You have won a prize. The prize has two options, and you can choose either (but not both). The first option is a year in Europe with a monthly stipend of $2,000. The second option is 10 minutes on the moon.
Which option do you select?
I’m hesitant to even answer this question in its original form because I suspect there might be a typo.
On the one hand, you can go to the moon. The MOON. You could bounce around, realize all your childhood dreams, see a sky filled with more stars than you can imagine, and bring back moon rocks with alien diseases that will destroy humanity. Okay, hopefully not the last one. But this a) insanely cool, and b) something you almost certainly wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. You’re more likely to win a Nobel Prize than to walk on the moon; in fact, almost anything is more likely. Jesus had as many apostles as there are people who have walked on the moon (12). You basically get to break the rules of life to get to do this, and by all accounts it is a life-changing experience.
On the other hand, you can go to Europe. That sounds great, right? And they’ll pay you to do it! Well, first off, Europe isn’t the moon. But you get to be there for a year, rather than ten minutes! Well, the thing about that year is… you’re not going to be buying any principalities on that stipend. $2,000 a month? That’s $24,000 a year, which in America qualifies as borderline poverty level. If you’ve got visions of this Euro-trip as walking through your private gardens, fine dining in Barcelona, tasting wines in Bordeaux, all-night clubbing in Berlin, and so on… well, no. Because you’re basically going to be poor for a year. Did you know that the price of a beer in Oslo is £6.78? That’s $11.00 at the current rate of exchange. Have fun with that.
In this case, I’d roundly reject the Europe option. I’ve lambasted your stipend, but the truth is that you could have an absolutely awesome time on that money, and people do have an awesome time on that kind of money traveling in Europe. No, better money could help–we’ll talk about that in a second–but with the given hypothetical, I’d take the moon in a heartbeat.
The reason basically comes down to the fact that I don’t need this free choice in order to attain a year in Europe. If I wanted to do it, I could do it. I could get a job there, or even save up the $24,000–a lot of money, sure, but basically the price of a basic new car. You can have an Accord, or you can go to the moon. Accords are highly attainable. Going to the moon is not. Purely on the rarity of the experience, going to the moon is far more valuable. For the rest of your life you can say you went to the moon, or you can say, hey, I dicked around in Europe for a year… which is what a lot of people do.
I’m not trying to say people should reduce their decision-making process to “I should do whatever no one else has done,” because that would be crazy. But I’m just trying to bring out a particular point of emphasis in this question.
What would happen if we changed the question to a $20,000 stipend? Now the question becomes more interesting. $20,000 isn’t quite kingly, but it’s certainly a sumptuous sum for one person to spend a month. I actually don’t even know how you’d be able to spend that money, so that’s a separate hypothetical. Private jets? Wimbledon first-row? I don’t know. But the question now becomes more balanced, because it’s unlikely you’d be able to get this option on your own. It’s not quite as unlikely as going to the moon–in fact, nowhere close–but still far enough out of the realm of the imaginable for most of us.
So, would the extra money sway me? I almost wish it could. But it wouldn’t, and I don’t think an increase to $200,000 would make any difference, either (would that money even make a difference?). Going to the moon is a dream of mine, and if all I get is ten minutes so be it–it would still make my life.
Moon, final answer.