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Why Not Allow Billboards In Space?

October 10, 2006

Tags EntrepreneurshipInterventionism

Last Friday, I presented a paper (co-authored with Walter Block) at the 49th Colloquium on the Law of Outer Space at the International Astronautical Conference in Valencia, Spain.

Advertising Age, the industry bellwether, interviewed me regarding that paper, and an article related to the paper and the interview has now appeared in the latest issue.

Our topic: space billboards.

The technology for space billboards exists: under a proposal an entrepreneur invented several years ago, mile-wide mylar billboards would circle the globe in low orbit, so that people could see them from the ground with the naked eye. As you might imagine, environmentalists vehemently opposed this, led by such groups as the gloomily monikered International Dark Sky Association.

But what's so wrong with space billboards? Why is the default "natural" view of the sky so preferable to a sky with some billboards in it? If the moon naturally, coincidentally had a Pizza Hut logo on it instead of a "man in the moon" face, environmentalists would clamor to preserve it. Why are designs that are an accident of nature so preferable to advertisements which are, after all, designed specifically to please humans so they'll buy things? Of course, if so many people hate the idea of space billboards so much, for whatever subjective reasons they may have, then the billboards might be a bad idea and might never come about. After all, the entrepreneur's plan a few years ago failed when no companies were willing to pay what it would have cost to advertise on them ($15 to $30 million). Since then, Congress has stepped in and both banned the billboards and requested the president to negotiate treaties to stop other countries from allowing them. We say, lift the ban and let the market decide.

Our paper considers all this and more. We can't put it online until it is published in a book as part of the Colloquium's proceedings. In the meantime, what do you think?

UPDATE: Here's a link to the paper: In Defense of Advertising in Space.

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