Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Worlds in Collision:
Asteroid Armageddon?

Nearly a year ago, there was a minor to-do about Asteroid 2004 MN4 and the odds that it is on a course to hit the earth [or be deflected from hitting the earth]. Revised estimates now suggest the probability that the asteroid (now named "99942 Apophis") will hit the earth in 2029 is near zero. But it might swing around, reload, and refire in 2036 (figuratively speaking).
In 30 years, there is a 1-in-5,500 chance that a smallish asteroid will land a bull's eye on our planet. At 360 yards wide, it could take out New York City and much of the surrounding area.
I have had a lot of weird thoughts about this.
  • What a way to go! Being hit by an asteroid!
  • What an exciting time to be alive that would be! The preparations, the hand-wringings, the challenges!
  • But that's 31 years from now.... what are the odds I'll live that long? [not very high, even though Jack says he'll do everything he can to keep me alive until then].

This last point raises some interesting questions about inter-generational transfers. If I figure I will be dead before then, why should I worry? And mostly, why should I want to spend money on research about the expected path of the asteroid? Why should I want to spend money on research about asteroid deflection/destruction programmes? Especially when such programmes are being promoted by people with clear vested interests in the programmes.

The answer quite clearly is that I care about my children, my grandchildren, and others; I have an interdependent utility function. The utility of these people enters into my utility function in such a way that I am willing to trade-off some of my utility over the next ten or so years in exchange for improving their chances of avoiding an asteroid collision.

Here are two related books of interest. I read Worlds in Collision by Velikovsky many decades ago and Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven back when it first came out.

. . . . . .

There is probably an analogy to caring about what happens to the Social Security programme in the U.S. If you think it is doomed and disaster will ensue in 30 years, you might not care if you're an executive with AARP/CARP, but you are more likely to care if you worry about the lives of your children, grandchildren, and others.

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