Government waste and abuse was on full display this week when Politico discovered the existence of a secret Pentagon slush fund dedicated to investigating UFOs. As it turns out, the program was started at the behest of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and most of the $22 million it spent over the course of its three-year existence went to billionaire entrepreneur Robert Bigelow.
To his credit, when confronted by reporters, Reid proudly owned up to his role in creating this X-Files program. He even acknowledged that “Bigelow inspired his own interest in UFOs” — though Politico additionally notes that “Bigelow was also a regular contributor to Reid’s reelection campaigns.”
To say the least, Harry Reid’s exercise in channeling millions of taxpayer dollars to benefit his billionaire backer’s UFO program is a black eye on his legacy in the Senate. Why should the rest of America have to finance an eccentric billionaire’s pet project to “[study] videos of reported encounters between military aircraft and UFOs”?
But in reflecting on the absurdity of wasting federal tax dollars to try to make E.T. phone home, we should also not forget that at least one economist, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, has in the past suggested spending even more on alien-related activities.
In a 2011 interview with CNN, Krugman proposed his own Independence Day stimulus package:
Paul Krugman is so frustrated by the lack of support for another round of stimulus spending that he’s now calling for a fake alien invasion of the United States to spur a World War II-style defense buildup.
“If we discovered that, you know, space aliens were planning to attack and we needed a massive buildup to counter the space alien threat and really inflation and budget deficits took secondary place to that, this slump would be over in 18 months,” he said. “And then if we discovered, oops, we made a mistake, there aren’t any aliens, we’d be better—“
“We need Orson Welles, is what you’re saying,” Rogoff cut in.
“There was a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode like this in which scientists fake an alien threat in order to achieve world peace,” Krugman said. “Well, this time, we don’t need it, we need it in order to get some fiscal stimulus.”
Congratulations Paul Krugman! It appears Senator Reid took you up on your plan after all. You two are the true Guardians of the Galaxy!
Unfortunately for the rest of us, the federal government taking money out of Americans’ paychecks so it can watch grainy UFO videos will not improve our standard of living, nor will it turbocharge economic growth. And of course, the government hasn’t just wasted your money on looking at UFOs; they’ve also squandered it on researching Bigfoot, sea monsters, and other mythical creatures. And as for Krugman’s contention that spending enormous sums of money on defense buildup is pro-growth, on that too he is mistaken. As I have previously noted, “War Is Hell” for an economy.
So as you follow the coverage of the Pentagon’s secret alien slush fund, look past the blatant abuse of tax dollars and remember that, according to at least one Nobel Prize winner, programs like this are a grand way to achieve economic growth.