Tag Archives: economics of space colonization

The problem of taxation. Part One

Introduction

For the purposes of this post, I will define Space governments as the owners of space habitats.

Governments of space colonies need funding, both for protecting their citizen and for maintaining space habitats (and for several other purposes, depending on the specific policies of space colonies). The question is how Space governments would raise their funding. In this post I will discuss several proposals for taxation and non-tax revenues.

Regardless how future space communities will be organized, one thing is certain: space habitats have to be maintained and are someone’s property. The communities of the larger space habitats, like the Bernal sphere or the O’Neill cylinder, with their several thousands of inhabitants, also need security, both internal and external. So the “owners” of space habitats have to provide at least the following services: maintenance, police and national defense. Also highly desirable is the arbitration of conflicts between residents of the space habitat. But governments will almost certainly offer many other services, especially when they have to compete with other space colonies for citizens who are able to vote with their feet. Of course some space governments will only a minimal government package, with low taxes, but I guess that many more governments will offer more elaborate bundles of governmental services.

Whatever services a government of space colony offers, they need to be funded. One way to do this by imposing a head tax, a fixed amount of money to be paid per person. In fact this is a kind of “rent”, where the taxpayer pays for the “right” to live in a particular space habitat. A head tax is especially interesting for those space communities which are committed to a minimal state. But for space communities with a more elaborate government a head tax will most likely to be insufficient for funding these services, or they had to be so high, that no person is willing to pay them, or many are simply unable to pay them. Foot voting present a fundamental problem for any space government: people like to have many services to be provided by their governments, but are less willing to pay the required taxes.

Since space colonies are new comers in the global “market” of societies, the cannot rely on for example feelings of nationalism, people who strongly identify with their country are more likely to pay their taxes (with the possible sole exception of the USA). Furthermore, we can safely assume that the persons most likely to emigrate to a space colony are those who have the least attachments to their homelands. Attracting immigrants with income tax rates of 90% will not work.

Therefore we need to find other ways for funding space governments.

Canons of taxation

Adam Smith formulated in his famous work On the Wealth of Nations, four rules for levying taxes which governments should keep in mind. These rules are known as the canons of taxation.

1. Canon of equity: this is the principle that people should pay taxes according to their ability to pay and the benefits they receive from society. The logic is that people who has the greatest advantage of public services should also contribute the most of it.

2. Canon of certainty: this means that people should know in advance how much they had to pay. This is both beneficial for the government as the tax payers, since they can plan their revenue and obligations in advance.

3. Canon of convenience: taxation and the collection thereof should not place an unreasonable on the tax payer. For example taxes should be collected at the moment the tax payer receives the money.

4. Canon of economy: the collection of taxes should not be more expensive than the revenue. The lower the costs of collection, the better. If a tax is difficult to collect, less revenue can be spent on public services since more money has to be spent on collection.

For more information on the canons of taxation can be found on this site, it also discusses additional canons made by modern economists.

Tax on consumption

Many popular proposals for abolishing income taxes advocate their replacement with sale or value-added taxes. There are several problems with this idea. First of all are taxes on consumption regressive to income. Wealthier people spend as a proportion of their income less than poorer people, the wealthier a person is the more he will either save or invest his money instead of consuming. Because basics needs are (almost) the same for everyone, regardless of their income. This problem might be solved be charging a higher tax rate on luxury goods than on basic goods, however this leads to the question of what is a basic or luxury good? And who decides this?

A basic problem with consumption taxes is the collection, these taxes are collected by retailers from their costumers. Although costumers will be pay their taxes without notice, the tax officers have to check whether the retailers are collecting the right amount of revenue. It’s easy to imagine that some shopkeeper collects the sales tax from his costumers, but keeps a part of the money himself.

Another complication is in our age the on-line sale of goods and services. On line shopping is not restricted by national boundaries, so if one buy something on the Internet from abroad, how would you impose a sales tax? Recall that sales/VAT taxes are collected from retailers, not consumers, and foreign based retailers are not bound by laws of other countries.

Income taxes

Most modern countries rely nowadays on taxation on income as prime source of public revenue. A common system is Pay as you earn, which means that your employer will withhold some of your earnings and transfers it to the tax agency. Income taxes may be levied on both natural persons as on corporations.

However a common problem is unreported employment. For employers it is attractive to employ people unreported, because they will have to pay less wages for the same amount of work. Another problem we have with income taxes is the fact that these taxes are violating people’s privacy. In order to calculate how much money someone owes to the state, tax officers has to collect a huge amount of data: how much and what work one has done, what kind of assets one has and so on.

Income taxes are usually progressive or proportional. Also most countries have a lot of deductions for all kinds of stuff, mortgage interest rate, if you have a business, or whatever. Actually these deductions are more a tool for wealthy people to avoid taxes legally, if you afford to pay a good accountant you can save a lot on your tax by exploiting all kinds of loopholes. Therefore tax agencies has to spend a lot of efforts in order check whether tax deductions are filled legitimately. Because of this, we are no fan of such deduction. In our view it is better to have a low tax rate with no deduction than a higher rate with much possible deductions.

Non-tax revenues

A common definition of tax is:

A compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government on workers’ income and business profits, or added to the cost of some goods, services, and transactions (Oxford dictionaries).

This helps us to understand what non-tax revenue is. However this definition is missing one essential aspect of taxation, namely that taxes are without a direct quid pro quo for the tax payer. Non-tax revenues are non-compulsory payments for goods and services provided by the government to private parties.

Many governments in the world have multiple sources of non-tax revenues. In some countries this kind of revenue is a substantial part of public funding. We should ask what kind of non-tax revenues could be utilized by the governments of Space habitats. This question is in fact equivalent to what kind of services can space colonies provide to their residents for the purpose of raising public revenue?

There is actually a very obvious service which can be provided by the governments of space habitats: land. Since they are the owners of the colony, all land contained in the habitat is their property. By renting land to interested private parties, space governments can raise revenue to fund their activities. Interestingly, by providing certain public services the governments of space colonies might increase the rental value of their land. Good school, clean streets, low crime rates are among of several factors which will attract potential emigrants from Earth.

The idea of using land rents to fund governments is not a new one. During the 19th century American economist Henry George argued in his famous work Progress and Poverty, that a so-called Land Value Tax (LVT) would not only be quite efficient but it would also raise sufficient revenue for governments to fund public services.

Because land cannot be hidden or moved out of the country, collecting a LVT is quite efficient. Most modern countries have already an elaborate registration of ground ownership, and space colonies should easily be able to keep track of who rents  what and how much land. A further advantage of the LVT is that it does not discriminate among different classes of tax payer. It does not matter whether a single person, a family or a corporation rents the land.

In a future post we will explain more about Henry George and his defense of the LVT. Here we want to state that according to George taxation on income from labour and capital is both immoral and bad for the economy. A tax on land, however, is just because land is not created by any particular human and hence belong equally to all.

Land in a Georgist sense does not only include “area”, but also the electromagnetic spectrum (used for wireless communication) (among other things). Because the EM spectrum is not made by man, it also belong equally to all. Licensing the radio spectrum will be good source of additional revenue for space colonies.

Another important source of non-tax revenue for space colonies are the sale of asteroidal resources. Asteroid mining is, we believe, is the raison d’être of space colonization and as we has argued in a previous post, it would be one of the most profitable activities of space colonists. However, terrestrial experiences has taught us that funding governments with the easy money from natural resource extraction is often detrimental for both the economy as political freedom.

Economists talk about the Dutch disease in this context. The export of a natural resource by a nation often leads to increase in public spending and to a decrease in productive activity. Instead of spending revenue from resource extraction, it would be better to put these into a sovereign wealth fund and to use the dividend from this fund for public spending. In future post we will discuss the role of sovereign wealth funds for space colony governments.

See here for part two of this post.

For more information on the land value tax:

http://www.newstatesman.com/economics/2013/01/whats-justification-land-value-tax

http://geolib.pair.com/essays/sullivan.dan/royallib.html

Elon Musk’s Mars plan scrutinized

South African entrepreneur Elon Musk announced his plan to colonize Mars some time ago. In this post I will critically review his plan and I will compare with that other plan to colonize our Red neighbour by 2023. Of course, we of Republic of Lagrangia are quite sceptical about any plan of colonizing Mars, however for a discussion of our position we will refer to this post.

The Huffington post devoted an article to Elon Musk’s plans. According to this article Musk wants that prospective colonists should pay half a million dollars for their ticket to Mars. This amount is both too low and too high. First I will explain why it is too low. We all know that (manned) spaceflight is a very expensive enterprise, for comparison: it takes 7.5 million USD a day to keep one man on the International Space Station. Actually Dennis Tito got a huge discount for his trip to the ISS, he paid 20 million USD for something less than 8 days on the ISS.

We might assume that the costs of a manned trip to Mars will be at least of the same order, perhaps a little bit more. An educated guess for the costs of a Mars mission might be 15 million USD per crew member a day. Further Musk wants to start with 10 people, most Mars missions assume a minimal mission duration of 501 days. Total costs will be 7.515 billion USD. If Musk is seeking to fund his colonization plans with the sale of tickets only, he has to raise the price enormously or he has to find additional funding.

On the other hand the ticket price is much to high. Only multimillionaires can afford to pay this without being declared bankrupt. Unfortunately the number of multimillionaires willing to pay such amount of money in order to emigrate to an extra-terrestrial desert, will be probably very low. It would surprise me, if it would be more than a few hundred (on the whole planet).

And why should the very wealthy want to emigrate to another planet anyway? History learns us that it are the poor and disadvantaged who are most likely to emigrate, looking somewhere else for better chances in life. Yes, rich people emigrate also, but mostly to places with high and expensive services, which Mars totally lacks.

The people who are most willing to emigrate to Mars are educated young people who have not much money, and therefore almost nothing to lose. How would these people be able to pay their ticket? Not at all. Of course someone else might pay for their ticket, but why? Well it might happen that the multimillionaires who are willing to emigrate to Mars, are looking for personal on their Martian estates.

In the early days of the colonization of the America’s there was an institute called indentured servitude. Under this system young people were transported from Europe to America, while their journey was paid by someone else, mostly by a ship captain. However this was not a gift but a loan, which had to be paid off. So in return for the trip, the so-called indentured was obliged to work for several years, usually seven, in order to repay the debt. When an indentured servant arrived in America, the ship captain usually sold the indenture to people who were looking for cheap labour.

In fact indentured servitude is a kind of (voluntary) temporary slavery. It’s not hard to imagine how a spacecraft is launched from Earth with a crew of ten, of which nine are the servants of the tenth person. Since 500,000 USD for each immigrant is a lot of money, even for the very rich, those who are paying someone’s else ticket will see this as an investment. And investments are motivated by return on investment, so it’s more than likely that wealthy Martians will make their indentured servants work hard.

Maybe this is what Musk really wants: a Mars covered by large domed estates, owned by wealthy terrestrial tax-refugees, on which (nearly) all work is done by contract slaves. Sounds to me as a quite feudalist society.

Of course there are other ways to fund Musk’s dreams of establishing a colony on the Red planet with 80,000 residents. Since we can safely assume that no one will pay 500,000 USD for an one-way ticket to Mars, he should think of lowering the ticket price. However this means even less money to fund his expensive ambitions.

One solution is to use a lottery system. Suppose that there on this planet some several hundred thousand to a few million people who might be willing to emigrate to Mars, but we know there is only place for ten on the first manned spaceflight to the Red planet. Now it is possible to sell lottery tickets to everyone interested, instead of winning a large sum of money you will win a trip to Mars. What would be the price of such lottery ticket? Selling one million tickets for 10,000 USD would raise 10 billion USD, which would be enough for a manned mission to Mars (this amount is higher than 7.5 billion I mentioned above, however that was a minimal estimate).

If Musk managed to collect enough funding for his Mars program, he has only enough for sending people to Mars and setting up a colony. However he lacks any idea how such Mars colony would survive economically, the colonists should still need to import stuff from Earth. This is especially true if the colony only has a few dozen members, but also in case of just 80,000 colonists. This means that the Martians should have to export stuff to Earth in exchange for the necessary imports. The only suitable economic activity we can think of on Mars, at least in first decades after the first landing, is mining. (Transit time between Mars and Earth make space tourism very unlikely.) However mining on Mars would never be able to compete with Asteroid mining.

Our conclusion is that Elon Musk’s plan for the colonization of Mars is just another heavily flawed proposal for a manned mission to Mars by private “space” groups. Musk shows no sense of realism, either in regard of the total mission costs or what people are reasonably willing to pay for a ticket. Actually we believe that Musk suffers from what is known as planetary chauvinism, a very dangerous condition.

Space settlements and foreign policy

Introduction

When space settlements are reality, they will have to interact with other human communities, whether these are other space settlements or terrestrial communities. Especially in the early days of human space colonization, almost every space based community will be dependent on both the Earth and other space settlements, since it will be highly unlikely that one (small) space colony can be entirely autarkic. Therefore space based communities are required to maintain international relations and so they are in need of a foreign policy. In this post I will, for the sake of the argument, assume that space settlements will be sovereign entities, which are free to manage their own affairs.

Relations with terrestrial nations

Basically we have to distinguish between international relations with terrestrial nations on one hand and with other space settlements. This reason for this distinction is simple, for the next few decades, and probably for the next century, Earth will be the most populous entity in our Solar System and for obvious reasons it will also serves as man’s center of culture and civilization.

The first space settlements will depend on trading, especially mineral resources, with Earth for their economic survival. Additionally, the early settlements will have to rely on the importation of many specialized goods from Earth, at least until the moment these can produced in outer space. This means that the Earth as a whole has huge potential of power on space settlements.

It is easy to imagine that Earth will demand low prices for the resources they buy from Space Settlers, while asking for high prices on the goods they sell to Space communities. If terrestrial parties are able to play out space communities against each other, the Earth will probably be able to achieve its aims. One way to counter this is for Space Settlements to develop their economies as fast and as diverse as possible, in order to weaken their dependency on importing goods from Earth.

Another way is for Space Settlements to organize themselves and to act as a unity in their relations with terrestrial nations, much like how organizations as OPEC operate. This strategy is especially advantageous if space settlements are able to play into the differences and conflicts among terrestrial nations and to exploit them to their own advantage.

Relations between space settlements

Inter-settlement relations differ fundamentally from terrestrial-space relations in certain aspects. Trade between settlements will, at least during the early years, be limited. The abundance of mineral resources in outer space (recall that we believe in colonizing the near earth asteroids instead of, for example, the Moon), means that most Space Settlements will be self-sufficient regarding these. The most likely goods to be traded among Space Settlements are agricultural products (because this will be much less expensive than importing these from Earth), and when Space economy became more developed there will be a shift to more specialized goods, which will replace importing from Earth.

A complicating factor in inter-settlement relations are the great distances between space settlements. This will reduce the chance of escalating conflicts, but also hinders cooperation between Space Settlements. The abundance of resources reduces potential for conflicts, therefore war between (coalition of) Space Settlements is quite unlikely during the early decades. Most Space Settlements will probably tend to avoid interference with the domestic affairs of other Settlements.

Suggestions for foreign policy

How should Space Settlements shape their foreign policy? Our advise is basically: avoid meddling with the internal affairs of other communities, both terrestrial and space-borne. As we have argued earlier, Space Settlements shouldn’t join the UN, a statement we want to repeat here. A policy of strict neutrality regarding conflicts between terrestrial powers, will improve the reputation of Space Settlements as peaceful and non-threatening political entities.

Also should Space Settlements abstain from purely terrestrial questions, such as global climate change. There is absolutely no reason for Space Settlements to join, for instance, the Kyoto-protocol or similar treaties. By avoiding getting involved with purely terrestrial affairs, Space Settlements will avoid irritation by terrestrial governments and this will subsequently reduce the emerging of hostile sentiments among some terrestrial groups.

Further we of Lagrangian Republican Association, believe that Space Settlements should also refuse to act as mediators in conflicts between terrestrial nations/parties. If Space Settlement are able to get known as peaceful and neutral communities, some will be tempted to ask them to mediate in purely terrestrial conflicts. However this would be a violation of a strict non-interventionist foreign policy.

Also by acting as a mediator, Space Settlements risk to lose their reputation as neutral states, especially if negotiations are without result or if one of the conflicting parties believe that the results are not fair in some way or another. Since it is almost impossible to determine whether such party is right or not, this risk is in our opinion to great.

Manifesto part 7

Funding

The important question is how are we going to fund our plans. The cornerstones of our funding plan are crowd funding and incrementalism. The introduction of internet and online banking, has made crowd funding possible. The idea is that the members of the public will make a small donation to fund projects they like. Several artistic projects, games and even companies are successfully financed through crowd funding. There are actually two kinds of crowd funding, donation and loans. In the latter case the money has to be repaid with interest, in both cases a large sum of money can be raised by a large crowd willing to donate/invest a small amount of money.

Incrementalism is that we start small. First we want to collect around €100,000 in donations from the public, with this money we want to buy/lease a piece of land in Northern Chile. Subsequently we want to lend up to a million Euros for building our spaceport. In the next phase we will offer our launch facilities to customers in order to generate revenue for both paying interest and reinvesting. When we can run our launch base profitably or at least almost profitably, we can ask for a second and larger loan (through crowdsourcing) for our first NEO mission. Once we can return a sample containing some precious metals, the age of Space Colonies is finally arrived.

The third principle of our funding policy is that we do not accept government funding or large private donations. Since we want to create a new independent republic in Outer Space, we prefer ten thousand donations of €100 to one donation of €1,000,000. Once we allow government sponsoring, we are at risk of becoming a colony of an existing state. Also we do not want to allow that wealthy people or corporations can buy into our movement, with the result that our “republic” only serves the purposes of our “donors”. This, however, does not mean that we will never cooperate with governments or corporations, but only if we believe such an action would be beneficial for our cause.

Manifesto part 4

Off-the-shelf components

In the last section we saw that in situ resource utilization is key to reducing the costs of a space colonization. Space settlement programs are expensive, so any method to reduce the startup costs is welcome. (I say startup costs, because once asteroid mining becomes profitable space colonies will be economically self-sustaining, but that will probably be at least after two decades.) One other way of reducing costs is by making use of off-the-shelf components as much as possible.

According to Eric Drexler extensive use of off-shelf-components can reduce costs with a factor six. Further Drexler argues that space stations do not have to be made of “special” space materials, many ordinary materials can do the job. Mass production has made this components cheap. One frequently made assertion for special designed components for space stations, is that is important to reduce launch mass. Drexler challenges this “wisdom” by stating that the required research and development costs more money than is save by the reduced mass.

By relying on off-the-shelf components as much as possible we will save a lot on research and development. Are we against R&D? No, but wasting money on reinventing the wheel over and over again, is what has caused the effective collapse of the US space program. But in fact a lot of research has already be done in the last fifty years on this subject. Much more research will not make space colonization to happen any sooner, on the contrary. Of course some research has to be done, but only when necessary to solve practical issues.

Manifesto part 3

Resources from Near Earth Objects

Near Earth Objects (NEOs) are a collection of comets, asteroids and some other objects within the orbit of Mars. Most of these objects regularly come within close range from the Earth, some of those objects are actually easier to reach than the Moon. This seems strange, but in space travel access is not measured in distance but in velocity increments (delta V), which is a measure of the required energy. Because of the Moon’s mass it takes more energy to get to the Moon. And if we want to leave, we have to overcome the Lunar escape velocity.

In order to reach the Near Earth Objects, we have only to overcome a relatively small change in our position relative to the Sun. (Delta V is related to the local escape velocity from the Sun, which is a function of the distance from the Sun.) Therefore we need a rather small delta V to get to the Near Earth Objects. Of course the actual required velocity increment depends on the exact position of a particular object, but since there are several thousands of them we will simply pick one which is relatively close.

The major advantage of NEOs as a mining site, is that they contain a broad variety of resources. Unlike the Moon NEOs contain all chemical elements needed for a modern industrial society. And since NEOs have a negligible gravity, only a modest amount of fuel is required to return resources to Earth or anywhere else in space.

In situ resource utilization (ISRU) is the use of extraterrestrial resources at or near the location where they are mined. ISRU is opposed to importing resources from our planet. One example: the American space company Bigelow Aerospace has designed and built inflatable space stations. Suppose we buy one and we launch it to, say, L4. There we inflate the structure with air, which we have extracted from a Near Earth Asteroid. This example show the benefits of ISRU, by using air from NEO resources we can reduce the payload we need to launch from Earth. Basically we should restrict ourselves to launch only those items which cannot (already) produced in space, in order to reduce launch costs.

The extraction of resources from NEOs, is also important in funding space colonization. Especially the (limited) export of the precious platinum group metals will an important source of revenue for Space communities. The prospect of for-profit asteroid mining also makes it possible to do space colonization without government funding.

After some time, when space based industries are more developed we need to import less from Earth, since more products are manufactured locally. One development which is of interest of space colonization is 3D printing. This technology is also called rapid prototype technology or desktop manufacturing. 3D printing makes it possible to produce complicated structures in short time without a large workforce. Once a structure is stored in a computer file it can be printed on demand. Of course this technology has its limitations, but the prospects are quite promising.

3D printing and space colonization

Part One of this of this post was originally posted on blogspot.com on November 4, 2012 and Part Two was published there on November 24, 2012.

Part One

As you can read in our manifesto  we have high esteems of the prospects of 3D printing. This technology will make it possible to produce customized spare parts anywhere they are needed. In combination with in situ resource utilization, 3D printing will lessen the dependence of Space settlers of importation of goods from Earth.

Why do we have such a hopeful view of 3D printing? This article on BBC News shows that it is possible to print the parts of guns with a commercial available 3D printer. Not that we advocate this particular application of 3D printing, far from it. But that some technology may be used for (possibly) illegal application, is not a reason for banning it (this would as absurd as outlawing the Internet, only because Internet has mad it easier to spread child pornography). For instance knifes can be used for legal purposes like cooking, but also for murdering people. The use of technology of illegal purposes should be banned, not the technology itself, certainly if the noble applications are much more important.

That said, I will return to my argument. If it is possible to print parts of guns, it will be possible to create many more stuff. Notice that a properly working gun is a moderately complex object. Within a few years from now, 3D printers will be able to create almost every part we need, including the parts of a 3D printer itself. It is not hard to imagine to bright prospects of 3D printers for space colonization.

Once 3D-printing has advanced to the point that nearly all things can be printed, we need only to bring one 3D-printer (or at least its dissembled components) to outer space. There we can print new printers, thereafter we can produce all the stuff we need, while simultaneously weakening our dependence of Earth based supplies. Which is important, because it makes Space Settlers less vulnerable from extortion and blackmailing from Terrestrial powers.

Part Two

A couple of weeks ago I did a post on 3D-printing, today I found the following article. This article describes a method to print electronic circuits, which a of huge importance for space colonization. We cannot think about space colonization or space travel in general without the extensive use of electronics.

This new development will make the production of cheap electronics reality. And by moving such 3D-printers into outer space, Space Colonies will become self-sufficient much earlier than I would have ever dreamed. As I have explained in my earlier post, the dependence on the import of components from Earth is both expensive and will make Space Colonies vulnerable to sabotage by terrestrial parties.

I am interested to learned what is next regarding 3D-printing.

Why the current proposals for Space Tourism are a dead end

There are nowadays dozens, so not, hundreds of companies offering or planning to offer tourist trips to outer space. Most of this proposals only provide a flight up to a hundred kilometres above the surface of the Earth, technically this is outer space. But those trip only offers a few minutes outside our atmosphere, so we don’t consider this as “real” space travel.

Of course we believe that anyone should have the right to start his/her own space travel agency, we of course want to do same in a few years time, but we seriously doubt whether these current initiatives are helpful for the start-up of human settlement of Outer Space. First most space tourist companies are not interested in permanent settlement of space, since they didn’t have the budget to support such colonization programs.

But our second and most important argument is, that many space tourists companies, ask much money from their would-be costumers. There is a large range in prices, but they are usually in the order hundred thousands to millions of dollars a flight a person, this means that only a few people in the world can actually afford this. Further of the worlds millionaires only a small percentage is likely willing to pay a large sum of money for a few minutes in Outer space. So we expect that these initiatives wouldn’t succeed due to lack of sufficient demand.

Our conclusion is therefore that the current Space Tourist proposals are a dead-end to humanization of Space.

Bernal Spheres, Stanford tori and the return of the polis.

This post was originally published on blogspot.com on April 23, 2012; updated June 13, 2014.

In this post I want to share some thoughts I have had for many years, concerning the ancient Greek city-state, or polis (plural poleis) and what we can learn from them.

Both O’Neill’s Island I and its main competitor the so-called Stanford torus are designed for some ten thousands of inhabitants, roughly the population of many small cities. And since space habitants of this kind can easily moved to any place within our (inner) Solar system, they can enjoy a great amount of isolation just by keeping distance from other space colonies. Furthermore the abundance of space resources makes economic self-sufficiency not only feasible but also very likely.

Here on Earth no country can turn to a policy of full autarky without paying a huge price. Effectively only very primitive societies can be autarkic without giving up current wealth. One reason of modern globalization is that highly technological industries require large amounts of various resources, of which many are both rare and spread over different parts of the world. Some resources are as good as exclusively found at one place on Earth. Some argue that this interdependence promotes world peace, while on the other hand  we see that competition of scarce resources actually lead to many international conflicts.

In space there is a different situation, since there are a lot of recourse rich asteroids. Actually some “small” asteroids contains a few times more resources than anything ever dug up by Mankind, not only these asteroids have a huge abundance of resources but they also contain virtually all chemical elements needed by highly industrialized societies. A second difference is that competition among space colonies for resources will be low, due to great amount of asteroids, reducing tension among Spacer societies.

We can easily imagine that a small space colony, type Bernal sphere or Stanford torus is located near a small asteroid (dimension less than 1km). Such space society will be economically and politically independent from any other state (whether Spacer or terrestrial). This comes very close to the ancient Greek ideal of the polis: a political independent community of a few thousand people and economically self-sufficient.

Since the time of the ancient Greeks the ideal of small independent communities have repeatedly promoted by political activists. But these ideas and initiatives are repeatedly defeated in favour of the nation-state. A modern incarnation of this attitude is Communalism as conceived by Murray Bookchin. Bookchin, who stood in the anarchist tradition, opposed the nation-state, because it is undemocratic and a tool for corporate interest. Instead he argued that people should organize direct democracy at municipal level. And in a next stage, such municipalities should organize themselves into confederations, these confederations should compete with the Nation State for power. Confederations of municipalities differ from nations in an important way: the municipality is the primary political unit and the municipal citizens’ assembly is the Sovereign; the confederation is just an organization for cooperation and joint action by municipalities, and the representatives of the municipalities in the confederal council are purely coordinating and administrative.

Personally I believe that Communalism and its aims are not realistic, on Earth, because nation states are too well-organized and most terrestrial people don’t care about politics in general, and specially they don’t care about the Nation State. I suppose that most readers of this blog have never heard about Communalism before. On Earth I see no future for Communalism and related ideologies, but in Space Communalism and its idea may play a major role. Although I am not a Communalist myself (mainly because I disagree with its anti-capitalist nature), I believe that Communalism can provide valuable insights on how to organize Space colonies.

Some Space colonies may opt for Communalism, while other colonies will try other forms of government. But I believe there is a future for small polis based political communities in Space.

Inside view of a Bernal sphere

Interior including human powered airplane

 

 

Outside view of a Bernal sphere

Bernal Spheres - exterior

 

Some thoughts on terraforming

This post was originally published on blogspot.com on October 22, 2011

Terraforming is a recurring idea in both science fiction and real proposals for space colonization. In the latter it is often seen as a logical next step after initial settlements on other planets. Actually there are in space colonization theory two different approaches: 1. colonization of celestial bodies (moons, planets and so on) and 2. using space habitats (free-floating space stations intended for permanent settlements).

Terraforming is, of course, part of the first approach. For some reason approach 1 is the most dominant and best known version of space colonization in both science fiction and public knowledge. We of Republic of Lagrange are, however, supporters of approach 2, which we’ll discuss in an other post.

Terraforming is seen by some planetary chauvinists as the ultimate goal of space colonization. But we want to discuss some issues related to terraforming.

The most important problem of terraforming is the rather small amount of planets or other bodies in our solar system which can be terraformed. Actually only two bodies can be terraformed: Venus and Mars. All other proposed candidates for terraforming have too less mass, to maintain an atmosphere. Although the scientific study of terraforming started with Venus, most likely candidate for terraforming is Mars.

A problem with Mars, and to a lesser degree also with Venus, is that Mars is a lot smaller than Earth. Therefore Mars’ total surface area equals Earth’s total dry land area. Calculations show that if Mars is changed into a blue planet approximately half of its surface will be covered with a two kilometer deep ocean, and so reducing the potential area for settlements. If we use Earth’s current population density, this gave living space for some three billion people, that sounds a lot (and it is), but if future space civilization grows to a multiple tens of billions people, the combined surface area of Earth and Mars, whether or not terraformed, is much too less.

The same problem also goes up for Venus, although this planet has some ninety percent of Earth’s total surface area (both land and water). But in order to remove the thick and carbon-dioxide rich atmosphere, some propose to introduce large amounts of hydrogen into the Venusian atmosphere where it should react with CO2 to water and oxygen. However this would cause a Venusian ocean which covers eighty percent of the planet’s surface, with a depth of some hundred meters. A quick calculation the remaining surface will provide Lebensraum for some 4.7 billion people (assuming current terrestrial population density).

Our preliminary conclusion has to be that terraforming only offers a limited amount of land for space colonists. We have to terraform both planets in order to allow a doubling of Earth’s population (at current density).

But is far from the only problem of terraforming, in both cases the total costs will be enormous, Mars will probably be cheaper than Venus, since the former is easier to terraform. And in both cases it will take centuries before the process is completed.

So the question is whether we should go for terraforming Mars and Venus? Honestly, I think we shouldn’t. In each case we need to move vast amounts of resources through the solar system. We could make better use of those materials than for wasting them in terraforming. Free space habitats are cheaper, faster to realize and easier to move. And resources in the solar system allow space habitats to increase mankind’s living space with a factor thousand.