What if Paul Krugman’s aliens had already landed?
Think of all the jobs that could be created by building anti-ballistic missiles, missile defence shields, launching pads, satellites, war planes – the possibilities are endless. And then there are the knock-on effects. All kinds of metals would have to be mined, all kinds of software to be programmed, soldiers to be trained… A space alien attack must be the ultimate Keynesian dream, so much better than mundane stuff like broken windows.
But let’s think about, for a moment, what a policy mix to fend off an alien attack could look like in practice. Presumably, we would have something like an Anti-Alien Investment Bank, channelling credit to politically favoured projects in this field. We would have EU targets, topped up by gold-plated British targets, establishing the desired composition of the anti-alien defence portfolio. These targets would be met by a complex array of direct and indirect subsidies and regulations. Government departments would hand out lavish sums to advocacy groups dedicated to ‘raising awareness’ about the dire consequences of an alien attack.
Soon enough, the anti-alien defence industry would represent a sizeable proportion of the economy. Since it would be entirely government-dependent, it would have to be surrounded by a secondary industry, the sole purpose of which would be to justify the existence of the primary industry.
Would it be a problem for this industry if, after many years had passed and many billions had been spent, there were still no aliens in sight? Not necessarily, because by then, the rhetoric of the policy’s supporters would have subtly shifted. They would tune down the talk of imminent threat, and instead talk about how many people are employed in the industry and how many more could be. They would talk about the industry’s annual turnover and its contribution to exports and investment. They would appeal to sentiments of national prestige, pointing out how other countries were following our lead, but also how some countries had already achieved much more. Critics would be lambasted as dangerous ideologues who threatened the success of our new anti-alien economy. At that point, the policy would probably be irreversible.
Absurd, isn’t it? The idea of having entire industries built on nothing else but the defence against an imaginary threat.