Penguins in Space.

I couldn’t have it put better: open source is important for the exploration of space.

Astronomy and Law

Some of you may know that I am an avid Open Source fan.  Not that I don’t like Mac’s or Windows, I just find Linux works for most all of my needs and the things that I need Windows for, I run a copy in a virtual machine.  My current favorite distribution is ZorinOS, looks like Windows, acts like Ubuntu (without that strange interface).  The point is that Linux is customizable.  Heck, you can even make your own operating system and distribute it to everyone.

This week the people at Steam gaming announced that they are making a distribution for gaming that you can customize in an infinite number of ways.

So it comes as no surprise that new commercial space ventures, like Planetary Resources, are looking to the Penguin for cost effective, modifiable and stable components for their race to space.

Planetary Resources wants to mine asteroids in the…

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Citizenship for sale?

The Dutch government has announced that foreigners who invest more than 1.25 million Euro in the Dutch economy, can obtain a residence permit. The Netherlands aren’t the first country to implement such rule. Some countries even offer citizenship rather than mere “residence permits” to wealthy investors.

Usually these countries allow investing as one of several conditions for naturalization. There are currently no countries which limit naturalization only to wealthy investors. But unfortunately this might change in the future.

According to The Nation a group of libertarians wants to buy Belle Isle from the City of Detroit for the price of one billion USD. The article is dated January 28, 2013, months before Detroit filled for bankruptcy, but nevertheless if there’s one city in the world which is in need of one billion dollars, it would be Detroit.

And this is where the good news ends. According to the article, the project’s initiator, Rodney Lockwood, desires to transform Belle Island into a city-state with 35,000 citizens. Only this citizens has to pay a 300,000 dollar citizenship fee, and this is a necessary condition. Curiously, this fee is not intended to raise the one billion dollar to buy the island (a quick calculation shows that 35,000 people paying 300,000 USD each, would generate 10.5 billion USD).

Besides the citizenship fee, Lockwood also has two further conditions: approval by a “citizenship board” (sounds more like an exclusive club than as a city), and the ability to use English. We highly recommend to read the article for yourself for more of these amazing details.

Fortunately, it’s very unlikely that the US federal government this small island to become de facto independent. But the next generation of Lockwoods might turn to Space settlements. It’s not hard to imagine how they will buy or lease a space habitat, and to sell citizenship to wealthy people.

Citizenship implies privileges, such as the right to vote and stand in elections, which non-citizens does not have. Besides political rights, many states offer their citizens special protection such as social security, or as in case of Germany, they do not extradite their citizens to other countries. If citizenship, and political rights in particular, is limited to the happy few, than such state becomes a de jure oligarchy.

In a space colony, where only a few persons can afford to pay citizenship fees, most inhabitants will be mere (permanent) residents, even if their family lives in the colony for generations. These non-residents could be expelled from the country, if “their” government should see fit, while they cannot appeal such decision.

The idea of a country, where only a minority of its residents are citizens might sound strange, but isn’t. In Dubai, only 17% of the population are UAE citizens. The status of permanent residents, whose families are living in a space colony for generations, resembles that of the metics in classical Athens. In ancient Athens, citizenship was very restrictive and only in extraordinary circumstances a foreigner could become an Athenian citizen.

With paying huge fees as the only way to become a naturalized citizen of a space colony, it will not be strange that those citizens will prefer a jus sanguinis rather a jus soli based nationality law. Under the former system only those born to citizen parents become citizens at birth, while the latter system confers citizenship to all people born within its territory.

It’s clear that such huge citizenship fees are incompatible with classical republican ideals. We of Republic of Lagrangia, believe that anyone who subscribes to the principles of a secular, liberal and humanist society and is willing to contribute to such society according to his or her own capacities, should be able to become citizens of the Republic we want to found in outer space.

See also

Space settlements and citizenship

In vitro blood?

Last month Dutch scientist Mark Post presented the first hamburger made from cultured meat. Today we received the news that the Dutch blood bank group Sanquin, is doing research to produce red blood cells in vitro, also known as erythrocytes.

Just as is the case with in vitro meat induced pluripotent stem cells are used. Only these stem cells aren’t directed to differentiate into muscle tissue, but into red blood cells. The involved researchers motivate this research as follows:

Culturing erythrocytes from immortal induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS) potentially solves the donor dependency problem and provides a tool to generate specific low immunogenic erythrocytes. (Sanquin, visited at September 20, 2013).

The production of blood in vitro, called hematopoieses by Sanquin, has several benefits. Blood transfusions have an associated risk for communicable diseases, therefore by using cultured blood instead of donor blood, the transmission of infectious diseases can be eliminated. It also reduce the number of blood donors required.

And this latter benefit is of great importance for space settlers. If as a result of some accident in a space settlement, blood transfusions are needed, in vitro blood might provide this without having to rely on blood transports from Earth. In a small and isolated community, classic collection of blood might prove to be insufficient in some cases. Typically only half a litre of blood is taken from an adult donor at a time, while some surgeries might require several litres of blood.

In vitro blood is just another technological development, which might help us to colonize our Solar System.

Would you eat 3D-printed meat? 7 vegetarians and vegans reflect

This combines two of our favourite topics: in vitro meat and 3D-printing. The idea is as simple as fascinating: growing the desired tissue in the lab. And because 3D-printers can print complex structures at low costs, you have all kind of meat besides meatloaf. It’s not hard to imagine how a butcher’s shop in thirty years might look like: one or more 3D-printer at the desk, and when a costumer orders something, the buthcer will take a tissue culture and put into the printer. Few minutes later a contend customer leaves the shop.

TED Blog

AndrasForgacs_cow-cells_slide_586x357

In August, the first lab-grown beefburger was cooked and tasted in London. The verdict? “[It tasted] like an animal protein cake, said Josh Schonwald, author of The Taste of Tomorrow and one of the “lucky” few to taste the $330,000 morsel of petri dish meat.

The future of slaughter-less meat is not far off. In fact, scientists project it could be in the aisles of our supermarkets in 10 to 20 years. [ted_talkteaser id=1824]In today’s talk, Andras Forgacs, CEO and co-founder of Modern Meadow, explains the process of biofabrication and asks an interesting question: “What if, instead of starting with a complex, sentient animal, we started with what the tissues are made of, the basic unit of life, the cell?” Biofabrication, he says, signals the rise of a new industry that is both sustainable and humane and could radically change a society and environment shaped by the consumption of…

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Sleeper ships

A few weeks ago we discussed the desirability of embryo space colonization as mean for establishing interstellar space travel. In that post we argued such program would not have any purpose for this and the next few generations, and its only reasonable aim is to ensure the continuation of our species in the event that human life in our Solar System would become impossible.

Another popular suggestion for interstellar travel, and possibly colonization, is the use of so-called sleeper ships. In such ship the passengers are kept in suspended animation, a kind of artificial hibernation. Suspended animation should be distinguished from cryonics, the supposed science of freezing human corpses in the hope that future generations will be able to revive them. Though both concepts are often confused, the primary difference between those two are that in the former process the body’s metabolism is slowed down, but not terminated. In the latter process there’s no whatsoever metabolism present.

There are several technological issues with sleeper ships which has to be resolved before such ship could be launched. With the current state of affairs humans and other animals can be held into suspended animation for several hours or in some cases even days. Since interstellar space travel might take several decades to several thousands years, huge improvements in this field of science need to be made.

A related issue is that slowing down one’s metabolism might extend one’s life, but not necessarily long enough to arrive at the desired destination. And further even a suspended animated body still requires life support, which needs to last for many hundreds of years because repairs are not possible during the trip.

By travelling at relativistic speeds, one could take advantage of time dilation, the phenomenon that time will run slower if you are travelling faster. An interstellar journey might look from the perspective of an Earth bound observer a 1,000 years, but (depending on the actual speed) might be only a few decades for the passengers. This has clear benefits for the designers of the ship’s life support system, they only have to make sure their product will last for several decades instead of a 1,000 years.

Like embryo space colonization one should ask what purpose sending sleeper ships to distant star systems would serve, assuming the technical issues can be solved. Since an interstellar mission might take several centuries from our terrestrial perspective, current generations and those following immediately after us may not receive any benefit from such mission. And possibly humanity might not even exists in this part of the universe by then.

Therefore the main reason for the use of sleeper ships is for the sake of the passengers, as they are the only ones who will live long enough to witness the completion of the journey. But as a formal objective of public policy of interstellar space colonization, does not make much sense, unless we use it to transport all of humanity to an interstellar destination, or at least of all humans who are willing to emigrate to such destination.

Of course groups of selfish people might decide that they want to board a sleeper ship, maybe are these the same people as preppers, who will do anything to survive upcoming disasters. But these people shouldn’t count on public funding for their emigration plans. However, these are also the people for who sleeper ships are actually a solution.

Sleeper ships are currently not feasible, and offer also no clear benefits for the majority of currently living humans. The colonization of our own Solar System is feasible within a few decades from now, and can produce benefits for those who will remain on Earth. As a method of interstellar space colonization it’s only of interest for a small number of people.

Republic of Lagrangia and the Voyager

Those who think that Republic of Lagrangia is a space blog, might wonder why we didn’t pay attention to last week’s news that Voyager 1 has definitely left our Solar System. But those make a mistake: namely that we are a space blog. Only the fact is that Republic of Lagrangia is not a space blog, we are a blog about space colonization.

One might argue that the topic space colonization is a subset of the topic space. Though this is technically true,  categorizing Republic of Lagrangia as a space blog might however create the confusion that we are a generic space blog, what we are not. Suppose that Alice has a blog about horses, than we might say that Alice has a blog about animals. In this case it’s obvious that doing so is absurd, since Alice only writes about a specific type of animals.

Since we are not a generic space blog, calling Republic of Lagrangia a space blog is equally absurd as calling Alice’s blog an animal blog. Most space blogs are about space exploration, and should better be called space exploration blogs.

Space exploration, the scientific study of the universe, is without doubt a fascinating topic to write about. It’s only of limited relevance for space colonization. The major arena for space colonization in the near future, is the Inner Solar System. Therefore discoveries made about distant galaxies, or even our own galaxy is of little importance for the colonization of our own neighbourhood.

It’s for us more interesting to discuss the developments in other areas of science and technology, such as 3D-printers or in vitro meat, which might help the colonization of outer space.

And more importantly, we of Republic of Lagrangia see space colonization as a mean to implementing social reforms, rather as an end in itself. We belief that it’s important to give space colonization an appeal beyond the circle of space geeks. Therefore we focus on the social issues of space colonization, and if we discuss scientific or technological developments, we focus on how these developments might affect society.

Therefore we did not write about Voyager 1 leaving our Solar System.

A Cooperative Economy

Introduction

Classical republicanism is based on the principle of self-government. An individual is free, according to republicans, in so far (s)he is able to govern him or herself. Given that humans are social animals, the principle of self-government means the ability of an individual to participate in the political system.

The republican ideal of self-government requires a certain degree of economic independence. In modern capitalist societies there is a division between those who own capital, and those who have only their own labour. A large number of the population has to seek employment by the owners of capital, only a small number of people are self-employed, i.e. own their own means of production.

Wage-labourers are economically dependent from the so-called capitalists. This dependence-relation is at odds with the republican ideal of self-government. Some opponents of capitalism has proposed or tried to nationalize all means of production, but from a republican perspective this only replace one dependence-relation for another one.

Both corporate and state ownership of capital are antithetical to republicanism. Only if workers have capital at their own disposal, they can achieve self-government.

In this post we will discuss cooperatives as the major institution of the economy of space settlements. First we will discuss worker-cooperatives, subsequently we will turn to consumer cooperatives, and finally we will discuss housing cooperatives.

Worker cooperatives

A worker cooperative is a business owned and managed by its workers. In practice this means that the worker will elect the cooperative’s management, which will take care of day-to-day decisions, whilst the general policy is determined by the general conference of its worker-members. Unlike joined-stock companies, worker cooperative subscribe to a strict one man-one vote rule.

Worker cooperatives earn money by selling goods and services to the public, like all other types of businesses. But the profits made by the cooperative are either reinvested or distributed among the worker-members, probably according to hours worked for the cooperative. Whatever option is chosen, or a combination of both, the decision is made by the members, instead of the board.

Typically worker cooperatives are based locally, and hence have a relatively small number of members. This enables effective control of the worker-members over the cooperative. Therefore worker-cooperatives are compatible with the principles of a republican society.

Though worker cooperatives are a socially desirable business model, it’s far from obvious that a cooperative-based economy will emerge spontaneously. There are several reason why people abstain from forming worker cooperatives. The two most important ones are uncertainty and lack of funding.

Uncertainty is an important factor in making (economic) decisions. In many cases we are not able to predict the results of our actions, and these results might be bad or good. And the risks associated with our action are sometimes great. Therefore many people prefer risk-avoiding behaviour, and chose for the safest option.

Many people try to reduce their financial uncertainty, which explains why many people prefer a wage-earning job to self-employment, even if they would be better of in the latter case. They prefer to be employees because they believe they will get predictable wages, and hence their sense of certainty is increased.

However, by becoming a member of a worker cooperative an individual is not a mere employee, but a co-entrepreneur. If the cooperative is doing well, (s)he earns much, but if the cooperative encounters bad times, the member will earn less or even nothing. This kind of uncertainty provides a strong motive for people to form or join a worker-cooperative.

The question is therefore, how can we as a society reduce this uncertainty which prevents the formation of worker cooperatives? We believe that the best way to reduce such uncertainty, is the introduction of a basic income guarantee. Under such arrangement people will receive an unconditional, periodical income from the government. The amount of income received should be sufficient to meet the basic needs, but not much more.

As we have shown in a previous post, there are many other arguments in favour of a basic income guarantee. But here the most relevant argument is the reduction of uncertainty for self-employed people. Regardless whether their business is doing well or bad, these people know they will have enough income to live from. This would create an incentive for more people to become self-employed or to form/join a worker cooperative.

A second important issue which prevents people from joining or forming a worker cooperative is funding. Any business needs funding to make investments, such buying tools or renting a workplace. One way of getting funding for a cooperative, is from the (founding) members. This would, however, require that the prospective members of the cooperative have enough savings to invest into it. Though some people might have such assets, it’s not quite likely that the majority of potential members will have such funds at their disposal.

Given the very nature of a worker cooperative, the sale of stock to outsiders is impossible. That leaves us with loans as the only method of external funding for cooperatives. But getting loans is a problem for many start-ups, since most banks prefer to give loans to existing businesses or to those start-ups with substantial equity, in order to reduce the risks for the banks.

Unlike private banks, the government can afford to make much greater risks. The government of a space settlement with a commitment to republicans ideals, could provide low-interest or interest-free loans to starting cooperatives. Of course these new cooperatives should submit sound business plans for examination, before they will get any loan.

Alternatively, the government could give grants to starting-up cooperatives. In contrast to loans, a grant has not to be paid back, and therefore a grant would add to the equity of the cooperative. Both start-up loans and grants will be given only once to a particular cooperative, this to ensure fair competition among cooperatives.

Another possibility for provide funding to cooperatives is for the government to set-up lease companies. By these companies worker cooperatives can lease or hire-purchase the equipment, such as 3D-printers, they need. This would lower the start-up costs of a worker cooperative.

Consumer cooperatives

In theory every business can be organized as a worker cooperative. But it is not a suitable business model for every economic sector. In particular labour intensive industries are best suited for the formation of worker cooperatives.

However through automation is number of labour intensive industries is decreasing. And further many modern businesses are actually intermediaries between the producers and the consumers of goods. And these intermediaries employ a relatively small number of people. That in many developed nations a large number of the population are working in this sector, is because most production is done in other countries

These intermediary businesses also take much of profits, the difference between the price paid to the producers and the price paid by the consumers. Of course these businesses has to make money, but in reality a large if not the largest part of the profit goes to the intermediaries. This happens because individual consumer have little or no influence on prices set by these businesses. Yes, the consumer can go to competing businesses, but that presumes the presence of adequate competition.

A consumer cooperative is many aspects similar to a worker cooperative, in particular both types of cooperatives are democratically controlled by its members. But the primary difference between those two, is that consumer cooperatives are owned by their consumers rather than their employees.

Unlike traditional businesses, consumer cooperatives do not aim to make as much profit as possible, but instead their purpose is to provide goods and services to their members for the best quality at the best price. Due to collective bargaining, consumer cooperatives can achieve better deals with suppliers easier than individual consumers.

What kind of businesses are most suited for consumer cooperatives? It follows from the definition of these organizations that their consumers should be identifiable. By definition a worker cooperative knows who is working for that cooperative, and hence who is allowed to vote and to share in the profits. But if I go to my local groceries store, they might not know me, for instance because I only go to that particular store only a few times a year.

Many companies deal with large number of anonymous consumers, and to some extent they do not bother to know their consumers, because they don’t care who is buying their stuff as long as they are paying. For a consumer cooperative it’s essential that only the real consumers can be members, otherwise the cooperative becomes vulnerable for outside manipulation.

One thing which can be done by a consumer cooperative, is restricting service only to its members. If non-members want to obtain access to the goods and services provided by the cooperative, they should become member first. It also follows that the subscription business model is best suited for consumer cooperatives (except in case of an occasional “cooperative”, which is beyond the scope of this article). An example of such cooperatives are utility cooperatives, think about a cooperative telephone company.

In our post about waste disposal in space settlements, we discussed the idea of leasing durable goods, instead of buying those. This idea can easily combined with the concept of consumer cooperatives. The cooperative either buys or produces certain durable goods, which are subsequently leased by its members.

A fundamental question we have to discuss, is how consumer cooperatives relate to republican ideals of self-government. One approach would be the idea of consumer-self governance, since consumer cooperatives allow the consumer the exert a greater influence on his consumption than under traditional businesses.

But on the other hand, one could raise the issue of wage labour, which is rejected by classical republicans. The employees of a consumer cooperative are not different from other employees, in the sense that they are not “self-employed”. However, we should realize that in many cases the employees of a consumer cooperative, will also be consumers of that cooperative, and hence be members.

Besides consumer cooperatives will often act as intermediaries between producers, and the final consumers. Nothing will prevent a consumer cooperative to obtain goods from a worker cooperative, and such arrangement could be beneficial for both. Further in some cases a consumer cooperative can be run by volunteers, member who spend a few hours a week to the cooperative.

If a consumer cooperative would have a large number of employees, we could consider a “hybrid” cooperative. In such cooperative both the consumers and workers have a vote in the management of the cooperatives. And votes can be split, for instance, fifty-fifty.

Housing cooperatives

A special type of consumer cooperatives are housing cooperatives. But because of their (potential) importance, we will discuss this type of cooperative separately.

This idea is quite simple: a building is collectively owned by a cooperative, and the members of the cooperative are its renters or hire-purchasers. And like all other cooperatives, the board is elected by its members and all major decisions have to be approved by the members conference.

In order to ensure affordable housing, the government could extend its program of interest-free loans to housing cooperatives. This would also give the government the ability to impose certain conditions on these cooperatives, such as measures against racial discrimination.

An important argument for housing cooperatives, besides affordable housing, is that renters are protected against malevolent landlords. Some landlords are only interest in making money and are asking excessive rents, whilst they refuse to spend anything to maintaining their property. In a housing cooperative the renter-members are effectively their own landlords, and if the cooperative’s board would turn abusive, the member can recall them.

See also

The 21-hour-work week

Developments in Solar energy technology

The whole idea of space colonization is founded on two facts: the abundance of extraterrestrial mineral resources and the availability of huge amounts of cheap Solar energy. There are basically two approaches to harvest Solar energy for space settlements: photovoltaic cells and solar-thermal power plants. The latter uses the heat from our Sun to heat a fluid, which is used to drive a turbine.

A challenge for photovoltaic arrays, is their efficiency. But there is exciting news from this field, according to The Science Daily, scientists from North Carolina State University have designed a method to increase solar array efficiency up to 45%. This would mean less Solar cells are needed to produce energy.

Waste disposal, recycling and leasing

One of the most important issues in any given human society, is the management of its waste disposal. And space settlements will be no exception. Of course space colonists could simply dump their waste into outer space, but this will be inefficient since this also means the loss of valuable resources. Waste management of space colonies should be based on reduce, reuse and recycling. In this post we will discuss several policies which could be implemented to achieve these 3 R’s. Continue reading Waste disposal, recycling and leasing