Sex Is Necessary to Keep the Species Alive; Should We Therefore Subsidize Sex?

by Don Boudreaux on August 19, 2011

in Other People's Money, Seen and Unseen, Subsidies, Technology, The Profit Motive

Here’s a letter to Politico:

Helen Greiner and Jared Cohon rightly sing the praises of robotics, which have unmistakably improved manufacturing processes and, as a consequence, raised people’s standard of living (“Robots are a boon for the economy,” August 19).

But their tune turns discordant when they call for more government “investment” in robotics.  It’s both logically and historically fallacious to conclude that, because something is desirable, government should subsidize it.

The lone example Ms. Greiner and Mr. Cohon offer to make their case for robotics subsidies actually does the opposite.  That example is of Drew Greenblatt, CEO of Martin Steel Wire Co.  In 2002 Mr. Greenblatt invested in robotics for his production facilities.  As Ms. Greiner and Mr. Cohon explain, “What seemed like a risky decision has paid huge dividends.  Revenues increased six-fold….  Greenblatt is [now] exporting his wire baskets to China and 34 other countries.”

The profit motive clearly inspires firms that can profitably use robotics to use robotics – and, hence, inspires robotic researchers and builders to improve robotics in order to make robots ever-more attractive investments to the likes of Mr. Greenblatt.  And this market-driven process is unalloyed by the partisan gamesmanship and lack of on-the-ground expertise that invariably poison political decision-making.

Donald J. Boudreaux

(HT Scott Lincicome)

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SweetLiberty August 19, 2011 at 3:26 pm

“Sex Is Necessary to Keep the Species Alive; Should We Therefore Subsidize Sex?”

I think you could win election by running on this platform alone as the voters would all shout in unison, “Yes please!”

vidyohs August 19, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Naw, men intelligent men quickly learn that profit is number one. With profit a man can get sex, with a lot of profit man can get a lot of sex.

Wisdom as old as Lucy’s mate.

Mesa Econoguy August 19, 2011 at 11:07 pm


I wonder if Brad DeWrong would agree with that….

vidyohs August 20, 2011 at 9:13 am

Pshaw Mesa, you can’t fool an old country boy, you only threw that in there because its a cool piece.

I agree it is a cool piece.

Paul August 19, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Additional Info:

“This $40 million program, supported by the Army Research Office, the Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, strengthens the capability of universities to conduct research and educate scientists and engineers in areas that are important to national defense. The FY12 solicitation specifically encourages proposals for purchases of equipment that can support research in robotics, “given the continuing priority of that research area to a wide range of defense technologies and applications, including unmanned ground, air, sea and undersea vehicles and autonomous systems.”

morganovich August 19, 2011 at 3:32 pm

aren’t they currently doing this all over europe?

Methinks1776 August 19, 2011 at 6:16 pm

Europe is full of great ideas like that. And look how well it’s doing…oh wait…

Mesa Econoguy August 19, 2011 at 11:27 pm

Eurosocialism is just fine.

EG August 19, 2011 at 3:39 pm

To be fair, government does “stimulate” the development of such technologies in a rather “efficient” (maybe?) way: military technology. Robotics, and just about anything we can thing off developed in the last half of the century were produced as consequences of military investment. And perhaps thats because the military is the only place where the government is exposed to market pressures; ie there are other guys with militaries out there competing with you.

Lots of “intellectuals” unfortunately confuse this with “government investment” in technology, especially now that the government has a lot fewer “market pressures” (ie survival pressures) to develop technologies (now we see mostly a reverse process occurring, where the civilian sector greatly surpass the military in tech)

Frank33328 August 19, 2011 at 5:01 pm

I can’t help but wonder how much private development did NOT come into existence because resources were diverted stimulate the military. You “see” the spin-offs from military technology but you don’t see what was prevented from happening so it’s difficult to judge what would have been the better result. I won’t criticize the importance of a military for national defense and getting some spin-offs is better than none at all, but to see the military as a vehicle for innovation is a stretch.

EG August 19, 2011 at 5:51 pm

The “unseen” consequences argument is valid for every single human action, governmental or private, economic or otherwise. It is valid…but it isn’t an argument for or against anything in particular.

I don’t disagree with you, but we’ve got to acknowledge that robotics or computers etc came about as a result of a military requirement, and evolved as a result of one too. Perhaps this isn’t an argument that gov can do it now, but it could do it then because, maybe, that specific limited field operated under different pressures and forces than it does today.

EG August 19, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Don’t we already subsidize sex? And procreation? How many tax breaks do you get for plopping out kids? Whats the marginal revenue of one additional kid from your welfare check? Don’t we give out birth control for free?

Is there anything the gov DOESN’T subsidize anymore?

Jameson August 19, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Good point.

vidyohs August 19, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Actually you are correct but more so than you wrote down.

Taxes are the subsidy to politicians for the screwing they give us and each other.

Gil August 19, 2011 at 10:29 pm

Dang! You beat me to it – procreation is already subsidised.

JS August 20, 2011 at 8:40 am

They even subsidize death.

Pfloyd August 19, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Only for the non-promiscuous, according to Steven Landsburg. ;-)

Nemoknada August 19, 2011 at 5:51 pm

Mr. Greenblatt did not INVENT his robots; he bought them. The government can help with the underlying pure research into artificial intelligence that may never arise spontaneously or be adequately funded by private money. It is more efficient for private money to APPLY pure science than to DO pure science, because the business plan reads better and the capital, therefore, costs less.

tarran August 19, 2011 at 11:13 pm

Which is why there was little pure science done prior to World War II.

JS August 20, 2011 at 8:42 am

The totalitarian countries always use the technology of free countries. They can’t they develop their own.

JS August 20, 2011 at 8:45 am

Nothing the military invents could have been invented without the structure of markets as a foundation. For them to discover anything, they would have had to use science and technology that would have been absent but for the market process.

Sanjeev Sabhlok August 19, 2011 at 6:46 pm

It is already subsidised in many countries. E.g. Australia has Baby Bonus. “Baby Bonus is paid to customers following the birth (including stillborn babies) or adoption of a child.” See: if you wish to claim it.

Name withheld August 19, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Subsidized sex? Now that’s something this libertarian can get behind… no pun intended.

Automatic August 19, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Isn’t this the part where someone should make a joke about stimulus?

Shaker Srinivasan August 20, 2011 at 11:57 am

… and response

Methinks1776 August 19, 2011 at 9:17 pm

Isn’t sex already subsidized? Health insurance covers viagra and birth control pills.

vikingvista August 19, 2011 at 9:55 pm

Have a baby, get your own apartment and a stipend. So long as you don’t get married. Government’s already on top of that.

Dan J August 19, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Mirror Britain and help create feral humans.

Mesa Econoguy August 20, 2011 at 1:03 am
Chris O'Leary August 20, 2011 at 12:55 am

But I thought robots futhered structural problems in the economy?

William Blake August 20, 2011 at 3:51 am

Don this sounds just like that Yes, Minister episode where they are talking about sport subsidy. Here’s the quote:

Jim Hacker: “Nothing wrong with subsidizing sports: sport is educational.”
Sir Humphrey: “We have sex education too. Should we subsidize sex perhaps?”
Bernard Woolley: “Could we?”

JS August 20, 2011 at 8:50 am

We subsidize professional sports.The NCAA functions as the professional developmental programs for mainly football and basketball, and for quite substantial profits without having to pay market prices for the players who generate the revenue for them.

JS August 20, 2011 at 9:08 am

If players even seek to be paid, they get thrown out of the system. The accepted ‘morality’, that most people unreflectively buy in to, employs a metaphysical ‘fictional’ idol, which in various forms are the collectivist concepts expressed in the category of ‘amateurism’, to justify the subordination of some individuals to the interests of others, who profit from their underpriced, and in some cases, free labor.

Are there any amateurs out there who want full time employement from me?

Virtually every moral category in one way or another is designed to supress individualism to an authority. This is because the authority invented the morality over time. It is much easier to claim that people’s liberty be subordinated to a collectivist idol such as ‘society’ rather than to identify the names of the individuals and groups who specifically profit from the subordination.

Just look at the 10 Commandments. Only 2 are needed for liberty, the rest are commands that support power.

JS August 20, 2011 at 9:26 am

The lengths that people will go to to defend this status quo are remarkable. The unpaid professional athletes who generate profits for huge educational institutions are paid in ‘illegal’ tender. “Education” is not a legal tender but it is used as compensation, as we like to say that the players are ‘given an education’ in exchange for their services. Or the defender of the amateur ideology likes to say that the NCAA system gives the players a ‘chance’ or a ‘platform’ in which to become professional after school, etc.

Does anyone seek a job where they won’t be paid, but if they work hard and distinguish themselves, they might earn a chance to be paid in the future?

Morality is rarely a product of human reason, unless you admit that it is reasoned by the beneficiaries of power and exploitation, who are also known as the rulers.

Whether it be Unionism, Protectionism, the Welfare State, or if you want to get to the bottom of the well, most legislation, the exploitation is always justified by a learned morality, which provides the ‘excuse’ to violate the rights of individuals.

JS August 20, 2011 at 9:28 am

Sorry for venting here.

Linda Copeland August 20, 2011 at 10:59 am

Regarding robotics, government “help” (i.e. interference) is not necessary. Wonderful things are happening in the field, and they will continue to happen without more of Sugar’s money.

Tomorrow night, Sunday, August 21, the FIRST Robotics completition for high school students will be televised on ABC at 7:00 EDT and 6:00 CDT. FIRST Robotics was founded by the gentleman who invented the portable dialysis machine and the Segway.

If anybody is concerned that our high school students, I urge you to watch the show or attend a FIRST Robotics competition in your area. I tell my grandchildren that “NERDS RULE”. They have much more chance of a scholarship in technology than in sports.

If your school system does not have robotics in high school and middle school, you should demand it. It actually can start in elementary school with Lego Robotics. Don’t make the kids play football, make them play robotics.

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