Popular culture has long imagined that aliens exist, and that they travel to Earth with a specific goal in mind, one that offers their species an economic, cultural or survival advantage. E.T. was a botanist who came in search of plant forms. Predator, a professional predator, came to fight Earth’s most valiant foes, namely Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, and Jesse Ventura. Kal-El, aka Clark Kent, came to the blue planet when his parents were trying to hide him from interstellar baby killers.
A perusal of alien case files suggests modern abduction narratives are incentive driven. The abductees, who generally reside in rural areas, are frequently seized while traveling along secluded roads. From there, they are subjected to experiments, probes, brain scans, telepathic mind control, alleged sexual encounters, and a litany of medical procedures—all of which result in some benefit to the alien abductors. Similar to their fictional counterparts, there must be motivating principles for presumed aliens to visit Earth in the first place. Otherwise, what is the economic impetus to travel millions of miles through the galaxy, risk being shot out of the sky by trigger-happy governments, just to spend hours probing and scanning innocent earthlings?
Taken just from the perspective of survivors of such encounters, it would seem this business model is no way to run an intergalactic syndicate, based either on kidnapping or scientific research, or more nefarious ambitions. If alien species are anything like us —creatures with the desire to survive in a harsh and infinite universe—then their dealings likely involve some form of economic principle.
“I haven’t thought hard about aliens from an economics perspective. And I am less confident than you seem to be that aliens would be like us,” says economics professor Lawrence J. White, with New York University’s Stern School of Business. “But suppose that you are right. Then you are in the world of ‘the economics of crime’. The operative concept would be that of a benefit-cost analysis. And, in turn, that would initially require the specification of a goal.”
A cost-benefit analysis, in a nutshell, is how a business gauges its use of manpower and spending to produce the most worthwhile results. According to Mark L. Weinstock, a professor of economics at Pace University, it’s reasonable to assume alien businesspersons would be similar to us in that they would have goals for such abductions.
“One thing that we would have in common, since we are talking about other species and not about organisms that are immortal, is the fact they have to operate in time,” Weinstock says. “This means they have to make choices and have to use resources so they have to prioritize their time. We assume that any kind of extraterrestrial that reached the Earth has some form of rationality in its thought process.”
According to popular abduction narratives, certain economic intentions—or thought processes of alien abductors—seem to be fairly clear.
Maybe we are a hobby, reality television-like entertainment that aliens poke and prod for sport.
“One possibility is that it is research related. This might be a scientific team engaged in the study of galactic species, such as our own,” Weinstock says. “We don’t have a problem interfering in the life cycle of animals, such as dolphins, whales, and tigers in order to understand them. So why would an alien species have a problem interfering in our life cycle if they perceive us as a lower form of life?”
A second economic benefit to abducting humans might be that it’s part of a long-term project, where the aliens are visiting our planet to further improve their already advanced society in directions we can’t possibly comprehend. Or maybe, Weinstock philosophizes, we are a hobby, reality television-like entertainment that aliens poke and prod for sport.
“Abductions could result in a defined benefit to the alien race,” Weinstock says. “We have medications that we test on animals. The argument of pharmaceutical companies is that they operate for the greater good.”
Being the laboratory meat of some technologically advanced, intellectually pragmatic civilization might not be the worst scenario. According to nuclear physicist Stanton T. Friedman, the economic benefits associated with abduction might have less to do with benefiting alien society, and more with preventing their society’s destruction by a sinister foe. Namely, us.
“I consider us a primitive society obsessed with tribal warfare,” Friedman says. “We are a planet where $1 trillion is spent on military warfare each year.”
Friedman says it’s possible Earth once served as a colony for extraterrestrial felons, similar to how Georgia and Australia operated as penal colonies in the 18th century. That would make us descendants of those prisoners, a possible explanation for how cruel our society behaves toward one another, according to Friedman, the original civilian investigator of the Roswell Incident and a renowned lecturer on unidentified flying objects. Perhaps the economic benefit of abductions is not to study us for scientific purposes, but rather to understand us from the perspective of continued incarceration.
“We have become the epitome of a threat to the neighborhood. Perhaps we are being watched, or quarantined,” Friedman says. “They’re sending us a message—stop developing weapons of mass destruction. Don’t let those idiots off their planet to bother the rest of us.”
Regardless of the economic benefits—to study, exploit earthlings as laboratory specimens, or prevent us from destroying the galaxy—the abduction methods so-called intelligent life use often inspires distrust among the masses. A valid point is that most abductions occur without credible witnesses, an aspect with which even abductees would agree. And according to the abductees, they are kidnapped by alien spaceships, one at a time, which doesn’t seem economically viable.
Wouldn’t it be more cost-efficient to abduct a small village, or a cruise ship, or a Boeing 777 flying over an ocean at night? That’s what many thought happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that disappeared on March 8, 2014. It wasn’t just conspiracy theorists hypothesizing that aliens might have been responsible. Several media organizations, including New York magazine and CNN, reported on the scenario, if only as filler to aid the 24-hour news cycle.
Perhaps we are being watched, or quarantined. They’re sending us a message. Don’t let those idiots off their planet to bother the rest of us.
But economics might shed some light as well on the nighttime nature of abductions. If most alien abductions occur in the dark, Weinstock says that may be the case because it’s the most economically efficient model.
If aliens abducted an airplane, “all these people have friends or families who will investigate this disappearance, and suddenly it’s a major ordeal,” Weinstock says. “Aliens would operate in the least observable way. Otherwise, it creates too many headaches for them. They would prefer not to endure higher costs if their motives are more obvious and well known. More awareness on our part might increase the costs of conducting their missions.”
Intelligent visitors could be operating under economic principles, though a philosophy completely foreign to our understanding. Instead, their principles are based on a society much more advanced than our own. In the same way we hope to one day mine asteroids for commercial application, Weinstock believes alien technology is so progressive that it costs very little to travel to Earth.
“We’re speculating based on our own cultural perspective,” Weinstock says. “It’s possible they are using modes of transportation that are not linear, that could involve the use of space structures, wormholes, which make travel much more efficient.”
“It may be no more of a big deal than flying from New York to London in a few hours,” Friedman speculates. “That would have been incredible 120 years ago. The space station orbits the Earth every 92 minutes. It took Magellan’s ship three years in 1523. Nuclear-powered aircraft carriers can operate for 18 years without refueling.”
There may not be one reason that intelligent life forms observe us. Friedman believes we’re not being watched by just a single entity, but rather scores of extraterrestrials operating without our knowledge.
“I think there are loads of civilizations in the local neighborhood sending loads of vehicles to visit, study, destroy, enjoy,” says Friedman.
There’s a thought. Maybe intelligent life forms come here not to study or quarantine us, but to vacation, relax, and enjoy themselves. Maybe the economic advantage is similar to our own sinful proclivities: What happens on Earth, stays on Earth.