Tag Archives: politics

Automation: challenges and solutions

Automation is a bless and a curse. On one hand it liberates humans from dangerous, monotonous and boring work, while on the other hand it takes jobs from people and hence their source of income. The latter is not without consequences. Continue reading Automation: challenges and solutions

Banking reform

Intro and recapping

In part two of our series on monetary reform we briefly discussed the role of banks within the Mordan banking system. There we argued against fractional reserve banking, and to distinguish between on demand deposits and time deposits. The difference between these two types of deposit, is that in the former case the account holder can withdrawn his money from this deposit at any time, whilst in the latter case the account holder deposits his money to the bank for a certain period of time, during which he can’t withdraw his deposits.

Subsequently, we argued that banks should only allowed to lend the money from the time deposits, but not from the demand deposits. In technical terms we can see that time deposits are loans, more precisely a mutuum, from savers to the bank. And demand deposits are just money given to the bank for save keeping.

In this post we will give a further discussion of the Mordan banking system.

What are banks?

The term “bank” covers a whole lot of different kinds of financial institutions, hence it’s necessary to specify several types of banks. First we should make a distinction between retail and investment banks. Retail banks offer financial services to consumers rather than to corporations. Investment banks are usually involved in raising capital for corporations in other ways than by providing loans.

Retail banks offer a wide ranges of services to consumers and businesses: save keeping of money, facilitating financial transactions, accepting savings from and providing loans to the public. It’s perfectly possible to separate these functions in separate banks, saving banks typically only perform the last two function. And we can also imagine a bank which only accept demand deposits and facilitate transactions (in return for a fee), we could call such bank a transaction bank.

Many retail banks also offer asset management to wealthy clients, but we believe that asset management should be separated from the ordinary banking.

Organization of the new banking system

We propose a strict separation between investment banks and retail banks. This means a total ban on so-called universal banks. Practically investment banks are prohibited from offering retail banking services, and vice versa. In order to maintain this prohibition investment and retail bank should not be allowed to be united in any way.

Besides we also propose a strict separation between banking and insurance companies (we will cover insurances in another post). It’s nowadays a common practice for banks to sell insurance policies in addition to their banking services, this is mostly only for the purpose of raising more revenue for the bank. We believe that it’s in the interest of the consumers if banking and insurances are clearly separated from each other.

Currently most banks are stock companies, owned by their shareholders. Consequently banks have more incentives to serve the interests of their shareholders rather of the interests of their clients. Therefore we propose that all retail banks should be run as consumer cooperatives, i.e. only cooperative should be able to obtain a retail banking license.

Not only is this proposal in line with our commitment to a cooperative economy, but also because a cooperative bank is owned by its own clients, such a bank will pursue the interests of its clients. Additionally cooperative banks are by their very nature protected against hostile take overs. Hostile take overs have a disruptive effect on the financial sector and hence on the economy.

The obligation of being a cooperative will not apply to investment banks or asset managers.


Of course these rules have to be enforced, there we propose the establishment of the Mordan Financial Services Authority (MFSA). This supervisory agency will be separate from both the National Monetary Authority and the MFK. The MFSA will supervise the entire Mordan financial sector, it will license banks and can retract those, and quite importantly it will have the authority to arrest bankers for noncompliance with the law.

Related topics

Space settlements and monetary systems. Part 1

Space settlements and monetary systems. Part 2

Space settlements and monetary systems. Part 3

A Cooperative Economy

The Federal Credit Bank

The Problem of Taxation. Part One

The Problem of Taxation. Part Two

UN rejects national sovereignty and tries to fustrate democracy

On BBC News we just read the following article, in which the UN argues that Uruguay’s decision to legalize cannabis is in violation of international law. This statement by the UN, is in our eyes once again a reason that space settlements should never join the UN. The United Nations is an organization which is hostile to national sovereignty and democracy.

Republic of Lagrangia supports the decision of the sovereign nation of Uruguay, because the “war on drugs” has utterly failed. And even worse tens of thousands of innocent people have been killed as result of gang wars caused by the criminalization of drugs. By opposing the only way to handle the problem of drug use, legalization and regulation of drugs, the UN is responsible for crimes against humanity.

And we have to keep in mind that UN law is not the same as international law.

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.

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

A Cooperative Economy


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

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

Constitutional issues: rights and judicial review

This is the third part in our series on the (possible) constitutional arrangements for the political systems of space settlements. In this part we will discuss the topic of constitutional rights and constitutional review.

With constitutional rights we mean the rights as they are established by a national constitution. Often when people are talking about rights, they refer to what we would call moral rights, i.e. the rights people are supposed to have according to some moral theory. Only since there a zillions of different moral theories, there are also zillions of sets of moral rights. Therefore any discussion in terms of moral rights is bound to derail.

Constitutional rights are a special subset of legal rights, rights defined by law. Because these rights are part of the constitutions, they are more difficult to change than rights establish by ordinary legislation (of course this depends on how easy it is to modify the particular constitution).

Modern constitutions usually include a list of fundamental rights. Though it usually believed that a constitution should have a list of fundamental rights, this is however no automatism. The original US constitution did not have such list of enumerated rights, the famous bill of rights were incorporated into the American constitution as amendments, subsequent changes in the constitution. And the constitution of Australia is another example of modern constitution without a bill of rights.

In both cases, the American and Australian ones, there had been substantial opposition against idea of including a bill of rights in the constitution during the drafting of these documents. In the American case, the proponents of a bill of rights eventually won the battle, but the Australians have still no bill of rights.

The question is, of course, why a bill of rights in the constitution, or why not? Also in case of this issue, there’s a rough distinction between republicans and democrats (likewise in the previous post in this series, these terms refer here to positions in political theory, and not to the US political parties of the same names). Republicans were generally in favour of including a bill of rights into constitutions, whilst democrats generally opposed to it. However this distinction has never been very strict.

The republican case for a bill of rights as part of the constitution is based on their concerns that power corrupts, and hence governments will be tempted to abuse their power. Constitutional rights, republicans argue, are constraints to the power of the state. Since a government is not allowed to violate the constitution from which it derives its authority, a bill of rights does protect the citizens of the state against abuse of power.

However, the opponents of including a bill of rights into a constitution can raises several objections. First, a bill of rights is only a list of rights on paper, and by itself it cannot protect the people against governmental abuse of power. Secondly, such list would be unnecessary in a properly designed constitution, which contains a good system of checks and balances. Under such a constitution the several organs of state will prevent each other from abusing power.

In the case of the Australian constitution, the writers argued that since Australia would follow the British system of common law, this would protect the traditional rights of English law. Therefore the inclusion of a bill of rights was deemed unnecessary. However, since space settlements are most likely to adopt civil law, this argument will not apply to the framers of the constitutions of space settlements.

Even if a constitution does contain a bill of rights, these rights are essentially worthless if citizens cannot enforce these against the state. Judicial or constitutional review allows a person to appeal against a law or executive orders in court, if this person believes that the law in question violates his or her rights. If the court finds that the law does indeed violates the constitution, than the law will be declared void to the extent that it conflicts the constitution.

When it comes to constitutional review, there are basically two system: review by ordinary courts or review by a special body, often called constitutional court or council. The first system originates from the USA, where the Supreme Court has claimed its authority to review laws on their constitutionality. Though constitutional review is mostly from its US application, the US constitution does not grant this power explicitly to the court system. More recent constitutions, such as the German Basic Law, explicitly grant this authority to the Federal Constitutional Court.

A special case are the Netherlands. Like in most other nations, the Dutch constitution includes a bill of rights. However, it has a clause (article 118) which explicitly prohibits courts to review laws on their constitutionality. The rationale behind this prohibition is that the Houses of Parliament, the Council of Ministers and the Council of State, will provide for enough scrutiny of bills, which would ensure that no laws are passed which violates the constitution. However, as everyone in the Netherlands knows, in reality the political composition of parliament determines whether a bill is approved or not, and not its constitutionality.

Though constitutionally enshrined rights are meaningless without the possibility of constitutional review, the reverse is not true. In federal countries power is shared by the states and the federation, and the constitution determines what powers belong to either the federation or the states. Most federal constitutions include a list of exclusive powers belonging to the federal government, and other powers belong to the states by default. A very few federations do the opposite, granting explicit powers to the states and all other powers to the federal government.

In a federal country, a government might not make laws on matters on which the other government has exclusive authority. If for example the federal government attempts to legislate on a matter, which is reserved by the constitution to the states, than the state government can ask the court to review the law. Constitutional review is essential in federal systems, since otherwise states and federal government will attempt to make laws on matters outside their authority.

Though the terms constitutional and judicial review are often used interchangeably, they are not identical. Many countries are party to human rights treaties, such as the ECHR, and since treaties usually prevail above domestic laws, citizens are able to review laws on their compatibility with such human right treaties. This especially of great importance in a country as the Netherlands, where there is no constitutional review.

Space settlements could create a similar treaty, and subsequently adopt constitutions without bill of rights. This has the advantage that treaties can usually only be amended by unanimity of the adherent parties. But on the other hand, a state might unilaterally secede from such treaty. Therefore we recommend that space settlements to include a bill of rights in their constitutions, and allow constitutional review.

Constitutional issues: Unicameralism or bicameralism?

This is the second part of our series on constitutional arrangements of space governments. In a previous post we discussed the topic of elections versus random selection of politicians. In this post we will look at the issue of unicameralism or bicameralism.

Virtually all modern political systems have an institution known as parliament. This institute has multiple functions, which might vary from country to country, but generally these are: representing the citizens of the state, the creation of laws and as check to the executive.

Because of the first function, most parliaments are elected by its citizens or have at least one elected chamber. According to democratic theory, the representative function of parliament, entails it to exercise legislative power. The third power is actually a reminder of ancient, classical republican thought, which we will discuss in future post about classical republicanism and the separation of powers.

In this post, and for that matter in all our future posts, we will discard of the fiction that parliament represents its citizens. Therefore we will treat parliament primarily as a legislative body.

In many countries parliament consists of either one or two chambers. Parliaments with three chambers have existed in the past, but are nowadays obsolete. Arguments for tricameralism are usually similar to those in favour of bicameralism, so we will not discuss such system in this post.

Historically bicameralism has been defended by republicans, whilst democrats were in favour of unicameralism. (NB. the terms republican and democrat does not refer here to the US parties of the same names, instead these terms are used here accordingly to 18th century political theory.)

Republican political thought has traditionally be concerned with the corrupting nature of political power. As remedy against the abuse of power by governments, republican believe in mixed government or in more modern language, checks and balances. By having several competing political actors, the possibility of abuse of power by a single actor would be reduced, but not eliminated.

On the other hands, democrats are arguing from concepts such as popular sovereignty and the unity and indivisibility of the nation. Therefore, democrats argue, having a multicameral parliament is unnatural, since in a bicameral parliaments the two houses might disagree with each other and only one of them could be truly reflect the public opinion. And if the two houses would always agree with each other, such arrangement would be superfluous.

Unfortunately, in our days the distinction between republicans and democrats has severely eroded to the point that people will use these terms interchangeably. Therefore other arguments have been introduced in the debate between unicameralism and bicameralism.

In line with the idea of checks and balances, proponents of bicameralism in both federations and unitary states argue that a second chamber, which is often either appointed or elected indirectly, as a chamber of reflection. In some countries, such as the UK,  the upper house is merely an advisory body, whilst in other countries, such as the Netherlands, the upper house has absolute veto on all legislation.

Bicameralists argue that in parliamentary systems of government (in which the executive depends on the support of at least one of the chambers of parliament) there can only be a real separation of powers, if there is a second parliamentary chamber. Since in a parliamentary system the executive usually is supported by a majority of MPs, the separation between the legislative and executive branches of government is only theoretical. The solution for this problem is therefore, to have two chambers of parliament.

Unicameralists might, on the other hand, argue that a bicameral parliament is inefficient and/or undemocratic. This because a bill has to be discussed in both houses, before it could be passed.

Further unicameralists could argue that there other methods of ensuring checks and balances. One way could be the direct election of the president or prime-minister, which would enhance the separation of powers.

Also constitutional review can provide an alternative check, in this case the court system or a special constitutional council could exercise as check. The difference between a constitutional court and a second chamber, is that the former is apolitical (in that it only looks whether a law violates the constitution) and that it only reviews laws on request (of citizens or specified government institutions).

Some more democratically minded proponents of unicameralism, argue that referendums are a way of ensuring checks and balances in government. This would also eliminate the concern that a second chamber is undemocratic (because it is elected indirectly or is appointed).

A special case for bicameralism is made in federations. Virtually all current federations have a bicameral parliament. Federalism is based on the idea of shared sovereignty of the states and the federal government, both receive their authority from their respective citizens. Therefore one chamber is directly elected by the citizens of the federation, whilst the other chamber represents the states and is often indirectly elected.

However, the specifics of legislatures in several federation vary widely. In some federations have weak bicameralism (one house dominates the other), whilst others have strong bicameralism (both houses exert equal power). But one should also consider that in different federations, the distribution of power between the states and the federal government also varies. Some federations are highly centralized, that they are only distinct from unitary states on paper.

In some federations, such as Germany, the chamber representing the states can only vote on legislation which affects the authority of the states. On matter which belong to the exclusive authority of the federal government, are only voted on in the chamber which represents the federation. We believe that this is the proper method to be followed in federations of space settlements.

The discussion about bicameralism, is not only about whether there should one or two houses of parliament, but also what roles these houses should have. Only in few countries both houses have equal powers, in most bicameral systems the (directly) elected house has the most powers, whilst the other chamber is limited to scrutiny of the executive and proposed legislation.

Weak bicameralism is often used as a compromise between unicameralists, who wants no second chamber, and bicameralists, who often favour a stronger version of bicameralism. On the other hand strong bicameralism is often associated with political gridlock, but it also forces politicians to make political comprises. This reduce the effects of political extremism.