Category Archives: space colonization and politics

Borrowing versus leasing

In our post A Cooperative Economy we briefly discussed the option of leasing as a method of funding worker cooperatives. The essence of a worker cooperative is that workers own, or at least control the means of production, or capital, instead of being employed by the owners of capital.

The fundamental problem is how can workers who are starting a cooperative, can acquire the means of production they need. Suppose that Alice and Bob are setting up a worker cooperative, but need 100,000 worth of equipment. Assuming that both have a monthly basic income of 1,200, it will be clear that they can’t raise the money on their own.

Of course, Alice and Bob can borrow 100,000 from the bank or some other financial institution. But this we leave both Alice and Bob indebted, which they have to pay off even in case their cooperative proves to be a failure. This is a prospect which might and will deter workers from forming worker cooperatives.

The issue at stake here, is the idea that a worker cooperative should own their means of production, which means that the cooperative has to purchase those. A large one time expense. There are, however, alternatives for outright ownership of the means of production.

Instead of buying, Alice and Bob could decide to lease the equipment they need. Suppose they could lease this equipment for, say, 10,000 a year, their cooperative only needs to raise 10,000 in order to start-up. When the cooperative is successful, they will be able to pay for the capital they use without incurring additional debts.

Alternatively Alice and Bob could hire-purchase the capital goods. The difference between lease and hire-purchase, is that in the latter case the goods will become the property of the lessees, while in the former cases these will return to the lessor at the end of the contract (or the lease contract maybe renewed). Both forms of credit have a big advantage from the perspective of the A&B Coop: in case it will default on its payments the lessor can only take back the leased goods, and refuse further use, but Alice and Bob cannot go bankrupt.

Because the lessor can reclaim his goods in case of default by the lessees, he takes less risks than in case of a monetary loan. Hence the costs of funding a business by lease or hire-purchase will be lower than the interests on a monetary loan.

This leaves us with the question who should supply the goods for lease. We propose that local governments to set up publicly owned lease companies which specialize in leasing capital goods to worker cooperatives. These lease companies can be funded either by the revenue raised by the lease of land or by borrowing the required funds. Money can be borrowed either from the Federal Credit Bank or from private investors. In the latter case interest rates can be kept low, since the government will guarantee the payment of debts.

Though in Mordan space settlements, a substantial portion of the means of production will be owned by the community, our system differs from Soviet-style communism. First, unlike in the USSR the private ownership of capital goods will be legal. Second worker cooperatives will operate in a free market rather than in a command economy, i.e. the state does provide capital to the cooperatives, but it does not determine what should be produced.

In the economic system we propose, labour will hire capital rather than be hired by capital. And hence capitalism is essentially reversed without resorting to Soviet communism.

Life insurance policies

Unfortunately it’s a common trope for people to kill their relatives or spouses, just in order to collect the insurance policy. In this post we will propose some rules aimed to deter people from killing people for the reason mentioned above.

1. Only the person whose death is covered by the policy is allowed to purchase a life insurance policy, provided that this person is an adult and mentally competent.

2. The maximum benefit which the insurance company is allowed to pay is equal to five times the annual income of the person who purchased the policy, at the time of purchase.

3. All life insurance policies have to be registered by the national financial authorities, in order to prevent people from buying multiple life insurance policies.

Ad 1. Too often someone purchase a life insurance policy on another person, possibly without the knowledge of this individual, only with the intent of of killing the insured. Since a life insurance policy is typically purchased to compensate the next of kin for the loss of income as a result of the death of the insured, there’s no reason to insure those who are not economically active.

Ad 2. Even if a life insurance policy is purchased in good faith, a beneficiary might be tempted to kill the insured for financial gain. By putting a limit on the benefits to be paid, the incentive to kill someone for financial gain is reduced.

Ad 3. In order to prevent people from circumvented rule 2 by purchasing multiple life insurance policies, it’s necessary that there’s a central registry of such policies. When a person wants to purchase a life insurance policy, the insurance company is obliged to check whether the applicant has already purchased such policy, if so the new application has to be refused.

Can a child have multiple parents?

Yes, (s)he can. This question is relevant since the Dutch government is investigating whether the Dutch civil code should be changed to include the possibility of a child having more than one parent. However, this legal reform is aimed to loosen to connection between legal and biological parenthood. In this post we’ll discuss the possibility of having multiple biological parents.

One method to create a three-parent-child is the following. From an oocyte we can remove the nucleus, and replace it with the nucleus of another oocyte. The newly recombined oocyte will contain the DNA of two people: the mitochondrial DNA of the first oocyte donor, and the nuclear DNA of the second donor. Subsequently the recombined oocyte can be fertilized by a sperm cell, resulting a zygote with the DNA of three different people. The rationale of this technique is to prevent diseases caused by defects in mitochondrial DNA.

A second, more intriguing method is to create human chimeras. Basically a chimera is an organism which the result of the merger of two, or even more, embryos. We could say this a chimera is the opposite of an identical twin. More important chimeras, including human ones, occur in nature. And if a woman would have had sex with two different shortly after each other, such a chimera could have one mother and two fathers. The chance of this possibility is increased by the fact that sperm can survive up to seven days in the female body, and hence able of fertilizing an oocyte.

Most human chimeras are unaware of their condition, but they could be get into trouble because of this. Lydia Fairchild (an ironic name) was denied motherhood of her own child as result of a paternity test. After some investigation it was discovered that Ms. Fairchild was actually a chimera, and consequently in the possession of two different genomes.

It might happen that a female and a male embryo merge into one single human being. What sex should we assign such person? Or should leave that choice up to that person?

When we are writing down the civil code of space settlements, we have to take these things into account.

A Calculation Example

Earlier we have discussed on this blog some aspects of the economic structure of space settlements as part of our ideas of social reform. In particular we have defended the introduction of a basic income as well as the promotion of housing cooperatives. In this post we just give a calculation how things might work out.

Under our proposal the main procedure the finance home ownership is the hire purchase rather than mortgage loans. In order to stimulate this, the government should provide interest free loans to housing cooperatives, so that those cooperative can build houses.

In this post we will assume that the basic income guarantee is set at 1,200 Stella* per month per person. Suppose that Alice hire purchase a home worth 150,000 Stella, and the next 30 years she pays every month an instalment. This means that Alice has to pay 30×12=360 instalments, and the amount of money she has to pay each month is hence 150,000/360=416.67 Stella (rounded up). Which is slightly more than a third of her monthly basic income.

The clever reader might have noticed that 416.67×360=150,001.20 Stella. Hence Alice has paid 1.20 Stella too much in the end. How could we solve this? My guess would be to subtract that 1.20 Stella from the first (or the last, if you want) instalment, which would be 415.47 Stella instead.

*Here we assume that 1 Stella is approximately 1 Euro.

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.

Spanking ban

As long as I can remember, at least since the late 1990s, I am a (moderate) opponent of corporal punishment of children. In the debate about prohibiting this kind of child discipline, both sides have made both good and bad arguments. My position is that corporal punishment is not necessary, but in general also not very harmful if done properly. Until I came along an interesting article on Science Daily: College students more likely to be law breakers if spanked as children.

A study by Murray Strauss shows that university students who have been spanked as kids, even if they were raised in loving families, have a greater inclination towards criminal behaviour. Though Strauss affirms that children need guidance and discipline, physical punishment are not the way to achieve this.

But since I like to be the devil’s advocate, I want to formulate a possible point of critique. Strauss suggests that spanking causes criminal behaviour, or at least reinforces such behaviour. However, could it be possible that spanking is not the cause but instead the effect? Generally children got punished for misbehaviour, and crime is a kind of misbehaviour but enshrined by public law. If a person has a general inclination to misbehaviour all his/her life, it wouldn’t be surprising if that person would be both punished as a child as well inclined to commit crimes as an adult.

If that assumption would be true, there would be a statistical relation between spanking as a child and criminal behaviour, but not a causal one. This because both variables are in fact caused by a third variable. Of course, this is a hypothetical alternative explanation, but nevertheless not one you could easily put away.

Penal transportation

Some criminals pose such a danger for society, that they need to be removed from society. By doing this citizens are protected from future crimes from said criminals. Such “punishments” are meant to deter or to rehabilitate criminals, the sole purpose of such treatment is incapacitation.

Nowadays prison sentences are often used to incapacitate dangerous criminals. In this post we will defend the “reintroduction” of the ancient penalty of penal transportation. First we will define penal transportation. Then we will analyse what kind of crimes should be punished by penal transportation. Thereafter we will discuss the practical aspects of this penalty.

What is penal transportation and what is the difference with prison? Penal transportation is the compulsory sending of people to a penal colony as punishment for a crime. Prison is any building used to lock people up as a punishment. In the case of penal transportation, the primary restriction is that the convicts remain in the colony. Further restrictions might be imposed upon them, but this not a prerequisite.

In our model the convicts are basically free to do whatever they want, except leaving the colony. Only communication with the outside world will be restricted, not to punish the convicts, but to protect civilized society from them.

This is a great difference with prison, where people are locked up in a small room for a large part of they day. We believe that long prison sentences are a kind of psychological torture, which only make people more dangerous than less.

Since incapacitation is the primary purpose of penal transportation, rather than rehabilitation, we should restrict this penalty to the really dangerous criminals, those who are likely to commit violent crimes again. Further this suggests that this penalty should be of indefinite duration. Under Napoleon’s Code Penal transportation was basically a life sentence, whilst under British law transportation was for time (although after completion this term, one had to pay for his own return).

An indefinite sentence means that the duration of the sentence is not predefined. In practise the actual time served depends on the prisoner’s own conduct. This allows the periodic re-evaluation of one’s sentence. Those criminals who remain a serious threat to society might remain in the penal colony for the remainder of their lives. A minimum term to be served of fifteen years, is in our opinion reasonable.

Peter Moskos suggests that pedophiles, psychopathic killers and terrorists should be locked up for life. We would add (serial) rapists and violent repeat offenders to his list.  These are the types of criminals for whom we believe, penal transportation is appropriate.

The idea of a penal colony is to relocate criminals to a remote place, in order to isolate them from society. The remoteness of the penal colony serves a protection measure in case a convict would escape from the colony. The greater the distance between the colony and society, the more difficult it will be for the fugitive to return to the country.

Any space habitat can serve as a penal colony, no one can escape with out a space ship. The suicidal nature of escaping of a space based penal colony will refrain convicts from attempting escape. However, some might manage to escape by stealing or hiding in visiting space ships. In that case long distances will also mean long travel time, and this will allow authorities to recapture the escapees before their effective return.

What should deportees do in such a space penal colony? Rather than to lock those convicts up in a small cell, they will be encouraged to perform labour. But unlike traditional labour camps, employment will and should be voluntary. However, taking up a job would increase the convict’s prospects of an early release. Besides employment, the prisoners will receive opportunities for education.

What kind of work will those convicts do? First, they have to be fed. Hence farming would be a major source of employment in penal colonies, as would be the processing of agricultural products. Mining would be another possibility, especially if these penal colonies are located in the Asteroid belt. But also some of the supervising of the prisoners could be done by convicts. Of course, the higher levels of supervision will be carried out by non-convicts. But convicts with demonstrated good behaviour could be rewarded with lower level supervision tasks.

The Case for a National DNA Database

In this post I will present three arguments in favour of a national registration of everyone’s DNA.  Additionally we will try to refute some counter-arguments.

The first argument for a national DNA database is the identification of dead bodies. One problem after a (natural) disaster is identifying the victims. If anyone’s DNA is registered, than the identification of bodies would just be a matter of collecting tissue samples. Not only after a natural disaster there are unidentified bodies, but also in ordinary times the bodies of murder victims are found. Sometimes the identification of these bodies is easy, but often there are clues about the victims identity. This is particular the case when only body parts are found, or the body has already been severely decayed.

The second argument in favour of such a database, is solving crimes. Criminals, not only rapists and murders, but also burglars, leave often traces of body behind at the crime scene. Too often investigators are able to collect these DNA containing samples, but can’t do anything with it, because the donor is not in the database. With a national DNA database more crimes will be solved, and hence the chance of being caught will be increased.

Our third argument is the verification of paternity. Every year many women get pregnant and become of this in financial problems, because the father is not willing to share in the costs of raising his children. In western societies these mothers often became dependent of welfare. A better idea in my eyes, is Robin Baker’s proposal of a “child tax“, a system in which a tax is levied at the non-caring partner to support his or her children. The problem with this idea this is that men can easily deny that they the father of said children. Without a national database, paternity test depend on the voluntary participation of people.

The major objection against a mandatory national DNA database, is the violation of privacy. The collection of one’s DNA is only a very small infraction of one’s bodily integrity, it only involves sticking a cotton swab in your mouth which doesn’t cause any harm. More fundamentally, people are afraid of abuse of data by the government. The question is then, what can the government really do with your DNA? In fact not much, tough one’s DNA contains much information about you, but for identification purposes scientists do not use the parts containing genes, but the non-coding parts.

And the information one extract from your DNA is not of much interest. It’s much more attractive for the government to track your credit or debit card records, which do not only tell what you have bought, but also when and where. Also one’s tax returns are much more relevant and detailed than your genetic code, which only contains some 20,000 genes. and of which most are the same as those of tomato plants.

This does not mean we should blindly trust the government. Any national DNA database should be supervised by an independent body, to make sure the data will only be used for the purposes it has been created.

Reflections on deterrence theory

Before we continue, we want to make a clear statement. It’s without doubt that social-economic factors play a key role in the occurrence of crime. As such improving social economic conditions and better education will be of great importance to reduce crime rates in future space settlements. However, even with proper social economic condition and subsequent low crime rates, some people will still turn to crime.

In modern theory on criminal punishment the concept of deterrence is a predominant one. First introduced by Enlightenment philosopher Cesare Beccaria, and latter refined and defended by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, deterrence theory assumes that criminals are rational actors. People commit crimes because they believe they will gain more than they will lose from these acts, and because the criminals believe that crime is the easiest way to get these gains.

According to deterrence theorists, the purpose of punishment is then simply to cancel the gains acquired by crime. In other words, due to punishment the costs of a crime will be greater than the expected gains (from the criminal’s perspective). Confronted with such an analysis  a rational person will decline to commit crimes.

If deterrence theory would be “true”, then we should expect that the mere threat of punishment would be sufficient to eliminate crime. But since it’s evident that despite the prospect of harsh punishments, crime is still an important problem in almost every society. Therefore defenders of this theory are facing a difficult challenge, since it seems that deterrence has failed in its objective.

As always the truth is these matters, is a little bit more complex than simply true or false. Let’s therefore look at the fundamental assumptions made by deterrence theory. First, defenders of the theory can make the following point. In order to be effective, the threat of punishment has to be credible. Aspirant-criminals has to believe that the government is willing to carry out the punishments it imposes on certain crimes. If however, the law provides high (maximum) punishments but courts hand out only lesser punishment, then criminals will less likely be deterred from committing crimes. This is even stronger the case if there will be no prosecution at all, and hence no punishment. Therefore simply raising punishments will not necessarily results in less crime.

Empirical evidence further shows that the probability of being caught is a more important consideration in deterring people to commit crimes than the severity of prospective punishments. Since we all know that the police cannot solve each and every committed crime, there’s always a chance that a criminal will get away with his or her crime. Consequently a rational aspirant-criminal will consider how likely it will be that the police will be able to arrest him or her, and the particular punishment (s)he might receive is only of secondary importance. Even if a criminal risks the death penalty, (s)he might still commit the crime if that person believes that the chance of being caught is quiet small.

Instead of raising the amount of punishment, governments should improve the quality of the police to solve crimes and to arrest criminals. The more crimes the police can solve, the less the probability of getting away with crimes will be. But again we hit a problem. Criminals do not act upon the actual probabilities, but on their perception of these chances.The authorities should provide the real probability of being caught, but it should also take care that potential criminals will believe those numbers.

This leads us to the most fundamental assumption of deterrence theory. Deterrence requires that all all people are able to rationally weigh the gains and losses of their actions. Unfortunately, we know that humans have a wide range in intellectual capabilities. Scientific studies have shown that the less intelligent a person is, the more likely it is that he will commit a crime. Less intelligent persons will have more difficulties with understanding and handling complex stuff such probabilities, and the impact of prospective punishments, than their more intelligent fellows.

There is no easy way to improve people’s intellectual capabilities, it would be great if there would be a drug which could raise your IQ with 20 points. In the absence of such drug, we have to face that a substantial part of the population might not be persuaded by the threat of punishment.

Participatory budgets

In previous posts we have discussed how the governments of space settlements can raise money and how they can avoid to borrow money. We will summarize the key points of these post: 1. Since governments are the owners of space habitats, they can use the collection of land rents to fund government expenditure, hence all other taxes can be abolished. 2. Because the government of a space settlement can require that land rent has to be paid in government issued money, it creates an effective demand for national currency and gives value to this money.

By playing with the height of (the total sum of) land rents (R), and the height of public expenditure (S), the government can control to growth of the money supply. This because the change of the money supply (delta M) is simply: delta M = S – R. In this way, governments of space settlements can control the level of inflation. Because this system is vulnerable for abuse by politicians seeking electoral gains, we have proposed to establish an independent body which will set the height of land rent, and the level of government spending. How the government would spend this money will remain a political issue.

The authority to prove the government budget is among the most important powers modern parliaments have. Without an approved budget, a government can’t function since they can’t pay its bills. In modern democracies the influence of citizens on the budget is limited to their ability to participate in voting for the legislature.

Attempts to increase citizen participation in budgetary matters, haven’t been successful. The most simplest version, the government just proposes a budget, which is subsequently subjected to a referendum. Then the citizens can either vote for or against the proposed budget. The result is quite predictable: since any given budget would contain measures a particular citizen does not agree with, many people will simply vote against the budget. Hence there will be no approved budget, and even if the government would submit a modified budget to a popular vote, there will be no guarantee the citizens will approve it this time.

A more extreme, and even more dysfunctional, example of budgeting by referendum is California. As a result of a series of initiatives the Californian state budget is fixed for a substantial portion. Such initiatives have form of “Do you agree that the government should spend 30% of its budget to education?”, on which the citizens can only vote “yes” or “no”. And whatever the majority wants, will be done. The result is that some government programs are over-funded, while others are underfunded. Another problem which might arise is an inconsistent budget, i.e. a budget which spends more than 100% of the budget.

Often this example is used by opponents of direct democracy to “prove” that direct democracy does not work.  However, the problem here is not (direct) democracy as such, but the “dogma” that a budget has to be approved by a majority of the voters. It’s taken for granted that if the government would want to spend one million MU on public parks, this should be approved by a majority of voters, even if this is a majority of one vote.

This majoritarian thinking has several problems. First, it forces the minority to spend its money on things they do not want. Secondly, a complex compromise has to be found, since money spent on A cannot be spent on B. It’s this second issue what goes wrong when you attempt to make a budget by referendum, millions of citizens cannot negotiate a budgetary compromise.

The whole concept of a non-majoritarian budget seems strange and democratic, but I will give you a non-budgetary example. A few years ago I heard on the radio the story of a father and daughter who had written a crime novel together, and how did they do this? Well, first the father wrote a chapter, than his daughter the next one taking her father’s contribution into account, then the father wrote the third chapter and so on. The father and his daughter did not vote, nor were they seeking a compromise on each chapter. And still they managed to finish the novel together.

Can we conceive a similar approach for participatory budgets? Yes, it can and several proposals have been made. One idea is known as “tax choice“, in this concept each tax payer determines how his or her tax money will be spent by checking the appropriate boxes on his tax form. This approach has two problems: it requires to have an income tax, the very thing we wants to avoid in a space settlement. And secondly it gives more power to those who pay more tax, and thereby violating the “one man-one vote” principle. A slightly different version has been proposed by Mark Rosenfelder.

The version of participatory budgets we propose is as follows. Each year each adult citizens receive a form from the national budget office. On this form the citizens can distribute, say, 10,000 MU among different government programs. One can spend all money on the military or distribute it evenly among education, science, healthcare, arts and infrastructure or some other combination. By filling in this form, he or she has only to consider his or her own preferences. After filling this form, it’s returned to the national budget office, which collect all these forms of the whole citizenry.

In this proposal every one has an equal vote on the budget, which follows from the arguments discussed in “The problem of taxation. Part Two“. Since land should be a collective property, the revenues from land rents should be enjoyed by all in an equal fashion. Hence it is justified that all citizens should have an equal say into the budget.

The next question is whether the entire budget should be determined in this way? No, we believe that a fifty-fifty split between the citizens and the legislature would be appropriate. It’s important that the state has some discretionary spending power, for example to act in an emergency.

Why should we consider participatory budgets at all? Because it enhances the concept of self-governing citizens, the core of classical republicanism. As we said above, the most important power of modern governments is the power to spend money. Participatory budgets gave citizens a real stake in the governance of their nation, state or city, and create also a sense of responsibility among the citizens.