Tag Archives: space colonization and politics

Overview cooperatives

We want that cooperatives shall play a central role in the economy of space settlements. In this post an overview of entries on cooperatives on this site.

A Cooperative Economy – A general discussion of what cooperatives are and why we favour cooperatives.

A few words on Consumer Cooperatives – A more detailed discussion on consumer cooperatives.

Borrowing versus leasing – A further discussion on funding worker cooperatives.

A Calculation Example – A in-depth discussion of housing cooperatives and hire-purchase as an alternative for mortgage loans.

Banking reform – The proposal that only consumer cooperatives should be able to obtain bank licenses.

Some thoughts on prostitution – Discusses cooperative brothels as a possible measure against abuse in prostitution.

In Radio spectrum in space settlements there is a short note on that mobile phone operators should be required to be consumer cooperatives.

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.

Constitutional issues: election or random selection?

Introduction

It’s time to discuss constitutional issues. Until now we have primarily focused on what policies we would wish to implement in a space colony, but politics has to operate within a constitutional framework. Specific constitutional arrangements have substantial influence on the political culture of a nation.

An important aspect of modern political systems, euphemistically called “democracies”, are elections. In a representative democracy, which is actually an euphemism for elective oligarchy, the citizens are supposed to elect people who are ought to represent their voters. The idea behind this “representative democracy” is that in a modern nation-state, with hundreds of thousands or millions of citizens, direct democracy is impossible. (It’s a little secret, but most, if not all, political scientists know that true representative democracy is in fact mathematically impossible.)

The primary function of election in modern political systems, is to provide a sense of legitimacy to the government. Under social contract theories, a government is legitimate if it has been approved by its subjects, consent of the governed as political theorist will call it.

However, the idea of government by consent has to be distinguished from the concept of representative democracy. A “consensual” government does not need to be a democratic one, since its perfectly possible for a group of people to consent to the rule of an absolute monarch. Therefore non-democratic forms of government can be justified on grounds of consent by its subjects.

Elections

Elections has several benefits, and also several drawbacks. One advantage of (regular) elections is that politician have an incentive to take public interests into account. At least this is an argument frequently raised by apologists of electoralism. In practise, however, politicians in an electoral system, tend to base their decisions on whether these are popular among the electorate, instead of these measures are in the general interest.

A common complaint about politicians in democracies, is that they often do not look further than the next election. Consequently short-term interests prevails above the general interest in the long run. Elected politicians are also highly sensitive for hypes, a process which is exaggerated by frequent opinion polls.

However, elections also allow citizens to participate in the political process. Besides the voting itself, they can join the campaign of their favourite candidate, they can discuss politics with their friends and family. The fact that there are elections, will trigger people to think about politics and to form their own opinions. Without elections, there are no incentives for many to contemplate political issues.

On the other hand electoral democracies are vulnerable to become particracies. As result of economy of scales, only political parties are able to succeed in a mass democracy. Most prospective politicians lack both the financial means and fame, necessary to win an election on their own. Well-known political parties, on the other hand, can easily attract funds for their campaigns.

Since politicians has to join a political party in order to be elected, political parties exert much influence on the political process by their selection of candidates. In stead of being servants of the public, many politicians are actually employees of a political party. By threatening not to reselect a politician for the next election, political parties can discipline its politicians.

Further political parties are capable to frame the political debate by emphasizing the issues they like. This marketing of political issues allows political parties to manipulate the public opinion, and it’s obvious that this is in conflict with the ideal of democracy.

There is also the risk of polarization, especially in two-party systems. Polarization can lead to a situation in which the political parties are not willing to cooperate with each other, and place the interest of the party above that of the nation.

Random selection

An alternative for elections is to select politicians by lottery, also known as sortition. Under this system there no elections, but are citizens randomly selected for political positions. According to some people, this system is more democratic than the current system of elections.

The proponents of random selection argue that an assembly of random selected members, is more representative for the general population than an elected assembly. This claim can be substantiated. When social scientists wants to do research to the public opinion, they often do survey research. But instead of surveying the total population, they only survey a random sample of the population. Statisticians have shown that by taking random samples, a reliable picture of the whole population can be obtained.

Random selection is also claimed to be more democratic, because every citizen has an equal chance to be selected for a political position. Consequently the role of political parties will be weakened. Actually one should wonder whether there will be any role for political parties under random selection.

Several arguments against random selection can be raised. One could argue that the average citizen is not capable for a political position, and that random selection will lower the average quality of politicians. They would argue that selection by political parties, will guarantee the quality of politicians. However, we can say that the current quality of the average politician is not that high either.

A more fundamental objection against random selection, is that the selection process might be manipulated by the incumbent government. This is especially the case when computer algorithms are used in the process. This might however be countered by making the sortition algorithm public.

Another possible objection is that a randomly selected assembly might pass laws, which have no support of the general public. In order to prevent to passages of such bills, we could introduce the option of a corrective referendum. If a certain number of citizens sign a petition within, say, ninety days, a referendum will be held. When the majority of voters rejects the bill, it will be cancelled.

Hybrid systems

It is of course possible to have a hybrid system, in which a part of the members of parliament are elected and another part is selected by lottery. Some authors have proposed to have one elected chamber and one chamber whose members are randomly selected. But also in unicameral systems it will be possible to have such a combination.

A hybrid system will have its own advantages and disadvantages. But generally we believe that such system would combine most of the good aspects of both systems.

If a substantial part, large enough to be relevant in votes on specific bills, of the legislature is consists of randomly selected citizens, the enormous influence of political parties will be reduced significantly. It will also weaken the link between parliament and the executive, and so it will enhance the separation of powers.

See also

Space settlements and citizenship for an alternative view of democracy.

Statehood, legal and practical considerations

Introduction

The primary purpose of Lagrangian Republican Association is the establishment of an independent and sovereign republic in space. However, what is sovereignty? And what is a state? These questions are of great importance for every movement aimed at the colonization of space, whether in free space or on Mars. In this post we will discuss several issues related to statehood and sovereignty. Continue reading Statehood, legal and practical considerations

Space colonies and drug policy

If there is one thing we do not need in any future Space settlement, it is organized crime. One of the leading factors in organized is the prohibition of drugs. So if we want to reduce organised crime, we have to deal with drugs.

We have first to consider why the war on drugs has been a failure. American professor in criminology, Peter Moskos, has explained this as follows:

A child victim doesn’t go out searching for another criminal abuser. But that’s exactly what a drug addict does.

An arrest in the war on drugs usually creates a job opening. Arrest thousands of drugs dealers […], and other needy or greed will take their place. (Moskos p. 19, 2011).

The problem is that drug crimes are economic-demand motivated crimes. As long as there is a demand for illicit drugs there will be people who will sell drugs. And this trade in drugs is mainly controlled by criminal organizations.

Some people belief that using drugs is a victimless crime. They argue that since no third party is harmed if one chooses to do drugs. Therefore under harm principle drugs ought not to be prohibited. Although the principal “victim” of drug consumption is indeed the user, there are, however, serious issue related with drugs.

One is that drugs are addictive, if one uses drugs once they have a physical or mental need to continue using drugs. If a pregnant woman uses drugs, her child might be born already with a drug addiction. This certainly violates the harm principle and could therefore be prohibited or regulated. And being born with a drug addiction is not the only risk resulting from using drugs while pregnant. Children of addicted mothers suffer from several mental and physical development disorders.

Many (heavy) drug users are unable to function at their work, and hence get fired. Subsequently, they turn to crime to support themselves and finance their drugs. In this way drugs also causes significant harm to society. Heavy drug users also do harm by their behaviour. When people are under influence of drugs, they will behave in a different manner then they would otherwise. This is often asocial or violent behaviour.

Until very recently I was a fervent supporter of the global war on drugs, for the reasons mentioned above. I really believed that space settlement should prohibit drugs and should impose harsh punishment to enforce this prohibition. But I had a change of heart when I learned about the truth of the war on drugs in Mexico. Since 2006 tens of thousands of people have been killed in Mexico by rivalling drug cartels.

The Mexican Drug War is the direct result of the American war on drugs, since Mexican gangs are the main suppliers of drugs on the American market. In fact the war on drugs are causing much harm than the problem it ought to solve. Is this really what we want in a space colony?

Unlike some other proponents of drug reform, Republic of Lagrangia believes that drugs should be legalized in combination with regulation. How would our drug policy look like? First, we should treat drugs as a public health issue rather than as a matter of criminal justice. Drugs users who want to come clean should be helped by the government.

In order to prevent in influx of drug users, we should modify our immigration policy: terrestrial drug addicts should not be allowed to immigrate to outer space. If they can overcome their addiction, and stay clean for some years, we might welcome them as new settlers.

Although the use of drugs causes several social problems, violent drugs dealers are probably an even worse problem. The problem of drugs dealers is easily to solve: in order to have supervision on drug users, the state should consider to monopolize the trade in drugs. Since the state has no profit motive, it could offer drugs at cost price. The production of drugs is quite cheap, it’s prohibition which increase their market value. Because of this huge margin of profit, people become drugs dealers. If the state should offer drugs at low prices, then dealing drugs will lose its attractiveness.

Another benefit of state controlled supply of drugs, is that drugs users can be sure that the stuff they purchase is actually safe. It is not uncommon for ruthless drug dealers to sell instead of drugs, dangerous substances as wash powder. Because of the illicit nature of this trade, no fooled drug users will report those bastards to the police. Therefore these criminals get away with their fraud.

Also we believe that selling drugs to persons below 18 years of age should remain illegal.

References

Moskos, Peter 2011. In defense of flogging. Basic Books, New York.