is on, and over the next several weeks calls for ending the shuttle and space station programs will attract wide support. This could easily lead to the end of NASA and manned space flight (at least for a long while). If that happens then advocates of pure space science will have a much harder time fighting budget wars.

As for the crash investigation, I have just one thing to say: Beware of the white van.