Space exploration is a waste of money

Instead of space research - end hunger and poverty! Or something like that…

SciLogs> Fish blog> Politics> Instead of space research - end hunger and poverty! Or something like that…

Some people have a rather simple idea of ​​how the world works out there. This was also shown again on the occasion of the landing of Philae on the interplanetary bouncy castle Churyumov-Gerasimenko: In the comment columns of the larger news portals and especially in forums, one can read the popular demand again this time that with all that money you should rather do that Solve problems here on earth. [1]

Now this is not a new argument, and why manned and other space travel is also useful and important for mankind has been explained by various people. I also don't understand why these two areas are being played off against each other. Above all, however, one should question the unspoken basic assumption: namely that the roughly billions of euros invested in Rosetta and Philae would make any difference in the fight against hunger and poverty.
That doesn't seem so clear to me, if only because it has been shown that throwing money at a time is rarely the solution to complex problems. On the contrary, African scholars and intellectuals in particular have been criticizing the relevant aid programs for decades - in this interview, for example, a Kenyan economist explains that aid money promotes corruption and mismanagement, and there are also some indications that the economy and economic policy in the recipient countries are being disrupted.

Does development aid work?

This cannot be avoided with larger flows of money and would also be acceptable if the success justified the disadvantages. But that is at least controversial - even though research on the effectiveness of development projects has experienced an enormous upswing in the last ten years (the cynic in me suspects that the results were so disastrous in the previous decades).

According to this meta-analysis, around a third of the studies come to the conclusion that the aid is actually boosting economic growth in some countries. In another paper, the successes depend on the local conditions, but the data is rather thin there. Above a certain amount, on the other hand, aid seems to generally cause damage. And so on. All in all, it is fair to say that help sometimes helps, but you don't really know when and how much. [2]

Despite all these uncertainties, the world situation has definitely improved in the last few decades - one only needs to listen to the lectures by Hans Rosling, who tirelessly points out the successes. And even with the Millennium Development Goals, the picture is mixed, but by no means bleak. But - is that because of the aid money or more general influences? It is not so easy to dismiss the thesis that structural factors such as trade networks, the reduction of subsidies in industrialized countries or the end of the proxy conflicts of the Cold War are ultimately more important than the aid itself.

More questions than answers

In any case, it is not that easy to clarify. The professional world is still looking for useful indicators of success, as well as for methods to separate actual effects from general trends or business cycles. There are many correlations - it is difficult to determine effects. And with that we haven't even discussed such subtleties as the use of aid funds to maintain the political landscape, or that some of the funds are flowing back into the donor countries. The subject is complex, but the picture doesn't get prettier if you look closely.

Last but not least, one can simply make clear to oneself the dimensions in which the global problems and the attempts to solve them take place. Since 2004, Rosetta and Philae have cost 1.4 billion euros - 140 million euros per year. In comparison, the World Food Program alone distributed aid worth 32 billion US dollars over the same period. The EU countries have also agreed to spend 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product annually on global development - if I didn't get mixed up with the figures, that would be around 83 billion euros a year.

The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development alone has a budget of around six and a half billion euros in 2014. That is one and a half times the total ESA budget of 2013. Crushing a mission like Rosetta and spending the money on development would only change the first decimal place in an item of expenditure whose usefulness is quite controversial in a considerable number of cases. The equation more money = less poverty just doesn't work that way, [3] and certainly not when it comes at the expense of science and education. [4]

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[1] However, I got the impression that it wasn't that bad this time - possibly because the mission and its results are so evidently impressive and relevant.

[2] Without having data on it now, I would expect medical programs against infectious diseases and parasites to be very beneficial. Simply because the economic and social damage caused by such diseases is so immense.

[3] Correctly one has to say: In the current system. It actually makes sense to fight poverty by simply giving money to the poor - and when someone tried that, it probably worked quite well. But I suspect this method clashes too much with ideas about how societies should function.

[4] At this point, I actually wanted to propose that all economic aid should be deleted, that the EU's agricultural subsidies should be abolished, that the funds released by the ESA should be given and that we should still help poor countries more than now. Unfortunately, the numbers don't quite show that - the damage caused by the agricultural subsidies is less than the aid money, and the issue of subsidies is a bit more complex overall.

  • Published in: Politics
  • Keywords: development, development aid, developing countries, komet, philae, politics, space travel, rosetta, economy, economic aid