Entrepreneurs in Space
There's a lot of insanity in Forbes's new cover story on President Obama's relationship to business, but most of it falls far beyond the scope of this blog. In fact, most of the cover story, which posits that Obama is somehow the ghost of his father's anti-colonialist agenda—no joke, that's the argument—has nothing to do with business at all.
However, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me, the writer, Dinesh D'Souza, tries to use the Obama administration's NASA policy as an an example of hostility to private enterprise: "Finally, NASA," D'Souza writes, referencing comments made by the agency's administrator about improving relations with the Muslim world. "No explanation other than anticolonialism makes sense of Obama's curious mandate to convert a space agency into a Muslim and international outreach."
This is bogus and misleading. In fact, whatever you think of the President's approach to business in general (or his desire to reach out to the Muslim world), his approach to NASA has been an example of a total embrace of private enterprise and entrepreneurship. Earlier this year, Obama unveiled a budget plan that called for private companies—rather than a giant government bureaucracy—to take responsibility for ferrying cargo, and eventually astronauts, to the International Space Station.
In the aerospace world, this was huge news. The President basically said that the U.S. government would treat sending astronauts to space the same way it treats sending government employees to Europe—it would fly them commercially. The announcement was lauded by entrepreneurs, who argued that it would spur innovation, create a vibrant private space industry, and present a cheaper alternative to buying seats on Russian space ships (the previous plan).
Here's how the entrepreneur Peter Diamandis described the plan in the Wall Street Journal:
But in a new plan unveiled in President Barack Obama's 2011 budget earlier this month, a new player has taken center stage: American capitalism and entrepreneurship. The plan lays the foundation for the future Google, Cisco and Apple of space to be born, drive job creation and open the cosmos for the rest of us.
During normal times, you'd expect the likes of Forbes—and any lover of the free market and skeptic of big government—to embrace this plan. But I guess these aren't normal times. Instead of honestly describing what's happening at NASA, D'Souza misrepresents it and uses it for his own bizarre argument. (D'Souza is guilty of some serious cherry picking when he says that the Obama space plan has been criticized by Neil Armstrong. That's true, but it has also been embraced by none other than Armstrong's moon-mate Buzz Aldrin.)
More on this soon! I have a new profile on the rocket entrepreneur Elon Musk in the October issue of Inc. Look for it next month.