This morning, the New Horizons probe had its closest approach to Pluto. It’s pretty cool that human ingenuity has gotten to the point where it’s possible to launch a rocket, and then 10 years later get it within a couple thousand miles of a (dwarf) planet orbiting ~6 billion kilometers away from us. But keeping with this blog’s theme, this doesn’t seem very libertarian! Isn’t this a big waste of money and resources for the government to be sending probes to Pluto? Well, yes, obviously.
It’s arguable that we can receive some positive externalities from government backed science research (Wonkblog, random Stanford undergrad’s honors thesis), and NASA is a pretty good representation of that. New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program dedicated to exploring the Solar System (excluding Mars which is a separate program). But while there is merit to the argument that we should let the state fund science that has no practical application, I can’t shake the feeling that NASA could be spending those resources on some other areas clearly within their domain. Examples include developing a plan to thwart a catastrophic asteroid impact, permanent human colonies on Mars, making asteroid mining viable, etc. NASA says they are planning to send humans to Mars in 20ish years, but all I’m saying is that we just spent $650 million to shoot a rocket at Pluto where no human is planning to go, hopefully ever.
But hey, I’m not qualified to run the New Frontiers Program and NASA budget priorities are very complicated, so I assume they know what they are doing. Apparently they agreed 20 years ago that a Kuiper Belt exploration mission was the best thing to do, and here we are. So while I may gripe that we spent the equivalent of ~11 SpaceX Falcon 9 launches to get pictures of Pluto, the fact is that if we told the TSA their new purpose was to get people through security in <10 minutes, then halved their budget, and put half the savings towards paying down debt and half towards NASA, we could still send 3 more rockets to Pluto without issue or, we could launch over 30 Falcon 9 rockets. NASA just isn’t the best example of the problem with big government. If you want that, just check out the Department of Defense which hasn’t been able to sustain an audit since 1995.
In other news, everyone who doesn’t know what a prediction market is should learn about them and then read about the huge potential for transforming information as we know it. I’ve learned about these markets from Professor Robin Hanson and you can find him at Overcoming Bias (also in the links list). Truthcoin is apparently an attempt to implement prediction markets through the block chain. Definitely has a lot of potential, but I’m not sure how it will work. But the benefits are so great, I’m sure we’ll figure out the details.
Hillary Clinton has indicated her opposition to the Uber/sharing economy business model, calling the practice of using independent contractors “wage theft”. And while her aides have tried to spin it as “not having beef with Uber”, her opposition to clearly beneficial market disruption and increased flexibility in labor markets is troubling. Of course, as a presidential candidate, we wouldn’t really expect Hillary Clinton to run on any knowledge of economics, but in the meantime, I’d like to increase the political cost of espousing bad economic ideas by complaining bitterly about candidates who do it.
Whether or not you’ve been following the US Attorney’s Office ridiculous and overzealous gag order on Reason magazine to investigate internet comments (yes, really), you need to read how easy it was for federal prosecutors to do this. We can only guess how many times this has repeated itself without there being a big news story.
This episode of EconTalk with Alvin Roth (and mentioning my microecon professor Attila) was an eye-opening look at the benefits of exchange even if money isn’t present.
Worth plugging that if you like some of these links and discussion, several came from SlateStarCodex and the Rational Liberty reddit. Definitely check them out. There’s also a new comments system here using Discus, since comments never really worked anyway.