Would a multi-planet humanity be freer?

Kevin P. emails me:

Suppose humanity becomes a multi-planet species. Does the percentage of people living in autocratic societies decrease or increase relative to what we see on our planet today? How do the time and resources required to travel between inhabited planets affect this?

Do some people on “free” planets work to help the non-free? More or less than such countries today? Is there some scale that is reached so a free Federation comes to guaranty freedom everywhere? Or maybe a tyrant or tyrants, once they have a couple wealthy planets under their belt are unstoppable because of cooperation difficulties of the individual free planets?

When I think of settling other planets, my base case is one of extreme scarcity and fragility, at least at first and possibly for a long time.  Those are not the conditions that breed liberty, whether it is “the private sector” or “the public sector” in charge.

Maybe corporations will settle space for some economic reason.  Then you might expect space living to have the liberties of an oil platform in the sea, or perhaps a cruise ship.  Except there would be more of a “we are in this all together” attitude, which I think would favor a kind of corporate autocracy.

Another scenario involves a military settling space, possibly for military reasons, and that too is not much of a liberal or democratic scenario.

You might also have religiously-motivated settlements, which presumably would be governed by the laws and principles of the religion.  Over time, however, this scenario might give the greatest chance for subsequent liberalization.

America developed to be as free as it did (at least for some people) mostly there was so much free land.  Living standards were relatively high, and moving further westward was always an option.  It is hard for me to think of an interplanetary version of the same condition.  Easy exit and free resources don’t seem to go well together with the concept of space settlement.

Space stations and settlement will give the power to those who control the infrastructure, a bit like Wittvogel’s Oriental Despotism hypothesis, except with both air and water being scarce.

I thus expect that interplanetary settlements, whatever their other virtues, will not do much for liberalism or liberty.  Here is my earlier post on The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.


It could well be very free, in a situation similar to the manorial system in England, before William the Conqueror.

Assuming the outposts would be created by private enterprises (most likely, given the investments involved), they would hardly be able to treat residents as serfs. The places would likely be not democratic at all (thanks God), but the right of exit would likely be respected.

Of course, we are talking about Solar System colonization. Anything outside would impede emigration because of costs and time required for the trip.

Why would the right of exit be respected even within the solar system? If a company pays to train you, equip you, boost you out of the gravity well, and shuttle you to a place where you'll be useful, they will expect to make their money back. Some companies may be more reasonable about this, but when they control transportation, which will be a scarce and expensive commodity for centuries to come, absent some really scifi stuff, they will only contract to take people who sign up for onerous early termination penalties. 'Free market', or not, a contract with a 7 figure get out early clause will be an effective deterrent against making too many waves on an asteroid mining base.

You are right, depending on economics, some type of contract will protect the investor. The 7-years indentured servitude period as payment for transportation to North America in the early colonial period comes to mind. Still, people will move in only if they expect to improve their conditions, if it is not a State, compulsion does not exist, it is a trade. Reputation will be very important. The possibility of a exit, even if subordinated to a hefty termination fee, cannot be eliminated completely without destroying the attractiveness of the offer.

if it is not a State, compulsion does not exist,

Come again?

"Come again?"

Here, I'll help you: only the State (i.e. government) has coercive power.

Sez you.

If we gave Trump supporters their own planet, what do you think will happen? I'd pay good money for that Netflix special.

Everyone else would starve, since they mostly don't know how modern farming and animal husbandry works? The non-Trump supporters remaining who happen to have guns (gang members, perhaps?) would rule the place?

A world with only left-wing, non-practical academics, super rich celebrities, bureaucrats and welfare cases remaining isn't exactly going to be a paradise, but I bet you'd have a good football and basketball leagues left behind, so I guess there's that.

I'm pretty sure the farmers, mechanics, military, etc... who do most of the actual work would be fine on their new planet.

'When I think of settling other planets, my base case is one of extreme scarcity and fragility'

By the time humanity can make use of the abundant resources found in our solar system alone, scarcity and fragility seem to be non-concerns.

Or in other words, predicting how global air travel would look from the perspective of 1910 is probably not the best way of approaching making predictions.

Bonus link - science fiction from Rudyard Kipling looking at global air travel in 2000, 'With The Night Mail, A Story Of 2000 A.D. - http://www.gutenberg.org/files/29135/29135-h/29135-h.htm

Raw resources are overrated while environmental services are underrated.

Environmental services is all the work done by plants, bugs, fungi, bacteria and protozoa to build us a cozy home. Photosynthesis, decomposition, nitrogen fixation in soils.

People tend to overlook the things we get for free =(

'Raw resources are overrated while environmental services are underrated. '

Yes, but since we cannot even keep a closed environmental cycle working on Earth, one could say that global maritime trade is impossible when using Viking long boats as an analogy of our current state of technology. My thought was more along the lines that vast amounts of hydrocarbons seems easily accessible in the solar system, for example. And that using such hydrocarbons should not be all that challenging in terms of using plants, bugs, fungi, bacteria and protozoa to build us a cozy home.

All of this is merely playing with ideas, of course, but I am definitely not using a 1950s framework when talking about abundant resources. That we currently are still at the long boat stage of technology or understanding in this regard is true, of course.

Don't we have a historical precedent in the European settlement of North America and South America?

I should have more closely read Tyler's reply to see he noted it.

For the Americas, anyone breaking off to move west still needed to bring wealth and technology with them. Even though the land was full of trees, they couldn't just magic an axe into existence. They needed to bring that, along with the temporary shelter they would use while cutting down trees to build their new house.

It will take a while to get there, but eventually people will be able to bring the technology they need to build a new colony on Mars. Given that the ability to make shelter and air are literally the life-giving technology there is going to be a lot of drive to improve those things.

And nails. Nails were valuable enough that settlers moving further West would burn down their log cabin to recover the nails before leaving.

But just imagine someone writing in 1450 about the future of the New World - their predictions would certainly be unlikely to include the idea that the amount of free land would lead to democracy.

Further, the amount of free land in South America was not exactly trivial - this extends even today, to how Brasil continues to settle its interior. Think bulldozers creating the roads that farmers follow, essentially.

Basically, the vision of the Culture that Ian Banks had is no less likely in terms of the freedom of a multi-planet humanity when looking at a longer time scale than the next couple of decades or centuries.

The presence or absence of dividing lines between independent nations may influence freedom - a future in which Earth has become so small as to demand a single government might be oppressive. Here is a stretch from Gibbon (https://www.gutenberg.org/files/25717/25717-h/25717-h.htm)

The division of Europe into a number of independent states, connected, however, with each other by the general resemblance of religion, language, and manners, is productive of the most beneficial consequences to the liberty of mankind. A modern tyrant, who should find no resistance either in his own breast, or in his people, would soon experience a gentle restraint from the example of his equals, the dread of present censure, the advice of his allies, and the apprehension of his enemies. The object of his displeasure, escaping from the narrow limits of his dominions, would easily obtain, in a happier climate, a secure refuge, a new fortune adequate to his merit, the freedom of complaint, and perhaps the means of revenge. But the empire of the Romans filled the world, and when the empire fell into the hands of a single person, the world became a safe and dreary prison for his enemies.

The magic ingredient that makes both democracy and capitalism work is peaceful competition.

In a world with a single world government, there would be little, if any, competition. That's bound to make governance worse.

The "free land" mentioned by Tyler is more of a food factory for nearly immediate use or sale. Google "cost to put one pound into space" and get $10,000 USD as a result. Freedom and free stuff are not the same. And I wonder if 17th century freedom is the same as 21st century freedom, and whether progress in technology can be used to conserve what we today consider liberty.

We will have strong AI well before any interplanetary travel. Future colonists of any planet will be electronic therefore (its much easier and safer to send them rather than any physical organic being). What AI society looks like no-one knows.

'What AI society looks like no-one knows.'

The Culture series from Ian Banks at least presents one vision - and it seems to include the idea of maximum freedom for humans. You are welcome to say that it is merely science fiction, of course.

The Ian Banks books are simply stories - it is one of almost an infinite number of possibilities that could occur when strong AI is eventually realised. Personally I think that the type of society that emerges when entities have IQs potentially in the billions won't be very comprehensible to us - if we survive in that society as any recognizably human it will be roughly like being an insect in today's world.

From an insect's point of view, is today's world so much different from the world of 100 million years ago?

I said "if we survive". Most likely we will be wiped out because of competition for resources.

"We will have strong AI well before any interplanetary travel"

Interplanetary travel was developed 50 years ago. AI is still conjectural.

I was not aware people were regularly travelling to Mars?

Surely you are aware that there are no technical obstacles to doing so, though?

Um, let us just say there is at least one unsolved technical problem as of today, though there may be some workarounds (including simply accepting the risk) - https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/radiation-remains-problem-any-mission-mars-180959092/

I didn't say it was riskless, but radiation is pretty far down the list of potential problems colonization will face. Also interleaving mass, which you have in abundance on a planetary surface, is a simple solution. In transit you have to endure a short term risk, for now.

I'd put radiation in the same category as zero-g. Just don't stick around in interplanetary space until your mass budgets are really large. Certainly these are risks that pale into insignificance compared to the risks colonists of North America undertook in transit.


Of course the radiation expert at NASA says the problem his team studies needs more money before people can go to Mars.

If you had $50 million to reduce the health risk of a Mars mission, it would be better spent on better health care before and after the mission than on trying to reduce the risk of long-term cancer from the mission by a few percentage points.

(Solar flares need to be stopped, but there is no rational mission that doesn't account for this, since solar flares can kill the crew dead in a few minutes. However, we know how to shield from solar flares and it is straightforward.)

"I was not aware people were regularly travelling to Mars?"

We traveled to the Moon. For practical purposes, it's another planet. Indeed, Tyler linked to his previous commentary on "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" which is specifically about a colony on the moon.

The moon is another planet the way the Sun is another star. It's way closer.

That seems an odd prediction, when interplanetary colonization attempts (much less "travel") are imminent and strong AI is still at the "nobody has any clue how to do that" stage. Seriously, we could have had a manned base on Mars 50 years ago - there's no real technical doubt, it was just a question of money and organization. But AI? There isn't even the foundation of a method we think could scale up. Is strong AI 200 years in the future? 500? As the easy gains from improving hardware have come to a halt over the last decade or so, things will be harder.

If you wanted to predict the first interstellar colonists will be virtual, that I might believe. But even there, we're closer to fusion engines and hibernation pods than we are to meaningfully human-like AI.

I don't agree. We have made almost no progress since the 1960's on interplanetary travel, we have made huge strides in computer technology (I assume Moore's law is familiar to you). I cannot see realistically any interplanetary travel of any significance in the next 50 years, I see very realistically a strong AI.

Moore's Law is now dead. From 2016: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/601441/moores-law-is-dead-now-what/

That's what Lord Action meant when he typed "the easy gains from improving hardware have come to a halt"

I meant it a little more broadly, but yes, thank you.

"Moore's Law is now dead. "

Actually you fail for a fake head line. The article doesn't even attempt to back up that claim. The article actually states: " Intel has suggested silicon transistors can only keep shrinking for another five years."

That being said, Intel has been slowing down it's CPU reduction and is staying at the 14 nm level. On the other hand, AMD is claiming they will be release 7 nm chips in 2020 in a move to leapfrog Intel.

The process node names don't really mean what they used to mean - progress has slowed down massively. Features are no longer shrinking at the rate they were shrinking. Transistors are also not getting faster at anything like the rate they used to be. Just look at clock rate stagnation. Single thread performance hasn't improved much in a decade. All the innovation is on the side of figuring out what can be done with GPUs and GPU-like hardware, which is interesting, but not the same as what used to happen.

It's not fair to say progress has stopped, but the easy gains are certainly gone, and Moore's Law isn't working like it used to.

Hardware improvement isn't going to give us strong AI. Much more needs to be done.





And so on.

All good points, but it's noteworthy that the first link in your set, actually disputes the idea.

"Our conclusions have often been at odds with public statements by semiconductor designers and the foundries that build their hardware. ...I’ve argued in the past Moore’s Law isn’t dead so much as its transformed. "

But I'm certainly willing to entertain the idea that were at the end of Moore's Law. But I also remember all of the discussion of the end of Moore's law just after I graduated high school. (that would be the late 80's to early 90's.) It's been going for over 50 years and there have been lulls during that time period. When there hasn't been a major advancement for a 4 year period, we'll have matched that lull.

Given that the interplanetary travel technologies of the late 60s were good enough for colonization, even if it were true that no progress had been made, it doesn't seem like much of an objection. And the idea that no progress has been made is ludicrous. You may have heard of computers...

Also, I don't understand where your position on strong AI could be coming from. It looks to me like we fail at even simple tasks that intelligence find easy, and that we have no clue how intelligences actually work, nor any prospects of artificially approaching the problem in general. So I put it in the distant future. It's not even up there with fusion power, where at least we know what the hard parts are and have some proof-in-principle that it can be done from bombs.

It obviously depends on who is funding the colony, but I wouldn't be surprised if such colonies were a form of democracy. Think of the Althing of Iceland, formed on the fringes of Europe. In a society like that (where there are so many failure points and ways to die), you'll want broad societal consensus on many things.

Not exactly disagreeing, but noting that societies like that may be free in the sense of non-autocratic, but they tend not to allow for individual free spirits. A small group on the edge of survival needs to enforce a high degree of social conformity.

A small group on the edge of survival doesn't need to enforce a high degree of social conformity. Everybody knows that certain behaviors are absolutely necessary. Deviations result in death. In post-modern society even dim bulbs know better than to push a bike in front of an autonomous car, just as Neanderthals wisely didn't take selfies next to saber-tooth cats.

For sure. I'd expect them to be kind of small-c conservative unless they have a ton of resources to spare, and have really strong social norms and pressure on many aspects of their lives.

Today Tyler turns to generalities about how humans could evolve by expanding the territory of Planet Earth. It’s entertainment for idle people, for people that learned over many years a little about the history of how humans occupied Planet Earth and for people that have been dreaming for years about a different humanity —now they are old and they like to be entertained by people like Tyler. I appreciate that finally, Tyler is acknowledging the importance of politics, although he still prefers to approach it only as if the problem were how to meet all people’s demands for different types of lives while ignoring how to meet some people’s demands for the power of coercing others (how do we explain the division of Planet Earth into “only” 200 “very different” nation-states?). We may look at our history as “voting with the feet” to find new places in Planet Earth where we can be free to pursue a new life, running away from tyrants, but then we need to explain why so many humans —in many instances, a large absolute majority— seem to prefer a type of life imposed on them by others. It seems that often we have not been willing to sacrifice whatever we have to pursue a new life elsewhere —if Mars were open for humans to settle, I bet that few would pay the price, whatever it is, of moving there (we can talk a lot about Venezuelans running away from Maduro but only a minority have left the country or planning to leave). Yes, before considering new planets in our plans, we still have a lot to learn about politics and our Planet's political order.

Tyler may be onto something on this one. What happens today on an airplane, a ship, or oil platforms?

We are not that aware but we surrender some civil rights and freedom during a few hours while traveling to other country. What happens if the travel lasts months instead of half a day?

I think there's a good example in history: ships and admiralty law. Ships a flotating mini-dictatorships. The survival of everyone on board requires rigid power hierarchies. Can there be a dissenter on a ship or Mars if the survival of the group demands obedience?

Meh. Of course, the first ship to Mars will be organized like an expedition, but that says nothing about what things will look like in 2100.

The thing to expect is diversity. The earth is getting more homogeneous as immigration and communication eliminate differences between places. It will be a while before that can happen across space.

As for an early colony, I'd expect something more like McMurdo Station, which is government run, but isn't exactly the Navy. The initial endowment of personal is going to be heavy on engineers and scientists, not test pilots. It's going to be a lot like a grad school.

In a hundred years, though, all bets are off. Scarcity will no longer be a defining characteristic. In historical terms, it won't be long before it's nicer up there than it is down here.

Agree on the short- and long-term. Short-term won't really tolerate people deciding to do random experiments (of a lot of kinds) when you are in an enclosed dome and death is just a few feet away.

But as society gets richer, it will get cheaper to set up new outposts.

There's going to be a lot of experimentation. People who think that the only thing stopping the creation of their [liberatarian/socialist/free love/no IP/populist/religious] utopia is a matter of will are going to try their best to make their visions come true. Most of them will fail and be negative lessons for others to avoid, but one or two will find something that works and be beacons for everyone else to emulate.

The only slightly comparable modern milieu is a submarine, which is not a bastion of anything.

Pretty much true. However, one assumes that things will change from our current state of art - if only because our current state of the art is thoroughly incapable of creating a multi-planet humanity in any significant sense.

(Yes, the Polynesians pulled it off in a certain similar fashion in terms of small vessels with small groups landing on distant islands, but then Axa's point about environment become extremely relevant.)

Peter Thiel has given up on seasteading and instead purchased property in New Zealand to escape the coming apocalypse; indeed, the prototype planned for San Francisco Bay has not only failed to appear but Mr. Thiel has left the building. So now the seavangelists must turn their eyes upward and dream of spacesteading. Spacevangelists, I suppose. There's theological precedence for the spacesteaders: recall that Jesus persuaded His Disciples to give up their day jobs in anticipation of space flight up to Heaven at the approaching End of Time. Apparently, though, Mr. Thiel isn't buying it, as he plans to do his steading in New Zealand at the End of Time.

It's so bizarre on their part. If you think a big calamity is coming, do you really want to gamble on the people deciding that a foreigner's private property rights are inviolate in that situation? That does not have a good track record, looking at history.

In any case, New Zealand finally wised up and cracked down on foreign purchases of land.

Lacking other options, building a fortress and buying the allegiance of locals is probably the most sensible plan. It's basically a coin flip whether you get run out or can stay on top.

I read somewhere an advice to billionaire wanna-be expat survivalists, it was something like: treat your security force and servants good NOW, so they are loyal when you need them.

You might want to marry one of the locals as well, if you've settled on this.

I agree with the rest - you need your servants and hired guards to be steadfastly loyal, and that means you need to provide for them so they can be there with you with their families if things start to go south.

I hope the Kiwis tax traitors of America like Thiel to kingdom come.

TC underrates that to do interplanetary exploration you need (1) free energy (fusion), and, (2) some sort of time travel, like either putting people in hibernation or warp speed (breaking the speed of light). Thus, you need physics we don't have yet, but when and if we get them, you won't need to be so strict about conserving resources as TC says.

Bonus trivia: fire in space is a big deal, due to limited oxygen, so little or no smoking is allowed. Thank you for *not* smoking.

Or people that live a really long time.
Spending 100 years on a spacecraft won't seem like such a long time if you're going to live to be 1000.
Women will have their eggs extracted and frozen at 25 so they can bear children at 100 or 200, after they arrive at the colony.

"TC underrates that to do interplanetary exploration you need.."

Ray, you're confusing interplanetary with interstellar. Humans don't need free energy or time travel to settle Mars.

America developed to be as free as it did (at least for some people) mostly there was so much free land.

The price of this supposedly free land was the destruction of civilizations, still going on today.

Jeebus h, i saw that too. By “free” he meant after a mass program of ethnic cleansing and genocide

... and so after the savages were removed from our land by an expanding federal government, and any vestiges of their systems and culture wiped away, and the deals struck with their representatives (of our choosing) were broken or unilaterally revised... then began the great American demonstration of the natural supremacy of private property rights and liberty

Take note of the current observation that some immigrants to the US are having difficulty "assimilating". The Euro-invaders of North and South America made exactly zero attempt to assimilate to the existing culture except in cases where not eating the disgusting local food would have been starvation or refusing to engage in sex with the local females would have meant celibacy. At the same time, converting the pagans to European religions was right up there with amassing as much gold as possible and setting up fincas on what was once tribal land.

The process continues today as Canadian/American football has become a staple of Alaskan high schools. Bringing both football and high schools to the "Last Frontier" demonstrates how assimilation works, "Assimilate by doing it my way."

The day I realized that 100% of the principles, values, and rationales stated by people who appear on national TV were completely ad hoc opportunistic revisionist amnesiac bullpoop, I became immeasurably free

Sovereign nationhood is not an inherent right enforced by a Supreme Court of Sovereignty somewhere. If you don't hold, someone will take. The sovereign plane is anarchic, not civic. The property rights don't show up until the farmers arrive and kick the hunter-gatherers off. Sometimes the pastoralists arrive after the farmers and kill off the farmers' Y-chromosomal line before settling down in their stead.

You might say human history is a series of waves, taking over. There is no way to roll back everybody to the pristine patch of ground occupied by their genetic haplogroup. We are who we are, and we are here, like everybody else.

The pre-Columbian western hemisphere was centered on agriculture. Where do you think maize and potatoes, among other things, came from?

But if what you say is true, that the European Christians, those of the city on the hill, were simply one more "wave", why get so excited about slavery, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the menace of the Soviets or 9-11? After an indefinite time none of it really matters, does it?

But if what you say is true, that the European Christians, those of the city on the hill, were simply one more "wave", why get so excited about slavery, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the menace of the Soviets or 9-11?

Because they are existential threats. If I were a Huron American in the 1700's, obviously I'd oppose non-Huron immigration. But I'm not a Huron and the Hurons lost their fight for sovereignty long before I was born. Unless you can come up with a realistic and ethical way to return every genetic haplogroup back to its pristine patch of ground, then the fact that I'm here is all the justification I need to keep being here and, to the extent of my ability and choice, to keep others away.

The definition of a straw man argument. Nobody is advocating an ethical way to return every genetic haplogroup back to its pristine patch of ground. The point is that the post-colonial descendants of the Europeans seem reluctant to recognize the fact that their current prosperity is based not on the tenets of the Enlightenment, humanism or Christian doctrine but instead on the same principles as the Mongol Horde. It's perfectly OK to kill people and take their stuff.

Your argument is getting even more unhinged. Anglo American civilization was built by the colonists. It was not taken.

There is no incentive for First World settlers to assimilate to pre-Neolithic societies. The food is terrible, life is short, productivity is low, and the women are ugly.

Since the total population will be bigger, total unfreedom wil also be bigger. This would be true even if average unfreedom became smaller.

Settling the Solar System could be a lot more like the North American experiment with technology more appropriate to the task. (My book tries to get a hint at what the difference could be like.) One of the main reasons to go might be to find a place where you were allowed to use the technology. (Imagine everyone on Earth with full access to nuclear, nanotech, and epihuman AI.)

We've got people living in space right now. How free are the people on the ISS? I doubt that can pass gas without it being monitored, and if they pass too much they would get kicked out.

If there were 10,000 people on the ISS, and it landed on Mars, it would be the same thing. And if Mars were terraformed to be just like Earth and we got a billion people up there permanently, it would still be run like a military installation, because that's how it started, and that's how they'd like to keep it. There would be no 2nd Amendment on Mars, I can tell you that.

The USA was very happy, very random fluke in the world order, people. Enjoy it before someone like Liz Warren turns it into Venezuela.

If the ISS was on Mars it would be completely different. The ISS has to be resupplied with water, but on Mars they could extract it from the ground. And there's the potential to do other things like grow food. The planet is a source of resources that aren't available in a vacuum.

Also, I really doubt that a terraformed Mars would just stay like a military installation forever. the survival situation would no longer hold on a terraformed Mars, so people would immediately start leaving the colony to go form their own.
Also, it's not like we could transport a billion people to Mars instantly. It would take centuries to get to that population level.

I believe this is wrong. The main things to consider are the cost of transport or transmitting influence between planets, and the cost of environmental life support on a new planet. If the cost of environmental life support is high and transport to earth is not very low, the level of freedom will be low. The people will be dependent on a central authority of some kind, who will most likely be quite authoritarian as a result. But if the planet is terraformed to be just like earth, you get the opposite result. Marginal life support cost drops to zero, productive land is plentiful and this situation will tend to result in high levels of freedom.

Regarding multiple planet situations, the cost of transmitting power is likely to remain very high. That means conditions on each individual planet may not effect each other very much. If transportation costs are still affordable, it may behave like a race to the top for conditions of freedom. If force projection costs are low, the dynamics could become quite different, but then the situation is likely to be a lot more similar to what we have on earth today.

Marginal life support cost drops to zero, productive land is plentiful and this situation will tend to result in high levels of freedom.

Huh. It's like lower population density means more individual autonomy or something. There's some sort of present-day application for this. I can't quite put my finger on it though ...

I agree that initial space colonies probably wouldn't be liberal or libertarian internally. They would function like literal lifeboats for a very long time, until technology or terraforming advanced to the point that people could leave the "lifeboat" (colony) and set up their own outpost without dying.

That's not really an argument not to do it, of course. There are reasons to spread humanity to other planets beyond creating little libertarian colonies. Plus, it's clear that living in a small communal group is what a lot of people actually crave as a social situation. Living in a space colony would enforce tremendously strong communal bonds similar to those that may have prevailed in prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies. The life of everyone in the colony would depend on cooperation and participation by all members. Many people really want that.

Further, due to the distances and the communications time lag, space colonies would have to operate highly autonomously. So it's possible that many colonies could form based on different philosophical principles - which has a certain libertarian aspect. Power would have to be devolved to the local government by necessity. People in the colony can't sit around waiting for help from Earth to survive, so they would have to develop their own food and water supplies and their own means to do repairs. Eventually those colonies would become resource independent, since everyone in them would have extraordinary stakes involved in making them so. And once they become resource independent it will be nearly impossible to control them from Earth.

+1 This pretty much gets it.

Thanks. You know I just recently saw a talk by Mike Foale who was on Mir when the Progress module crashed into it. One of the things he said was that when they lost attitude control, they were in a communications blackout, and he basically had to convince the Russians on board not to wait for ground support to tell them what to do. That was their training - to wait for commands from the ground. But he knew if they did that, there was a pretty good chance they would all die. So he managed to convince them to just go ahead and take action to seal off this module with the leak in it without waiting for an order. That's really what all space exploration is going to be like - sure it's going to be autocratic, but there's no way the people on board these ships or in these outposts are going to just sit around waiting for help from Earth. They'd all die if they did that. They're going to want to have the skills and resources on hand to DIY everything to stay alive.

"Space stations and settlement will give the power to those who control the infrastructure"

It's like Facebook and YouTube, but in space.

Yeah, it's possible that there could be multiple companies and a competitive market to supply the colonies. A lot of it would probably not even require any infrastructure besides launching a rocket from earth and landing a pod within a reasonable distance from a colony. No on-orbit infrastructure is required to do that.

Except most of the European history of colonialism and US westward expansion was one of monopoly or duopoly, with single dominant basically quasi-state companies.

I think that Steven Pinker does a good job making the argument that since the Enlightenment, humans have become more free and more democratic despite holdouts and 'blips'.

But this seems strange because the human population is huge today compared to even a hundred years ago. With all these people shouldn't we have a huge diversity of governments ranging from libertarian Ayn Rand havens to pure monarchies to totally novel structures (the President each year is awarded by lottery)?

It seems like just as there are relentless market forces pushing our consumption culture towards less diversity (5 billion cell phones yet two app stores!) that same applies to human governments.

Technology is pushing us towards homogeneity. The earth is a pretty small place because of the internet, mobile communication, jet and ocean travel. It will be some time before space becomes like that. Arguably because of the speed of light limitation it will never really become like that. We're beyond past needing a bigger place to live. Not so much because we're hitting up against some carrying capacity constraint, but because the neighbors have become too close.

So look for the next few hundred years to be marked by a resurgence of diversity of culture as humanity expands into interplanetary space, where immigration and communication outside your local community become hard, or at least slow, again.

Or human governments will follow a power law type distribution with the largest types also dominating the bulk of humanity. Go back a few thousand years and you have roughly the system you're talking about. China and Rome were trading partners but they weren't aware of each other. Yet even then it seemed despite a diversity of human groups, there wasn't much diversity in government. If you knew what an Emperor, a King, and a warlord was, I suspect you could make sense of at least 80% of the communities you might encounter with a population larger than a village or two.

Lessee... most of the colonizations were led either by religious purity groups and/or corporate state resource plunder, and they tended to be harsh and strict, supported by impressed or indentured labor and/or slaves, and accompanied by culturally destructive and violent treatment of the hosts.

Whoopie sign me up

If it's any consolation, space travel is so expensive for people that the companies that might have done that type of stuff with earlier waves of colonization will just use robots instead. If they use people at all, they'll be very highly skilled workers (to justify the great increase in cost of using them).

We might still get the violent treatment of the hosts, though, if we do a Mars colony and Mars still has life down below.

"We might still get the violent treatment of the hosts, though, if we do a Mars colony and Mars still has life down below."

Oh, I have no doubt that we'll find somebody or something to f**k over. It's sort of baked into the model I think.

"will just use robots instead"

God help us the day that the elites don't need serfs and servants anymore. Seriously.

If the robots are so cheap and versatile that they can replace most human labor, then it's also really cheap to have them provide an in-kind support system to mollify most of the population. Robot-provided housing, robot-provided food, etc.

Robot-provided herd-thinning...

We invented that kind of robot *first*.

Leaving you Mars colony and striking off on your own seems pretty intimidating

I wonder how much that's a function of what we think of today as easily accessible resources.

Striking off across the American West would be pretty intimidating in a naked and afraid state.

With a horse, a gun, an axe, maybe a plow, some seed, etc etc, it becomes more and more thinkable

What are the horse, gun, axe, etc of Mars exploration?

Durable 3D printer, thumb drive containing the relevant libraries of nanotechnology engineering code?

Bringing along the accumulated wisdom didn't mean squat for western pioneers. They faced new kinds of warfare (guerilla), different agriculture and weather (dry, with wind and floods), even different wild game (bison, which they misnamed and then squandered into near extinction in a genocidal orgy).

Rephrase your question into: transport, shelter, food, and defense. Water and long distances were the defining challenges of westward settlement, along with hostile hosts.

"Easy exit and free resources don’t seem to go well together with the concept of space settlement."

This is the Worst statement Tyler has made in a long time. Does he remember economics and technological advancement? These are both subject to exponential increases (compound interest). In the long run the costs are trivial.

Once mankind has Von Neumann robots harvesting the sun for power and the asteroids for resources, most hardware will be a minor fraction of costs.

Have you seen The Expanse? Wars of revolution become more likely. It will be exceptionally hard for a colonizer to project power in the early days of planetary colonization.

Have you seen Total Recall? In a world where oxygen is government or monopoly controlled, a tyrant is sure to take power.

On Mars, at least, it's hard to see how a monopoly on things like oxygen and water could be sustained when you can make oxygen from the atmosphere with table-top lab equipment and there's water all over the place.

Succession, sure, but interplanetary war seems hard to conduct anytime soon. Expect most moves to secede from a governing power to be met with an "okay, I guess." As England has been protected from invasion by the Channel, and America by the Atlantic and Pacific, so to will Mars be protected its advantage of terrain.

"On Mars, at least, it's hard to see how a monopoly on things like oxygen and water could be sustained when you can make oxygen from the atmosphere with table-top lab equipment and there's water all over the place."

True, but the early period before it's easy to go out on your own could last decades.

Sure, agreed. But there are people upthread talking about tyrannies ruling over billions on this basis. That's unlikely.

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I checked the Vegas book on the likely nature of space colonization.

Military-led outpost development operation. Even
Resource extraction venture. 5 - 4
Combined corporate-military project. 3 - 5
Religious breakout sect establishes new homeland. 1,000,000 -1
Libertarian utopian society. No line

People are talking about contracts in space. Who is enforcing these contracts?

The harsh environment would incentivize high levels of social trust.

Or high levels of piracy

It's clear from the comments that libertarianism depends very strongly on exit rights enabled by expanses of cheap land. High population density is inimical to libertarianism.

If you keep the total population level, then high population density in one place translates to low population density somewhere else. And nobody's forcing people to live in dense cities.

I disagree. Wasn’t Hong Kong considered a pretty libertarian place when it was still under the British? Not perfect, but pretty free and very market-driven.

Similarly, sparsely populated Russia didn’t end up being very libertarian.

I mean, its probably easier to make libertarianism work when you have no neighbors (who cares what you do with the livestock if I don’t have to see it.). But I don’t think it’s unworkable to have a much more libertarian society than the present American one, even with high population density.

Good point. You can have a libertarian political order in a high population society and it will still be highly functional. Although there may be cases where you have more objective individual liberty in a low-population setting, because there are fewer people around whose rights you are butting up against. That doesn't make the system less libertarian in a high population setting. it just means the equilibrium solution in a high density environment will tend to result in more restrictions on your personal freedom. (But of course it also create opportunities that don't exist in the middle of nowhere).

I guess another wya of stating this is that libertarianism as a political order will maximize individual autonomy, given any particular set of preconditions in terms of demographics and geographic constraints. But there could still be more objective individual autonomy if the preconditions are better suited to it.
For instance, you can have a libertarian government in a valley with only one exit. You're always going to have a bottleneck at that exit and people are always going to have to wait in line to get out of it, but you can optimize individual liberty by allowing people to freely trade their queue positions. But it's still better if you have a libertarian city in a flat plane with exits in all directions.

Yeah, I'd also say that you could have a more-or-less libertarian society even in a Mars colony. There would be restrictions on everyone's freedom based on the environment, but that's something libertarian societies can deal with. (For example, anything that risks fire in the habitat is probably a serious crime.)

One thing I think might be inherently less libertarian in such an environment is tolerance for crazy/irrational behavior. If we're in an environment where a crazy person is dangerous to everyone around them--you might be able to depressurize or set fire to the your part of the habitat and kill hundreds. I predict that while a fair bit of personal weirdness, variation in religion and sexual practices and interests, etc., can be tolerated in such an environment, anything that makes you look like you might snap in a way that endangers everyone around you will get you sent home or locked up or spaced.

Environmental concerns/pollution look really different on a Mars or Lunar colony, too. You can dump almost anything *outside* the habitat and nobody cares, but anything you put into the air or water of the habitat goes into the closed ecosystem, and if the filters and greenhouse plants can't deal with it, then it just accumulates till it starts killing people or necessary-for-survival plants. Dumping dangerous contaminants into the waste stream to save yourself a little time/money is liable to get you chucked out the nearest airlock by an angry mob.

Some ways I think a more-or-less libertarian social order could work:

a. There's a colony government, whose main job is managing the commons that make life possible.

b. To get people to do necessary work, they use a pretty normal employment market.

c. To allocate uses of resources between different things, they generally use a market. That might not be true for extremely scarce and essential-for-survival stuff, but it can be true for nearly everything.

d. People can have some kind of property title in particular bits of the colony.

e. Laws need to adapt to the close quarters and shared environment, but can still allow a lot of personal freedom. Eat, sleep with, pray to, read, etc., as you wish. But don't toss trash into the composting toilet works or you'll get in serious trouble.

f. Free-market agriculture is an interesting problem. Greenhouses are needed for processing the air, so deciding to (say) shut down your greenhouse until the colony government comes up with more goodies for you isn't going to work. (Chucked out an airlock by an angry mob *again*.)

But you would like those greenhouses run as independent businesses, so you don't end up trying to do centrally planned agriculture at a large scale, which generally doesn't work out well. On the other hand, you've got a closed-cycle between greenhouses and habitats for air and water and food/solid waste. That's probably hard-coded in by the infrastructure of pipes and air ducts, too. You can imagine some deal where each greenhouse has a quota of CO2 removal, O2 addition, water and waste from the habitat, etc., but is a private company allowed to alter crops according to market conditions as long as it meets those quotas. (Think of the CO2/oxygen as paying for the water/solid waste fertilizer from the habitation unit.)

g. Similarly, industrial production can be free-market, but there's probably some priority that the colony government can claim on production in an emergency.


I'm really enjoying this line of thought. It's really a great point that distinguishes libertarianism as a political organizing philosophy from individual autonomy or absolute liberty. Yes, you're free to be insane in the state of nature (see Ted Kacszinski) as an isolated individual. In a society with other people, libertarianism serves as a mechanism for maximizing liberty within whatever physical constraints you have. You'll always be more "free" the more abundant resources are - but it's important not to confuse constraints imposed by scarcity with constraints that come from society or the state. You can still have a libertarian government even in an extremely resource-limited environment, and there will be less individual autonomy in that situation but it will be the most individual autonomy you can have, given the constraints. So it really answers Tyler's objection - yes you could still have a "libertarian" government in space, but it would also likely involve a lot more regulation and less individual autonomy than you would have on earth.

The key issue for libertarianism, and classical liberalism, is to maximize Freedom of Action for the individual, an adult freedom. Unfortunately, there is a childish Freedom From Responsibility which is very politically popular, and is getting more popular, but involves using Other People's Money to pay for your own mistakes. Space colonization doesn't solve this -- but more fierce reality might help.

Insurance is the key not-quite gov't solution for free people to pool their money to cover the bad luck / bad choice (?) / bad outcomes. A more free society will have more varieties of insurance, which doesn't make for such good stories, neither The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, nor Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand is the other 50-60s writer who helped create the Libertarian Party (which she opposed) from her novels.

There's a lot of comments about "strong AI", since computer Mike is so novel-genic, such a great romantic figure. I'm sure that before we have such interesting AI, probably long before, humans will have highly competent AI slaves to do much of the work, especially the repetitive productive work. I actually haven't seen any good novels with lots of AI limited function slaves doing work so that the humans can ... play more video games? do more blogging? write more dystopian / utopian / medieval+magic novels? see more kitten & puppy videos? (Suggestions welcome of AI slave novels)

Colonization of the moon or mars will include robots doing productive work - smart diggers, smart miners, smart ore-to-metal refiners, so that lots of stuff gets done with little human labor. Much of the monitoring will be automatic, with limited human oversight of the automatic monitoring.

World wide falling birth rates, and a future for most countries to be more like Japan, slowly declining population with more older folk, will put a lot less "gotta leave soon" pressure. Billionaires with dreams make it more likely to actually get space. Better laser tech, plus weaponized AI slave fighters, makes military space ops increasingly necessary.

The Man Who Sold The Moon ('49) remains one of the more relevant Sci-Fi ideas.

Need to define freedom here. If I am dwelling on mars and the police bots have the legal power to stun fleshies who attempt to drill a hole in the dome, as a fellow fleshie I'd say my freedom has increased due to the increased likelihood of my being able to maintain homeostasis and practice my free will (or illusion thereof) in the future.

You claim that technology constrains politics: you cannot have a free society in a space colony because of the technical difficulties in providing shelter are so enormous that they would veto the possibility of "freedom". I don't think so.

Due to it's astronomical cost a space colony would be set up by large organizations probably a combination of private and public. I can think of a colony on mars being composed of many modular buildings and each building will be owned by different organizations. Individuals could certainly purchase space and I guess the political system established there will be either by multinational agreement in a colony involving multiple public actors, incorporating a convex combination of the laws and institutions of these countries.

I guess that eventually a colony established on Mars will develop it's own sense of "independence" and stop paying taxes back to their "mother country" but I wouldn't think the process of independence will mirror what happened in the New World. One can think of a Martian colony set up under let's say American political administration would eventually become a new US state.

Barring some new discovery of resources on Mars, wealth will be flowing from Earth to Mars for a long, long time before any kind of independence even makes sense to contemplate. When you can only stay alive because Earth keeps sending you reactor fuel and new microchips and sealants needed to keep your Mars-suits airtight, it would be nuts to declare independence.

The problem is that the question will be dominated by the economics of the period -- suppose Earth has 100B people by 2218, at a median consumption equivalent to $100K today.

How precisely does that happen? As hard to predict as today's circumstances would have been for people speculating in 1818. But it might involve a lot of tunnelling, to give all those people the equivalent of an acre or two each. Underground life might sound drab in 2018, but with the technology of 2218 most people might actually prefer it.

If cheap robot labor is drilling out luxury habitats, settling on Mars then becomes considerably less fraught than, say, the Irish fleeing the Potato Famine (if still comparably expensive), even if terraforming the surface takes much longer. I think the most likely scenario is that those people do what we would if we were settling, except better -- their societies will probably seem to us ultraliberal, with little crime and laws that are truly " a causeway, upon a causeway upon which, so long as he keeps to it, a citizen may walk safely,” safely guided with constant advice from personal AI, and relatively non-contentious.

Selectiveness counts for a lot, too. The kind of people invited to come to the mars colony will be unlikely to have a lot of psychological problems, won't have a history of violent (or even petty) crime, will be about as high-productivity as people get, etc. Think Neil Armstrong or Mark Watney.

With such people, a very different society will be workable--one that assumes everyone has a 140+ IQ and an advanced technical education because everyone on the mars colony *does*. Think about the kind of community that can form at a top university or national lab or high-tech business.

But regression to the mean is going to be really brutal--all those super-smart 99.99th-percentile-in-everything astronauts will have smart, impressive kids, very few of whom could have qualified themselves for a trip to the mars colony. Suddenly, instead of everyone having two technical PhDs and being a natural genius, you mostly have pretty bright, well-educated people trying to fill the shoes of a generation of Einsteins and Von Neumanns and Darwins and Newtons. You could imagine the whole society just falling apart, as the expected level of competence for the most important jobs just ends up out of reach for almost anyone in the second generation.

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