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The Saturn V could put 260,000 lbs into low earth orbit, more than twice the Falcon Heavy payload of 117,000 lbs. We are actually regressing in space technology.
admin Reply:August 20th, 2015 at 4:52 pm
You saw the relanding business though, right? The difference with SpaceX is economic realism — which is the basis for momentum.
Aeroguy Reply:August 20th, 2015 at 5:11 pm
It’s still a subsidy driven industry, very far away from self sustaining. We’re distinguishing between in house public and private contractors for publicly paid and selected projects. Orbital which is sustained through commercial payload launches is really the closest to a true private space outfit. Manned travel which is less profitable than moving commercial goods, historically has always been subsidized.
admin Reply:August 20th, 2015 at 5:20 pm
Planetary capitalism has been so completely deformed by fascist social structures it’s probably unrealistic to expect anything that doesn’t stink to high heaven. Musk is doing something amazing, and has gone financially all-in to do it. Principles of free-market integrity, that last made practical sense in the 19th century, are sadly inapplicable.
Aeroguy Reply:August 20th, 2015 at 7:57 pm
My problem with Musk is that he acts as if he’s an aerospace engineer. He’s a software engineer, that’s where he’s a proven success. Success in one place doesn’t guarantee success everywhere. His devotion is admirable and it’s unfortunate that the aerospace engineering bred captains of industry are all dead. Musk is a foreigner seeking to buy citizenship into a culture he wasn’t born of and most importantly is unassimilated in. If he were to assimilate I wouldn’t have a problem, I’m happy he’s interested, but aerospace is a china shop and software guys are bulls. I fear he could do far more damage than what he can do to help. My stance is to take subsidy shamelessly and that much more subsidy is required. Actual profits outside porkelicious subsidy are at least many decades away for manned space. Pope Julius II commissioned the painting of the Sistine Chapel and gave Michelangelo discretion rather than having his hand deep. Musk is useful for his money, something that is desperately needed and which much more is required, but I’m wary of how deeply he pushes his dangerously unsafe foreign influences which can scare that money away for a painfully long time.
Aeroguy Reply:August 20th, 2015 at 8:19 pm
If our culture was one where dead Astronauts became martyrs who inspired people to redouble their efforts instead of our actual cowardly culture that runs in terror when they see that the risks include blood, then I’d worship Musk too.
michael Reply:August 21st, 2015 at 1:03 pm
You really dont know much about musk spend a couple hours rerading you will see hes an autodictat that has taught himself all the business he runs down to the best bolt design he is a rocket scientist his scientists all claim he knows every detail of every employees job they call him the nano manager. From what Ive read this guy has a rare mind that has allowed him to get an idea about going to mars or sustainable cars get some books then more books then start asking experts devise a plan and start working out the details. all while trying to keep it economically viable and using his own money. we havnt seen guys like this in a hundred years. these rockets are not even his goal his goal is martian settlement his plan is to build a payload then recreational rocket company to finance his goal, and hes done it in a few years while also building tesla solar city and now the hyper loop in austin as a prototype for cali then the world.
now ive bullt several houses a couple alternative power plants a couple of bridges a couple non profits and am working on an airplane And while having a billion dollars and a 160 ? IQ helps get this much work done if you have ever say spent a month figuring out if you can find a less expensive material to adsorb hydrogen safely into your scuba or welding tanks or then you would have an idea of the scale this guy is working on its mind boggling, they build every part this is hard manufacturing back in the us not buying old Russian engines and slapping on some Chinese parts to the design some 60s scientist left you.
The most chilling thing is when asked a couple years ago about some other ideas which turned out to be his fifth form of transportation the hyper loop he said he was tired but he realized he had the parts already to do it meaning teslas and space x plants next thing you know hes building a little one in austin as a demo because he thinks calis speed train idea is the stupidest peice of shit boondoggle ever.
he id feircly american
Aeroguy Reply:August 21st, 2015 at 7:28 pm
I’ve seen him spout bullshit about aeronautics without any of his handlers correcting him. Not to mention him decrying jetpacks when the New Zealand guy proved him wrong. In his car he went with a dangerous battery instead of a safe inert one because he favors performance over safety. I personally respect that kind of choice but given the environment we’re in not adhering to safety first scares away the public trough (to be fair it was a smart choice for getting ahead of the competition but after his blowup over the NYT article it reinforces my impression of him living in a bubble).
He’s got the superman attitude, the same one classic doctors and pilots have, that ignores human limits and expects everyone around them to do likewise, it’s perfect for Olympians. However as someone who actually keeps up with human factors in aviation it’s an attitude that’s recognizing in the industry as dangerous and the direct cause of accidents. It’s perfectly optimized for maximum performance, a goal set I wish was aligned with reality on the ground but it isn’t.
Most of the money that is needed to make human settlement of space reality is locked behind people who value safety most. When people die that money dries up in a hurry. If Musk could finance his goals entirely out of pocket I wouldn’t dare utter a word against him, but the total amount of money that will be needed to jumpstart the manned space industry is measured not in billions but in trillions. Also his fascination with colonizing a gravity well irks me as amateurish though the tech for that should be interchangeable with more pragmatic colonization strategies (I would expect leadership like Musk to move the public eye beyond costly inefficient gravity wells, not double down on them). What Musk is doing for technology and innovation is incredible, he is nothing short of greatness, but hubris is his weakness like many great men before him, he isn’t infallible and an open target for criticism.
From someone on Reddit making claims,
“I’ve been an engineer with SpaceX for over five years now. I’ve seen and helped the company grow from less than 500 people in to the powerhouse it is now. I highly doubt that there is a cooler company in the world than SpaceX. Everything that’s been said is certainly true. SpaceX really is awesome. What’s been said is just one part of what it’s like to work with Elon Musk so I’ll discuss the side that you won’t often hear.
If you want a family or hobbies or to see any other aspect of life other than the boundaries of your cubicle, SpaceX is not for you and Elon doesn’t seem to give a damn.
This side of what it’s like to work with Elon shows that no one likes working with Elon. You can always tell when someone’s left an Elon meeting: they’re defeated. These are some of the hardest working and brightest people in the world, mind you. And they are universally defeated. At least in engineering, who knows what HR and finance does.
The reason for this is that Elon’s version of reality is highly skewed. It’s much like Steve Jobs’s “reality distortion field” except Elon isn’t great at public speaking. If you believe that a task should take a year then Elon wants it done in a week. He won’t hesitate to throw out six months of work because it’s not pretty enough or it’s not “badass” enough. But in so doing he doesn’t change the schedule.
One of the most famous quotes that runs around the office is one from a company wide talk Elon gave a couple of years ago where he said “Not enough of you are working on Saturdays.” Of course reality kicks in and either junk product gets flown or something terrible happens. Ultimately the schedule slips–surprise surprise, fatigue is real.
It’s understandable. Putting people on Mars is not a small task especially given the overwhelming political obstacles that face SpaceX’s mission. Continuously being the underdog, fighting the ULA behemoth and the entrenched politicians that strangely want SpaceX to fail is only a small part of it. SpaceX certainly requires a hard mentality. But so often Elon’s leadership is best compared to a master who berates and smacks his dog for not being able to read his mind.
Nothing you ever do will be good enough so you have to find your own value, not depending on praise to get you through your obviously insufficient 80 hour work weeks.
In order to continue working with Elon, you have to learn to ignore almost everything he says and you have to be prepared to be jabbed over and over. “Just six more months and we’ll go IPO!” is among his most repeated lines though he stopped trying to sell that a couple years ago as people stopped believing it long ago.
It is a great company and I do love it. But is isn’t the pie in the sky, everything’s great idea that so many seem to think.”
That kind of culture isn’t anywhere close to a culture of safety, it is a culture that encourages fatigue induced mistakes and covering them up. That culture is perfect for software, a couple bugs are no big deal, get patched, and then release new software to fix the patches new bugs. Aerospace is a whole different animal, pushing your people, an organizations most important resource, beyond their limits, is corner cutting of the absolute worst kind. The reasons for crew rest in aviation are all written in blood, if you think engineering mistakes are any less costly think again. If he wants 80 hour work weeks fine, but he’ll need to maintain rest requirements if he wants unfatigued work. The fact that one tiny mistake can not only kill people, but more importantly close off the spigot of essential funding, is something I’m concerned with.
SpaceX’s cost saving technology development is wonderful and the stability control system for landing that rocket is impressive. SpaceX also doesn’t patent their tech but relies on trade secrets so turnover in his employees will enable other western companies to use their tech. The only other competition is ULA with Russian engines and which is even tighter with NASA than Goldman Sachs is with the FED. My salt about Musk is really just fallout from how I’m salty about there not being enough money to get Orbital into the manned space game. No matter how safe you play this, mistakes will be made, and being able to scapegoat a company instead of tarring the whole industry is our best shot of protecting the industry. Right now SpaceX IS the manned space industry and it scares me because Musk is the hare that sprints ahead when we also need an actual fallback for when the screw ups happen, right now the whole thing is held together by wax.
Peter A. Taylor Reply:August 22nd, 2015 at 11:42 am
The culture that you want Musk to assimilate into is one that is notoriously indifferent to cost, even when the ostensible purpose of a program (e.g. the Space Shuttle) is to reduce cost. The Shuttle was supposed to reduce cost by an order of magnitude. Instead, it increased cost by a factor of two.
I am reminded of a question that was put to Ross Perot in a debate: it was something like, “What relevant experience do you have?” His response was, “I don’t have ANY experience in running up a trillion dollar deficit!”
If you’re defending the culture that is responsible for the Space Shuttle, you’re on the wrong side.
Hattori Reply:August 20th, 2015 at 5:54 pm
The Saturn V also cost 500 million per launch.
Hattori Reply:August 20th, 2015 at 5:55 pm
… in the 60s.
Best way to go to mars might be sending various separate modules to space and assemble the craft in orbital rendezvous. (crew module, fuel module etc..) Something akin to this video:
admin Reply:August 20th, 2015 at 5:58 pm
My thought too, but I’m reluctant to second-guess EM on the practicalities at this point.
[…] Source: Outside In […]
Rockets are erotic.
I was inspired by that video of the re-landing rocket. Bought the new Musk bio and it’s very good so far.
Whether the guy is a bit of a feeder at the public trough (valid issue to consider) he is visionary and actually DOES stuff. Takes risks. Tackles problems more interesting than trying to maximize clicks on some dumb-ass app.
Erebus Reply:August 20th, 2015 at 11:36 pm
In this year of our Lord 2015, there are only two types of successful entrepreneurs: Those who feed at the public trough, and those who maximize clicks on dumb-ass apps. (The others are automatic criminals, or obsolete, or both.)
Lucian of Samosata Reply:August 21st, 2015 at 12:29 am
There are few things more alpha and patriarchal than funding your own bigass multimillion-dollar steel phallus thrusting into the atmosphere in open defiance of Mother Nature, her dyed hair and her problem glasses, with zero USG contribution.
Kgaard Reply:August 21st, 2015 at 3:29 am
I will say this: The book is AWESOME. This guy is a whirlwind of inspiration. What really comes through is the way they take the Silicon Valley culture of putting a bunch of 22-year-olds in a room and having them stay up all night and then just basically crush every problem put in their way: Banking, rockets, cars. That’s three biggies.
Musk is inspiring as an example of what is still possible.
I read somewhere that the rate of entrepreneurship has gone down because only Spergs can deal with all the HR and PC bullshit to actually have the clarity of mind to do anything.
Musk is a bit Sperg. He yells at people. But there is also a theory that NOT yelling at people when you want to radically reduces your physical and mental strength.
So maybe he has the right idea after all ….
#HRx? ; )
NogiRex Reply:August 21st, 2015 at 11:05 am
Praise be to Prophet Elon Musk
– [Initiating run-script of Outside In ghost protocol]
– X-wing Station message to Central Command: the headless horseman rests at sleepy hollow. Repeat: the headless horseman rests at sleepy hollow.
– Received message: Mission Chicken-Kill Monkey-Scare has been successfully implemented.
– Outgoing additive: further delay in the custom processing of alien payloads is expected to be minimal.
– Seemingly irrelevant spandrel: tell robonaut I missed him in the time-blip.
so the question is what do we want musk to build and how do we get him obsessed with it
The whole thing still makes no economic sense, nor does Tesla.
Eventually Musk will run out of other people’s money, and his admittedly cool toys will vanish with him.
What Musk is doing is fancy socialism, I get why the mainstream media likes him but I don’t understand why you should.
Hopefully when Tesla and SpaceX go bankrupt after the subsidies run out and battery tech innovations fail to realize (as always), people will stop believing in tech millenniarism and start to think about fixing things as blood and fesh human sons of Gnon.
Chris B Reply:August 21st, 2015 at 3:35 pm
“tech millenniarism” – I prefer techo-whigism. Things will automatically get better as we become more technologically advanced. Never any reflection as to how it can, and will, go wrong as it appeals to deep seated wishes. Burnham is quite forceful on this “politics as wish.”
admin Reply:August 21st, 2015 at 4:31 pm
It’s nothing to do with ‘wish’. It’s letting the techno-process define ‘better’. The only serious problem with Whigs of the Manchester-Liberal variety is that they lost.
michael Reply:August 21st, 2015 at 4:01 pm
I get your point but i think this kid is a bit better than you give him credit for its not totally useless tech his motivations might be a bit unicornish but he doing good science and industry and that refreshing.needing less oil is a good military goal. having cutting edge tech is too not paying foreign countries to launch out stuff is too.just demonstrating what can be done with a little white boy ingenuity is a good thing.hes in businesses that get govt largess theres very few big companies that dont these days but i bet he didnt think he didnt build that
admin Reply:August 21st, 2015 at 4:29 pm
Valuable thing about even vestigial capitalism is that it sets its own test. We’ll see. The Mars business — most exciting, of course — is clearly the most mind-bendingly challenging. Is he going to revolutionize the American energy and transport system by the early 2030s? I’m definitely not going to assume there’s a 100% chance that won’t happen. Rockefeller did it. Musk has a lot of the same characteristics, a comparable analysis, and an affinity with industrial revolution. Electrification is teleologically bound to the essence of capitalism — due to its superior power of abstraction — as we’ll see far more clearly if the Musk vision works out.
Spandrell Reply:August 21st, 2015 at 4:47 pm
Oh come on. Either he invents a superior battery or he doesn’t. Battery tech is the bottleneck and has been so for decades. Don’t see why on earth it’s he who’s gonna do it, when he’s never invented a single thing, and the brightest minds on earth, with way stronger incentives than him, have failed.
His mere suggestion that he can pull it off tells you clearly that he’s a bs artist. Which fits with other absurd ideas like hyperloop or Mars colonization or acknowledging the skynet cult.
After Silicon Valley is annexed into NeoCompton, some of us should write the history of how the best minds of the 21st century spent the decline on trying to outsignal each other on both progressiveness and lame tech cults.
admin Reply:August 21st, 2015 at 4:56 pm
See what you think. Static batteries look practical now. He clearly thinks so. If we’re already even close to the threshold, incremental advance from normal commercialization and produce cycles should deal with the rest.
Batteries aren’t great, but they can give a $75,000 fully-electric high-performance car a 270 mile range. He thinks he can bring out a $35,000 model in the next few years. If he can, game over.
Warg Franklin Reply:August 21st, 2015 at 7:15 pm
Superior batteries would sure be nice, but Tesla cars already work.
Kgaard Reply:August 22nd, 2015 at 2:30 pm
Spandrell I think you might be missing the point of what Musk is. The guy is a master of process. Have a look at that bio. What he does in every instance is find smart people and throw them at problems. For instance, when making rockets there would be these $100,000 computer avionics systems that the big companies used. Musk would go this 25-year-old underling and say, “Build one of these for $5,000.” And the kid does it for $3,900.
What comes apparent over and over is that the level of intelligence going into the car and rocket and electricity industries has just collapsed. It really does feel like a kind of Dysgenia setting in.
What he does is just step in with a clean slate and re-think the process from scratch, with no legacy costs or barriers, using frustrated smart 20-somethings.
It’s a good process. Whether Tesla gets into the black soon is sort of (though not entirely) beside the point. The idea for the charging stations is to use the solar panels from Solar City to power the re-charges. I don’t see why this has to be value-negative over time. A lot of green energy companies failed even WITH subsidies. Musk’s have succeeded.
I am so inspired by this book it may single-handedly pull me out of a multi-year funk and get me to do something useful …
admin Reply:August 22nd, 2015 at 2:32 pm
Cost control is a reliable sign that something real is going on.
vxxc2014 Reply:August 23rd, 2015 at 5:38 pm
The profits in America took decades if not indeed centuries.
Space and going up aren’t about Profit.
As for stopping to fix humanity that is truly a strange remark with the 20th century in the rear view mirror–almost.
We stopped going to the Moon after 1972 to “fix our problems at home”. Those problems got worse and we’ve lost a vast amount of knowledge about going to the moon….
Stopping or looking back to fix humanity or human nature is the ultimate white elephant, unprofitable and wasteful enterprise. Usually it just makes things worse.
I shall use this opportunity to remind people that technocommercialism, if it is to honor Gnon, must understand that the test is in money, not in tech. Tech defines no value ; the economics of tech define it’s value. Which explains all the history of human technology. It must make profit in order to happen. Plenty of cool tech in antiquity died because it didnt make money.
Well Musks toys don’t make money.
And let me also remind you that commercialism depends on the buying power of the population, and in its cultural propensity to buy this or that. Surely this links with the other sides of the trichotomy
SpaceX is profitable:
With lower launch costs, it will become even more profitable and new markets can open up.
SpaceX exists as a going concern because of a NASA contract. It doesn’t matter whether you call it subsidies or contracts. NASA spends other people’s money in the pursuit of non-commercial ventures.
That said, SpaceX is, now, winning commercial contracts. So the market has begun to signal that SpaceX has something going on. But Spandrell is absolutely right about what the test is.
By the way Spandrell, would you email me? I just would like to have your email address. nrx [dot] kwisatz [dot] haderach [at] gmail [dot] com.
spandrell Reply:August 22nd, 2015 at 1:42 am
Home batteries have been sold in Japan for almost a decade already; and marketed heavily as the ecological thing to do.
Of course the market failed because it makes no freaking sense. The batteries are damn expensive for no good reason besides signaling holiness. But Panasonic may have correctly sensed that Americans are more into spending to be holy, so they convinced Musk the Messiah into selling their old tech saying its new because hey I Am Elon Musk, behold my Technology.
Even if a $35kTesla could run 270 miles, it still makes no economic sense. $35k is a lot of money for a car which only runs 270 miles and needs more than 5 minutes to charge. Even hybrid cars are a net loss to the customer unless you drive them 3 hours a day for 10 years straight. The vast majority of the car market is pure gasoline and will continue to be so forever.
And SpaceX making money should worry you, Americans. That’s your tax money they are making. I’d make a profit with government contracts too! Who doesn’t?
Phil Reply:August 22nd, 2015 at 2:42 am
Of course there’s a distinction between subsidies and contracts. The government can buy and sell in the market just like anyone else. You don’t think there’s a difference between the government buying pencils in the market and subsidizing people to make pencils for the government?
NASA takes taxpayer money and provides, or at least is supposed to provide, public goods. That can certainly be considered a commercial activity.
spandrell Reply:August 22nd, 2015 at 5:14 am
All is good then. Let us all indulge in commercial activity by providing fancy goods for the government!
For example, we may provide the government with holiness by being black and take government money. Certainly public money spent on subsidizing black bodies is a public good too, and that subsidy is commercial activity. The highest form of commercial activity, mind you, as you are addressing inequality™, which is the highest call for humans.
You may have noticed that the government doesn’t actually subsidize people to make pencils. Now why would that be?
Peter A. Taylor Reply:August 22nd, 2015 at 11:08 am
You really need to separate two questions: (1) “Is NASA providing a legitimate public good?” and (2) “What’s the best way to pay for it?”
If information about how to reduce the cost of launching things into space is a legitimate public good, and is what NASA is actually trying to provide, then I think the distinction between a “contract” and a “subsidy” matters. I read the word, “contract”, as meaning “targeted at low-cost providers” in a way that “subsidy” is not.
Kwisatz Haderach Reply:August 22nd, 2015 at 6:02 pm
@Peter A. Taylor
I have read, and very much enjoyed, your essays on launch costs and the manned space mission to Mars. I want to get off this planet as much as anyone. The longing to go is at times a visceral sensation for me. I want to get off this rock heap! I also respect Musk as a business man. I believe he is not of a kind with the sclerotic fat cats of the military industrial complex that have their toothy blood funnels shoved into every government crevice that smells like money. I have made an analogy between playing poker and engaging in market enterprise: you make better decisions when your own skin is in the game. In NASA’s case, they happened to make a great call by hiring him even though their skin isn’t in the game. The upper level technocrats who make buying decisions at NASA are relatively good at procurement. I believe they’re conscientious people (unlike the greedy dullards who managed to rise to O-10 levels in the Pentagon).
But supporting public-private partnership in this way is an unprincipled exception to capitalism, which, if taken to its logical conclusion, is nothing but socialism. So I must demur. Musk is doing a good thing in a bad way.
To answer your specific questions.
1. Technology that lowers launch costs is a private good. Musk and his shareholders own the tech and capture the value from it.
The ISS is not a public good; it’s a white elephant. It, and its consequent maintenance demands, only exist because of the Other People’s Money problem: the IIS never passed the poker test. NASA claims to have saved a lot of money by partnering with Musk, and I believe them. But the demand that Musk is meeting is an artificial demand.
2. An equity-financed private company doing independent R&D for profit.
I don’t know; maybe Musk is innocent of all this. Maybe “resupply the ISS” was an existing demand that Musk built a company to supply, and he’s blameless as long as he doesn’t influence the political process to get more of that hot and tasty government cash. But it stinks.
Kwisatz Haderach Reply:August 22nd, 2015 at 8:39 am
From where I’m sitting, the distinction between contracts and subsidies is very fine.
The essential question is whether the money being spent on a good is the spender’s money or Other People’s Money. It does not matter how the deal is structured, nor do the words used to describe that deal matter at all.
In order to understand that, you have to understand why money is the test that matters to a tech-com. To be specific, money isn’t the test. Buyer approval is the test. But why is buyer approval the test? Because buyer approval is an honest signal that the good for sale has the highest utility of any available good that is available to the buyer. This is because human beings are extremely shrewd at making choices related to their own self-interest.
But only their self interest. This is just a fact of human nature. Try playing poker for scraps of paper. It’s really hard to stay in the game and make the best calls. You will instantly play better if you put money on the table – because then you have an interest at stake. The same thing goes if you’re playing with your friend Joe’s money, and he stands to take all of your winnings. You still want to win, but you won’t be playing your best game, I guarantee it.
We can use this special superpower of human beings – motivated self-interest, to check and see what is valuable in the world. For instance, no private person or group of private people is currently willing to spend X billion dollars for a useless space station hurdling through low earth orbit. Why not? Because they can get more value of that money by spending it elsewhere. Even a personal jet has more marginal utility than the IIS, for a fraction of the cost.
As for your pencil example: pencil manufacturers don’t exist because the government buys pencils. Their product is sold into a general market of self-interested buyers, proving that the products are valuable. To the extent that any pencil manufacturer in the world is only able to exist because of government contracts (e.g., imagine Premiere Putin’s Pencil Palace), then I would be saying the same thing about that pencil manufacturer that Spandrell and I are saying about SpaceX. If you want a bright line test, here it is: Take away all government spending on a company’s products. If that company would still be making money, then it’s a real company. Otherwise it’s just sucking at the lardy teat of Other People’s Money.
Again, why is that the test? Because every dollar of government spending is a dollar of value captured from somewhere else, and does not actually represent a dollar of produced value. (Governments don’t create wealth, they can only take it from the source). If every company was net-negative without government spending, that means that the sum of produced value in the world is negative, an impossibility. Being a leech doesn’t work as a life strategy if every other organism on earth is some sort of parasitic bloodsucker.
Be aware that Elon’s PR is cooked to appeal. He’s cool for sure, but don’t believe the hype.
(1) To the extent that we buy the concept of “legitimacy”, not really. NASA spending is waste. But it’s cool waste, and as far as government spending goes, it’s one of the most tolerable parts of it.
(2) By all means hire the coolest and cheapest contractor. But I don’t see why we should worship a cool and cheap contractor who is, in the end, just taking government money to produce nothing useful but government PR.
Peter A. Taylor Reply:August 22nd, 2015 at 11:00 pm
In order for me to argue that reducing launch cost is a public good worth spending large amounts of money on, I may have to have a planning horizon of 200 years. Given how unpredictable technology is over such a length of time, and how inefficient governments are at things that are cost-sensitive, I’m not inclined to argue with you very hard.
@ @kgaard imagine what he could achieve if he instituted p2p, governance algorithms, vanilla anarcho-capitalist organisation or a constitutions for his companies. He sounds frightfully old fashioned.
Kgaard Reply:August 22nd, 2015 at 7:16 pm
I am tempted to up the ante on this entire conversation and propose that Musk fits the definition of heroic under almost any criteria: Randian, Campbellian, Evolan or Heartistean (two hot wives, five sons, none of whom are allowed stuffed animals beyond the age of seven).
I say “tempted” to make this claim because Kwisatz does make a fair point about the white elephant-ness of the space station.
In defense of Musk:
1) His efforts on mapping (his first thing) and Paypal (second) were done without subsidies. He achieved these successes on pure grit, knowledge and willingness to take risks and figure stuff out along the way.
2) On Tesla subsidies: How much of this is just offsetting ludicrous tax rates that exist in California and elsewhere in the US? At some level the deal could be seen as akin to, “We WON’T tax you at 60% if you build your plant here.” Consider the airline industry: The A-rabs in the UAE compete with a tax rate of ZERO against the Europeans and Americans with a tax rate of 38-50%. Over time that zero tax rate allows for much greater amassing of capital (and thus stronger capex, better planes and lower fares).
3) There are probably 5,000 young dudes who have now experienced Muskian management style first hand. This, alone, is a phenomenal Good. What this guy is able to tolerate is conflict in the workplace. Yet still motivate people AND keep his own head on straight. It is pure manliness.
4) On the holiness question. I’ve been giving this some thought and I don’t think he’s as guilty as claimed. In many aspects of business, people do business with you because they like you. They give you money partly for your work and partly to encourage your efforts. Especially if you’re rich, they the f%$# WOULDN’T you operate that way? You do business with people you like. If some guy is making an electric car, hey, great, buy one. Help him out.
5) Musk’s argument for going into the electric car and solar industries was based on physics: He did the math on solar power and reasoned that eventually solar should replace fossil just based on math. Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s wrong. But it seems his decision was based on science. This is one reason he resisted the temptation to make the Tesla a flex-fuel vehicle. He thought “the future is electric so this is just distracting from our mission.”
Anyway … my $0.02.
Information (e.g. knowledge of how to build things cheap and safe) tends to be a mixture of private and public good. The way we got good at building airplanes is by killing a lot of people and having accident investigators (e.g. the National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB) study the wreckage and publicize their conclusions. We learn not just from our own mistakes, but from others’ mistakes as well. Some information can be kept secret. Some can’t. Some information can be patented. Some can’t.
Elon Musk thinks a good way to operate a reusable launch vehicle first stage is to launch vertically over water, and land vertically (VTOVL). Jeff Greason thinks horizontal (HTOHL) over land is better. Jim Akkerman (ADVENT) wanted to launch vertically from floating in water and land horizontally in water. If and when these vehicles fly, they will produce readily observable, non-patentable information about how difficult and accident-prone these approaches are. You can keep your injector design secret (for a while), but not your trajectory. You may be able to patent the design details, but not your general approach. When (not if) you kill someone, you can’t keep that secret. We know some people died at Scaled Composites because a nitrous oxide tank detonated, and we know that their hybrid motors are giving them a lot of problems. We know that the SpaceShipTwo feathering mechanism was insufficiently idiot-proof. We see the kind of problems Musk is having landing vertically on a barge. This kind of information is a public good.
Great thread. Space travel is definitely a long-risk-for-high-profit endeavor but even if Musk fails his vision is still on level with other top-most game-changing tech enterprises. Great failure is more exciting than mediocre success. It’s either we continue risk-taking in the direction of tech-singularity (and thus remain in hostile, zero-sum competition with Terran ‘gravity-sink’ economic values) or we take a page out of Dugin’s book and artificially react against the (‘satanic’) modernity with which we find ourselves intricately entangled…
Ah heck, we’ll make it (back) to Atlantis yet….
Dark Psy-Ops Reply:August 23rd, 2015 at 1:14 am
[Atlantis L 2.250 0.336 42.41 trillion (est. profit – 4.56 trillion) 7.541 MCA]
Fair point. And let me remind you that SpaceX and Musk are exciting because they are actually reducing the costs of shipping things into space. If the cost curve keeps sloping down, into the black it will go.
spandrell Reply:August 23rd, 2015 at 3:32 am
What black? SpaceX takes government money. Their income doesn’t depend on any free market; it depends on how much the government wants to pay him, for political reasons.
When private companies want to send stuff to space on their own dime, and find it profitable to do so, well let us all hail Musk for making this possible. But there’s no plausible roadmap for that; and all the evidence hints at Musk not really thinking that far, just wanting to make something cool and lobbying the government to pay him for it.
Hey, I’d too would rather the government wasted money on space rockets, sport cars, hyperloops and other cool tech rather than on black lives matter and gaymarriage promotion. But waste it all is, and Musk is on the record for lying his ass off about the feasibility of his tech. https://pedestrianobservations.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/loopy-ideas-are-fine-if-youre-an-entrepreneur
It all screams that the guy is full of shit; and his endorsing “AI risk” more than proves the point.
admin Reply:August 23rd, 2015 at 7:10 am
NASA contracts only account for about 25% of SpaceX revenues. Commercial satellite launching passes muster, even with your tough (and suddenly, weirdly, fastidiously free-market) criteria, doesn’t it?
All the DARPA Internet funding was no doubt dodgy as hell from a principled Whig PoV. Any reasonably cynical consequentialist would probably admit that turned out OK.
Lower the cost of space activity enough, and eventually someone is going to catalyze it into a self-sustaining economic process. There’s no reason to demand that Musk does the whole damn thing on his own.
spandrell Reply:August 23rd, 2015 at 9:19 am
Lower the cost of space activity enough, and eventually someone is going to catalyze it into a self-sustaining economic process.
“Lower the resistance of reactionary elements enough, and eventually someone is going to produce the New Soviet Man.”
“Enough” here standing for “negative billions”, I guess. Unless Musk better has very good plans about hunting pure platinum asteroids with illegal migrant labor.
admin Reply:August 23rd, 2015 at 1:07 pm
Either Musk hastens collapse, or great things happen. Where’s the possible down-side?
spandrell Reply:August 23rd, 2015 at 9:21 am
Let me add that if you find yourself in the same side on any issue with Kgaard you should seriously reconsider your assumptions.
Kgaard Reply:August 23rd, 2015 at 1:04 pm
You mean like the year I spent on here arguing that the US was NOT on the verge of a hyperinflationary explosion?
Kwisatz Haderach Reply:August 23rd, 2015 at 2:28 pm
“Any reasonably cynical consequentialist would probably admit that turned out OK.”
Can’t you imagine Matthew Yglesias saying that about the French Revolution?
Kwisatz Haderach Reply:August 23rd, 2015 at 7:07 pm
If you look at the manifest today, it certainly doesn’t look like 75% of the launches are commercial. I don’t know how much money they get paid for each one, so I don’t know how to translate that into revenue. [http://www.spacex.com/missions]. But, according to my count, SpaceX has successfully completed 11 paid launches for the government and 6 for commercial enterprises. (Two failed failed launches, carrying commercial payloads, were pay-on-delivery deals for which SpaceX wasn’t paid).
I have to admit that I was surprised to see the number was even that high – SpaceX has been busy in the commercial sector in the past year two years. But alright, I have to back off. Musk’s company has won market approval. I don’t think that can be disputed at this point. It was bootstrapped by G-cash, but is now market proven.
Musk is a nexus between Silicon Valley, and broadly the productive engineering types, and the leftist government. Obama takes the taxes from what the engineers produce, and gives it to Musk so he can make toys so fancy that the engineers praise Obama for doing so. Musk is a PR genius, and he gets subsidies precisely because the government finds it useful PR-wise to give him money. Again, the bureaucrats up there are not stupid.
So no hastening of collapse; on the contrary Tech-millenarialism is an important part of the Cathedral’s hold on the tech industry.
Again I’m not saying Musk is evil and his head should be stuck on a pike; as far as these things go he’s relatively harmless, and I gotta admit he’s got good taste. But I see no grounds for praising him as a great engineer or innovator, and the fact that he gets lionized as he does by the mainstream is just another sign of just how stupid and evil the media apparatus is. Have we forgot about Gell-Mann Amnesia?
One does wonder what a guy with his good taste and ambition could achieve if he had no recourse to public subsidies. Maybe he’d cut the crap and actually make something useful! But we can’t have that, can we.
admin Reply:August 23rd, 2015 at 2:04 pm
You do know the NYT has tried to obliterate him?
Tech-Commercialism Profit …etc…
Honestly have you done one thing in your envious and mean little life that we take your counsel on Musk?
Perhaps even something ‘profitable’? Or “useful”?
Stop debating him, it’s feeding masturbatory envy.
Musk like Trump or anyone else who wants to get something done in spite of the government has to play ball.
We wasted $30 Trillion on lowlifes in social spending we could have spent on making space and lunar colonies and we could have done it 40 years ago. We can dump 10X that as far as I’m concerned into building White Elephant Warp Drives in space. Who cares if they’re ever ‘profitable’ or how many times they stumble and fall.
“Profit” is at this time one of many accounting fictions in any case. As for useful go show us…demonstrate useful.
Kwisatz Haderach Reply:August 23rd, 2015 at 6:42 pm
Nothing in this blather bears on anything that Spandrell or I have said. But, sometimes tearing apart flimsy arguments is fun and instructive.
Honestly have you done one thing in your envious and mean little life that we take your counsel on Musk?
Yes. However, as an aside, the argument against Musk worship could have been made by an intelligent species of tree shrew and still be valid.
Stop debating him, it’s feeding masturbatory envy.
What is masturbatory envy? I don’t even know what that means. Is that the newest fetish category on YouPorn, or what?
Musk like Trump or anyone else who wants to get something done in spite of the government has to play ball.
I don’t know about Trump, but Musk can hardly be said to be getting things done in spite of the government. Both of his companies exist exclusively because of the government. (With the caveat that SpaceX is now, after a healthy injection of G-cash, starting to look attractive to non-gov enterprise). The best thing that can be said about him is that he’s got his own skin in the game.
We wasted $30 Trillion on lowlifes in social spending we could have spent on making space and lunar colonies and we could have done it 40 years ago.
Yes, “we” did that, if by “we”, you mean the statists against whom tech-comm stands as the most principled and effective critique.
We can dump 10X that as far as I’m concerned into building White Elephant Warp Drives in space. Who cares if they’re ever ‘profitable’ or how many times they stumble and fall.
Wait, seriously? Can you explain why it doesn’t matter how much money is spent on useless white elephant projects? Why shouldn’t “‘we” care about that? If you truly don’t care about the amount, would you please mail me a refund check for the portion of my taxes that went to building an impossible-in-theory warp drive? You can go ahead and draw it from your own accounts, since you don’t care about the costs of things.
“Profit” is at this time one of many accounting fictions in any case.
First you spill words to the effect that we shouldn’t care about whether his company is really profitable because we’re merely biting the ankles of Greatness. Then you come out with this confusing closing thought, to the effect that profitability is a fiction (which is basically our argument). To me, this sentence sounds like you’re complaining about the same things we’re complaining about. But in context, I can only reconcile the dissonance if I assume that you think creative accounting is a good thing.
I will say that a buddy of mine is a sell-side analyst and has a $12 price target on Tesla (currently $254). I have done the math too and would never buy the stock. It could still work out. Like Amazon, investors are willing to give some of these big-vision companies a lot of leeway as long as managements are still marching toward the end goal. The numbers don’t make sense near-term but if you buy the big-picture proposition they could work long-term. Or not. We’ll see …
[…] me to believe that some atheists have a richer spiritual life than me. Also this week a bit of a hardon for Elon Musk. There are far worse things to get excited […]
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