The visible hand in economics

Expensive tomfoolery

Posted on: January 18, 2008

I’m always told about how bean-counters everywhere like to cut costs, but every now and then something slips through the net. Apparently Japanese researchers are developing a paper airplane to fly from the International Space Station to Earth! As much fun as that sounds, I am baffled as to how they got funding.
They don’t plan to collect data on its flight or even track it, so there is no research project that will come about as a result of the flight. It isn’t going to pay for itself unless they sell advertising space on the plane, which seems pretty unlikely. Obviously, projects like going to the moon can be ends in themselves as a signal of a nation’s technological prowess, as was the case for the superpowers’ space programs during the cold war. However, I’m not sure that flying a paper plane signals technological superiority (please correct me if I’m wrong here). I’d like to think that whoever funded it did it for a laugh, but perhaps that’s a bit optimistic and I’m just missing something big here!?

(We’d normally have Matt’s ‘Week in Numbers’ here, but he’s letting out his inner bogan at BDO today so this is the triviality that fills the spot.)

2 Responses to "Expensive tomfoolery"

Perhaps they subscribe to a notion that investing in pure science yields significant spillovers to domestic industry? I’m fairly convinced by this, myself.

“Perhaps they subscribe to a notion that investing in pure science yields significant spillovers to domestic industry?”

We have to ask what the spillovers are though. We can’t just say “there will be spillovers”, we need to try and quantify them. In this case James is trying to figure out what external benefits there might be from flying a paper plane into space, however, with them not taking any data or even recording the flight, it seems difficult to figure out exactly what the spillovers are, let alone quantify them.

BTW the BDO was awesome, rage against the machine was lovely.

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