Democracy for our Mars colony?


That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:

The Yale proposal is about how to make a Mars settlement democratic, as is an earlier proposal published in Space Legal Issues. But I fear a harsher question needs to be addressed first: Should a Mars settlement allow for contractual servitude?

When the New World was settled, it was common practice for workers to sign multiyear contracts, receiving passage across the ocean but giving up a share of their earnings and some of their freedom.

Contractual servitude is distinct from slavery in the sense that it is chosen voluntarily. But once the contract is signed, the worker is in an uncomfortable position, in both an economic and democratic sense. And once these individuals land in the New World — or, as the case may be, on Mars — their protection by mainstream legal institutions cannot be assumed.

It is easy to inveigh against contractual servitude, but it has one valuable function: It creates incentives for someone to finance the voyage in the first place. If I had to finance my own passage to Mars, and then sustain myself when I got there, and pay off the travel costs, I would never go. But if a company can send a few thousand people, keep half the profits, and remain in charge, the voyage might stand a chance, at least decades from now when the technology is further along…

The tension is that most people have well-developed moralities for wealthy, democratic societies in which most citizens can earn their keep or be provided for by a well-funded social welfare state. Neither of those assumptions holds for Mars, which at least at the beginning will be a kind of pre-subsistence economy.

The upshot is that feasible Mars constitutions will probably offend the educated classes dearly.

Recommended.

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