[ExI] META: Overposting (psychology of morals)

Kelly Anderson kellycoinguy at gmail.com
Mon Feb 28 05:29:42 UTC 2011

On Sun, Feb 27, 2011 at 10:50 AM, Damien Sullivan
<phoenix at ugcs.caltech.edu> wrote:
> On Sun, Feb 27, 2011 at 12:06:46PM +0000, Anders Sandberg wrote:
> I recently ran into an extreme case of this:
> http://volokh.com/2011/02/15/asteroid-defense-and-libertarianism/

The fact that some libertarians (myself included) would prefer not to
pay taxes to protect against rogue asteroids isn't because we dismiss
the importance of doing the job. Too often, when a libertarian
individual suggests that we shouldn't have a public fire department,
the other side immediately jumps to the incorrect conclusion that
libertarians don't wish to fight fires. It isn't that we are hard
hearted and wish for everyone who isn't careful to have their house
burn down. It's just that we see a different way of paying for things.

The total number of people currently employed in looking for asteroids
in the NASA Near Earth Object program is reportedly less than the
number of people working in a typical McDonalds. Since actuaries
indicate that we each have a 1:20,000 chance of being killed by such
an asteroid, that is a silly small number. Consider the number of
people trying to predict tornadoes, even though your chances of
getting killed in a tornado is 1:50,000. Or even sillier the huge
number of people involved in preventing airline crashes when your
chances of getting killed in a commercial airliner are astronomically
small. Funnier still is how little we spend on heart disease research
when a HUGE number of people die from that each year.

The problem is that being a government program, the NEO program is
subject to the "look what the silly congressmen are supporting now"
argument. Thus they can't fund the program to the degree that
actuarial statistics would indicate would be advisable. Same deal with
AIDS getting many times more funding per dead patient than cancer or
heart disease. It's all politicized. Those who have political power
get the funding regardless of the actuarial size of the problem.

If, in fact, we had a libertarian government, I would be surprised if
the NEO program wasn't bigger by 3-10x. Let me explain exactly why and

The prevention of airliner crashes gets considerable private funding
because of the liability faced by airlines. Yes, there is a
significant amount of money spent by the government too, but that's
because of the sensational headlines. John Stossel did a really nice
piece on this and how the media is complicit in the problem a few
years back.

If private insurance companies sold asteroid insurance, which they
should, then there would be a significant desire to avoid payout. That
would lead to the spending of money to avoid the disaster in the first
place. Of all potential mega disasters we could face, asteroid hits
are the most easily preventable... (compared to such things as super
volcanos, subduction earthquakes and tsunamis and the like, where we
are simply powerless at this point.)

Additionally, in a libertarian society, someone might set up a non
profit organization to search for and disable near earth objects. If
everyone in America donated 25 cents to such an organization, it would
be funded well over current funding levels.

So far from being oblivious to the danger or near earth objects,
libertarians point out that the prevention of a visitor from outer
space would be MORE likely under a libertarian system than it is now.

So, when we say things like, "the government shouldn't pay for X"
don't jump immediately to the conclusion that libertarians are against
X. That is a simplistic and fallacious argument. We should be better
than that. If you want to ask "how would libertarians pay for X?" that
is a much better way to challenge a true libertarian proposal.


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