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Making the Case for a Free Market in Space

This morning the House Subcommittee on Space is holding a hearing titled “Regulating Space: Innovation, Liberty, and International Obligations.” Thanks to the generous invitation of subcommittee chairman Rep. Brian Babin (R-TX) and his staff, my colleague Wayne Crews has submitted a letter on the hearing’s topic for inclusion in the Congressional Record.

Wayne is one of the leading (and most prominently quoted) voices in Washington on the need for regulatory reform generally, but he has also made a special effort over the years to caution policymakers about overbroad and premature regulation of frontier technologies. From drones to bioengineering to driverless cars to private spaceflight, emerging industries are only just finding their feet, and intrusive federal “guidance” could easily deform their development and misallocate capital and resources worse than a QWERTY keyboard.  

To orient properly ourselves to address the problem, we first need an attitude adjustment on how traditional, earth-bound industries are regulated:

One hears deserved praise of “permissionless innovation,” the case for a light regulatory touch and a rejection of over-precaution. But there exists too little vocabulary among 21st century policymakers for legitimizing large-scale or complex free enterprise, for articulating the reasons for casting off entrenched administrators. This vacuum and the negative initial conditions being created has diminished the prospects for light touch regulation, threatening to paint us into a hyper-regulatory corner even as the “Final Frontier” awaits. That will cost tomorrow’s economy trillions.

In order to counter that, Congress should draft a HOT take on developing technologies:

Given this precedent and context [of failing to extend property rights and private risk management in other areas], for commercialized space (and alas, for other sectors) we need a regulatory heatshield, a HOT Act (“Hands Off Technology”). We require better and soundly defended private and collaborative institutions to replace 19th and 20th century central bureaucratic oversight of private endeavors that, in fact, should largely be let alone. Congress should eliminate agencies as it once promised in the Contract With America era, or at least pass Article I-enshrining legislation, such as requirements for votes on costly agency rules. If the 115th Congress does neither, it should at minimum prohibit agencies from issuing new rules and guidance regarding frontier technologies where (1) Congress has not enacted law to authorize (such as Internet “net neutrality”) or (2) has enacted law prematurely given the vocabulary problems noted and inadvertently yielded power to the administrative state (autonomous drones, space).

Read Wayne’s full submitted comments here.