Thursday, July 2, 2015

Is Planetary Defense Against an Asteroid a Public Good?

MRUniversity, run by Dr. Tyeler Cowen and Dr. Alex Tabarrok, recently put out the below video arguing that planetary asteroid protection is a public good.

I asked Professor Walter Block (who has with Peter Nelson just completed a book on privatizing oceans and they are now working on a book about privatizing space) to comment on the video.

Dr. Block replied:
Dear Bob:

The doctrine of "market failure" is the stick with which the opponents of free enterprise use to beat up on supporters of economic freedom. "Market failure" as its name implies, practically invites government intervention. It is sad to see that Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen, who supposedly support laissez faire capitalism buying in to this pernicious doctrine. Even worse, they totally ignore a large literature, emanating from Austrian economists, who debunk this fallacy. On this see right here:

Barnett and Block, 2007, 2009; Block, 1983, 2000, 2003; Cowen, 1988; De Jasay, 1989; Holcombe, 1997; Hoppe, 1989; Hummel, 1990; Osterfeld, 1989; Pasour, 1981; Rothbard, 1985, 1997; Schmidtz, 1991; Sechrest, 2003, 2004A, 2004B, 2007; Tinsley, 1999.

Barnett, William II and Walter E. Block. 2007. “Coase and Van Zandt on Lighthouses,” Public Finance Review, Vol. 35, No. 6, November, pp. 710-733

Barnett, William and Walter E. Block. 2009. “Coase and Bertrand on Lighthouses,” Public Choice; 140(1–2):1–13,

Block, Walter. 1983. "Public Goods and Externalities: The Case of Roads," The Journal of Libertarian Studies: An Interdisciplinary Review, Vol. VII, No. 1, Spring, pp. 1-34;

Block, Walter. 2000. “Word Watch,” April 20

Block, Walter. 2003. “National Defense and the Theory of Externalities, Public Goods and Clubs.” The Myth of National Defense: Essays on the Theory and History of Security Production, Hoppe, Hans-Hermann, ed., Auburn: Mises Institute, pp. 301-334;

Block, Walter. 1983. "Public Goods and Externalities: The Case of Roads," The Journal of Libertarian Studies: An Interdisciplinary Review, Vol. VII, No. 1, Spring, pp. 1-34;

Cowen, Tyler, ed. 1988. The Theory of Market Failure: A Critical Examination, Fairfax, VA: George Mason University Press;

De Jasay, Anthony. 1989.  Social Contract, Free Ride: A Study of the Public Goods Problem. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press;

Holcombe, Randall. 1997. "A Theory of the Theory of Public Goods," Review of Austrian Economics, Vol. 10, No. 1: 1-10;

Hoppe, Hans-Hermann. 1989. "Fallacies of the Public Goods Theory and the Production of Security," The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. IX, No. 1, Winter, pp. 27-46;

Hummel, Jeffrey. 1990. "National Goods vs. Public Goods: Defense, Disarmament and Free Riders," The Review of Austrian Economics, Vol. IV, pp. 88-122;

Osterfeld, David. 1989. "Anarchism and the Public Goods Issue: Law, Courts and the Police," The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 9, No. 1, Winter, pp. 47-68;

Pasour, Jr., E.C., 1981, "The Free Rider as a Basis for Government Intervention," The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. V, No. 4, Fall, pp. 453-464;

Rothbard, Murray N. 1997. The Logic of Action: Applications and Criticism from the Austrian School, Vol. II, Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar

Rothbard’s (1997, 178) reductio absurdum of public goods is as follows: “A and B often benefit, it is held, if they can force C into doing something. . . . [A]ny argument proclaiming the right and goodness of, say, three neighbors, who yearn to form a string quartet, forcing a fourth neighbor at bayonet point to learn and play the viola, is hardly deserving of sober comment.” 

Schmidtz, David. 1991. The Limits of Government: An Essay on the Public Goods Argument, Boulder Co: Westview Press

Sechrest, Larry.  2003. “Privateering and National Defense: Naval Warfare for Private Profit”, pages 239-74, The Myth of National Defense: Essays on the Theory and History of Security Production, edited by Hans-Hermann Hoppe, published by the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, Alabama, 2003.

Sechrest, Larry.  2004A. “Public Goods and Private Solutions in Maritime History.” The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. Vol. 7, No. 2. Summer, 3-27.;

Sechrest, Larry.  2004. “Private Provision of Public Goods: Theoretical Issues and Some Examples from Maritime History,” ICFAI Journal of Public Finance, August, Vol. II, No. 3, 45- 73;

Sechrest, Larry. 2007. “Privately Funded and Built U.S. Warships in the Quasi-War of 1797-1801”, The Independent Review, Summer, Vol. 12, No. 1: 101-113.

Tinsley, Patrick. 1998-1999. "With Liberty and Justice for All: A Case for Private Police," Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1, Winter, pp. 95-100;

Best regards,


Walter E. Block, Ph.D.
Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics
Joseph A. Butt, S.J. College of Business
Loyola University New Orleans


  1. Except government never gets around to these so-called public goods like asteroid defenses or protection from solar flares unless they happen to coincide with a personal good for those running the government or those close to them. Instead they build bunkers for themselves to survive disasters. Not only the physical kind but the policy and financial kind as well.

  2. Typical statists. Combine misguided theories to come up with one exponentially misguided theory.

    Probably not:
    The probability that the dinosaurs extinction was caused by asteroid impacts.
    Probability of dying from an asteroid impact is about the same as dying in an airplane crash.

    It is unlikely that an asteroid will directly impact Earth. This is based on the Electric Universe (EU) theory that asteroids and other near earth objects (NEO’s), planets and stars are electrically charged objects. The charge differential of these objects manifests in electrical discharge between objects becoming more intense the greater the mass and as distance between objects reduces.

    If I understand the theory correctly larger objects that come close enough to each other will discharge similar to huge lightning bolts from the more positively charged object to the object with less charge. If the EU theory is correct the majority of the impacts are from “thunder bolts” rather than the actual rocky bodies hitting each other. This is what EU theory says happened primarily between Mars and Venus that produced most of the asteroids and comets in the solar system; huge electrical discharges excavating Mars.

    With smaller NEO’s, historical events such as the February 15th 2013 meteor event in Russia and the Tunguska event in 1908 show no or little evidence of impact. EU theory is that NEO’s entered Earths electrically charged atmosphere causing the NEO’s to violently disintegrate or explode in Earth’s atmosphere. The explosions caused the destruction not impact.

    1. Put some teensy electromagnets on a table top. Energize. Reverse polarity on one. Remove energy source.
      1. They smack together
      2. Then they repel.
      3. Then they just sit there. You think GRAVITY will pull them together???
      When I was a kid, plate tectonics was a way-out crazy theory.
      Hah. I got yer "dark energy"

    2. Alex - you may want to learn some actual physics. The "EU theory" is a bunch of easily debunked nonsense (Google is your friend).

      Spreading this nonsense at libertarian sites helps the statists to tar all of us as kooks.

    3. History has vindicated a number of those that were once considered kooks.

      Have the gravity theories regarding planetary impacts been "proven"?

  3. It's just a circular argument.

    What happens when one resists taxation and imprisonment?

    "To save your life, we must kill you."

  4. You guys just don't understand. Tyler Cowen is a thoughtful, mainstream libertarian. As you can all see.