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E.T. the Entrepreneur

Can we do business with space aliens? Political scientist John Hickman thinks so. But he writes in a new paper that interstellar trade might be limited to information and entertainment beamed back and forth between planets because of the enormous distances involved. That kind of trade comes with its own unique risks. Hickman argues that in swapping information with alien cultures we risk exposing ourselves to unfamiliar viral memes that could destabilize our society.

Reacting to Hickman’s paper, Tyler Cowen has his doubts, and Paul Krugman links to a paper he wrote in 1978 about how to calculate interest on goods traveling at close to the speed of light. (In spite of the challenges, Krugman concludes that interstellar economists “know that the Force is with us.”)

In related news — on June 12, 2008, astronomers in Norway will, for the first time ever, broadcast an advertisement directly into space; it’s a Doritos ad aimed at a star 42 lightyears from Earth.

What happens if they get an answer?