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Keep Your Laws Off My Asteroid!

April 20, 2004

Alex Tabarrok is concerned about an asteroid hitting the earth, and he thinks that government should take on the problem. Asteroid collision prevention is, he says, one of the few "public goods" the he supports. But do we want government involved in this business at all? Justin Raimondo wrote a good piece on this, arguing that we do not, a few years back in The Free Market.

As the Raimondo article suggests, why would we trust government with the all important task of protecting the earth from complete decimation when it can't even perform the most simple tasks, like effectively protecting us from ordinary street criminals, or terrorists? Indeed, we should want government to not undertake this activity at all, even if it is already engaged in space observation and exploration, and has all of the nuclear weapons that could be useful in averting an asteroid catastrophe.

For government to meddle in this matter would forestall potentially effective private solutions, as government grants would direct research toward the type of collision prevention techniques that the government, in its wisdom, thinks are best. Scientists would stop focusing on how to best prevent asteroid collisions, and start focusing on how to carry out the government's specific ideas about collision prevention.

When the asteroid came, if the government solution wasn't ready or didn't work (if you can imagine such a thing from the folks at NASA), humanity would be out of luck. It may be hard to think about how private resources would come together to prevent an asteroid collision, but given humans' shared desire to avoid obliteration by an asteroid, is it so hard to imagine that they would, one way or another, especially once concerned scientists begin making the public (and private foundations) aware of the problem? Isn't it much more difficult to imagine government undertaking the project without making a bad situation worse, as usual? I know who I'd sooner trust.

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