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Curiosity Built the Cat

August 14, 2012

WTFNASA is a site that auto-generates responses to this simple question.

What the fuck has NASA done to make your life awesome?

There are some pretty great responses here, and they all illustrate a point that people are going to continue to fundamentally misunderstand all year long: that the best public goods with positive externalities that accrue to the benefit of all often result from spending money by governments on projects that do not always have a solely functional purpose. NASA (like DARPA, which laid the groundwork for the invention of the Internet) is guided by principles of scientific exploration and discovery.

Though there are plenty of alternative engines for growth and innovation available in the market (see, e.g., Virgin Galactic), there is something magical about the incentives created by simply offering the cutting edge to prospective nerd-employees. The promise of being the first to do something cool may be a more powerful motive in these instances than profitability. And that allure may certainly serve as a decent substitute to the private sector’s cost-benefit analysis, at least when it comes to markets where inherent externalities preclude socially optimal results.

Because the result of spending on science is a benefit that all of society shares, one would think that the use of tax dollars is a way to circumvent the collective action problem, not another example of it. Let’s just hope Obama figures out a pithier way to say all of that than:

Let me know if you find Martians.

What the fuck has NASA done to make your life awesome?

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