Space settlements, ownership and form of government

In his 2009 paper A Dilemma for Libertarianism, economist Karl Widerquist shows that governments can be justified by arguing from private property rights. If one assumes that people can own land, and can exclude anyone from their land at will; then, according to Widerquist, the owner of a piece land is in fact sovereign (absolute) monarch. Even if such land is owned by a group of people rather than by a single individual, the renters or other person allowed to stay at the land, are bound by the conditions imposed by the landowner(s).

From this we can deduce that whoever owns a space habitat, also constitutes its government. Therefore the form of government of a space settlement depends on who is its owner.

In 2007 I was wondering under what conditions a space colony could become a hereditary monarchy. For the purpose of answering this question I developed several models for establishing a space settlement. These models are: 1. the colony or state model, 2. the association model, 3. the foundation model, 4. the corporate model, and 5. the private persons model.

The models differ in one aspect: who takes the initiative to establish a space settlement? In model 1, an existing (terrestrial) state create a space settlement and hence its form of government is determined by the metropole. In the second model the space colony is established by a voluntary association, most likely for ideological reasons.

The next model is similar to model 2, only that instead the space colony is established by a foundation or trust rather than by an association. The basic difference between a foundation and an association, is that the latter has member who pay a fee and who also elect the association’s board of governors. In contrast a foundation has no members, and the board appoints people to fill vacancies. Both types of organization have in common their non-profit nature.

Because of their democratic nature, space settlements established by voluntary associations are most likely to evolve into democratic republics. Therefore this is also the model preferred by Republic of Lagrangia.

In the fourth model, a space colony is created by a corporation for profit. Because of the amount of money involved and the risk, these corporations are most likely to be joint-stock companies. There are different types of stock companies, but two basic types in many countries are a companies of which the stock are at name, and those who shares can be freely traded. In this case the shareholders are in charge of appointing a board of governors of the space habitat, and therefore this model leads to the creation of a plutocracy.

The last model is also known as the pioneers model. It is derived from chapter 11 of O’Neill’s The High Frontier, in which a group of private citizens leave an existing space settlement to establish their own in the Asteroid belt. Unlike the initiators of the previous models, the pioneers are not motivated by ideology or large profits, but by a simple desire to live their own lives.

How does a monarchy fits in any of these models? If a terrestrial monarchy creates a space colony, it’s obvious it would be a monarchy too. And republics will create other republics. A corporation can be established or be owned by an individual or a single family, and therefore it could lead to an oligarchy or a monarchy. On the other hand a space settlement created by a voluntary association is most likely to evolve into a democratic republic, and hence this model is the most unsuitable for the establishment of a monarchy.

Of course, it’s possible that a voluntary association might opt to establish a monarchy, but in this case a constitutional one is more likely than an absolute one. Only it’s unlikely that the members of such association are able to agree upon who should become king.

But also the pioneers model seems not a suitable way to create a monarchy. Small groups tend to be more democratic than larger ones. Even if such groups would elect a “king”, he would be under close scrutiny of his “subjects” and he would probably impeached when the citizens believe the king is abusing his authority.

If one wants to become the monarch of a space settlement, the best thing you could do is to make sure you are the sole owner of the habitat. And by stating in your will that a close relative will inherit your property, you will found a hereditary monarchy. Only it’s quite unlikely that a single individual would be able to afford to buy a space habitat on his own. Hence the emerge of absolute monarchies in space is very unlikely.

A constitutional monarchy might, however, arise from the corporate model. It’s imaginable that one person owns substantially more shares of a space settlement than others. Since voting power in the shareholders conference is proportional to the number of shares, such person might play a pivotal position. By creating a coalition, such person can become the effective monarch of the settlement. However, since he depend on other shareholders for maintaining his position, his liberty to rule is restricted.

It’s, however, more likely that several shareholders will own shares of almost equal size. In that case an evolution towards an oligarchy is much  more likely. Further it’s doubtful whether the shareholders are interested in the day-to-day affairs, as long as their dividends are paid out.

We can conclude that democratic republics and oligarchies are the most likely forms of government to develop in space settlements, depending on the type of ownership. Absolute monarchies are unlikely, and constitutional ones might arise under certain circumstances.

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2 thoughts on “Space settlements, ownership and form of government”

  1. Whatever the government formed or who starts the colony, I object to hereditary leadership. It assumes that the abilities are passed on from parent to progeny and denies other able and well qualified persons the ability to lead.
    Starting a space settlement I guess would require a lot of capital investment and maybe one person may not be in a position to establish one.

    1. “I object to hereditary leadership. It assumes that the abilities are passed on from parent to progeny and denies other able and well qualified persons the ability to lead.”

      Exactly, this is why it’s Republic of Lagrangia.

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