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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/7138/technology-and-life-itself/

Technology and Life Itself

September 13, 2007 by

There is something about the commercial viability of technology that rivets our consumer-minded brains. This is not a bad impulse! The fewer the bumps and snags in life, the more productive we can be, and the more productive we are, the more wealth and time we have to cultivate higher pursuits. Even if we don’t pursue the higher things, our well-being goes up with new and better technologies, and society is better off.

We know this with one part of our brains. But there’s another part that doesn’t consider the broader implications. In truth, those familiar with market logic are accustomed to thinking of big gains in technology as the business of government or government-funded institutions such as universities or major research labs. FULL ARTICLE

{ 3 comments }

Nelson September 14, 2007 at 2:22 pm

There is quite a bit of risk involved in scientific research. How would one get funding for “basic” research (that is, research that wouldn’t be directly applicable to commercial interests for some length of time), without government intervention? High energy particle accelerators cost quite a bit of resources last time I checked. Would “the” Internet have been invented at all without DARPA? How much advancement in computing was due to the early wartime and census contracts from the US government? Would that initial advancement have come from a purely private sector? If so, how long would it have been delayed?

You state that scientists are not risk adverse. However, they still need to eat. Who pays their bills when they may or may not find something?

Anthony September 14, 2007 at 6:22 pm

Nelson, I believe Tibor Machan has a book out addressing these and other questions. Here it is:

http://www.amazon.com/Liberty-Research-Development-Institution-Publication/dp/0817929428

As it is, the private sector (be it firms, patrons or other voluntary associations) invests heavily in research. It is difficult to answer what alternatives would develop in the absence of the government (just like it would be to determine what software would develop in Microsoft’s absence.) On the question of the internet, private defence agencies will have to insure that they are efficient at protecting their clients, hence will devote funds toward such an end. Thus it is very likely that developments such as the internet could arise.

Hopefully others will have more complete answers to your questions.

Henry Miller September 14, 2007 at 10:18 pm

Nelson:

If all the money money spent on space research had gone into genetics instead, we could have dragons by now. I mean real 15 foot, flying, fire breathing dragons. This is a lot more real than some moon landing. Nobody has been on the moon in my lifetime, and I’m in my 30s! Dragons I could go to the circus and see flying, this seems more useful than a moon landing before I was born.

The point is you are missing opportunity costs. By putting money into particle accelerators we are not putting money into something else. It is easy to see the loss if history had not done something, but it is hard to say what they gain is from not doing it.

P.S. I’m not sure who said dragons first, but it wasn’t me. I think I read it here, but it might have been a different blog.

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