The Case Against Galactic Government?

Samuel Hammond, a friend of a friend, has recently written a blog post musing about whether trade between Mars and Earth should be discouraged. The basic premise is that the case for colonizing Mars is to decrease the likelihood of a catastrophe leading to the extinction of humanity due to a black crow event.

Inter-planetary trade would allow both planets to minimize the harms of minor to moderate events, Samuel seems to acknowledge this. This is how international trade today helps nations minimize the harms of localized events. The harm of the ongoing drought in California has been lessened due to ability of consumers to tap into markets elsewhere to meet their demands.  What Samuel is concerned about is those events whose danger increases in proportion to the inter-connectivity of markets. Samuel gives the example of financial markets, but allow me to introduce another similar danger: the Mule.

The Mule, primary antagonist in I. Asimov’s Foundation & Empire

In Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi universe much of the known galaxy in the distant future comes under the rule of the Foundation Federation. The Foundation is a liberal galactic government that promotes intra-galactic trade, but grants each planet wide freedom to settle its internal matters. It has waged wars of defense, but is notable in that it has never waged a war of conquest and its members have all joined voluntarily. I would go as far to say it is an ideal form of galactic government. However the Foundation’s promotion of galactic inter-connectivity backfires when the Mule, a mutant human with the ability to influence minds, takes control of the government elite. The Mule is a single man but, due to the hyper-connectivity of the Foundation, can assume control with a few well placed followers. Almost overnight the Mule transform the liberal Foundation into his personal dictatorship. The last bastions of freedom are those regions of space controlled by pirates free traders.

Eventually the Mule is defeated and liberal government restored, but only because of the efforts of those polities outside the Foundation’s control. If the Foundation had been a monopolis, a government that controlled all of humanity, then it is doubtful the Mule would have been defeated. Inter-connectivity can yield significant benefits, but as outlined above it can also maximize the damage of black crow events.

Does this mean that Samuel is correct and that any further space colonies must be separated from Earth in terms of trade and governance? Not quite. Although I think Samuel’s concerns serve as an argument against extreme inter-connectivity between worlds, I do not think it is sufficient to justify actively building barriers between worlds. Rather I interpret black crow events as arguments in favor of tolerating the existence of rogue nations, such as North Korea, Somalia, and other contemporary nations that exist outside the primary world system.

As space exploration becomes a reality I think all efforts should be made to promote inter-connectivity between the various worlds. We should promote Earth-Mars relations. We should not however oppose those who wish to live in the asteroid belt and minimize their contact with the rest of us. This break away colonies will arise naturally and need not be actively created, only tolerated. These break away colonies will be founded by an assortment of pirates, religious zealots, political dissidents, and other outcasts. By tolerating their existence we will reap the benefit of space exploration while minimizing the likelihood of black crow events to destroy all of humanity.

7 thoughts on “The Case Against Galactic Government?

  1. You make a great case against galactic government here, Michelangelo.

    My only quibble has to do with rogue states/planets. I agree that toleration is key, but does toleration translate into not actively attempting to woo said rogue polities into a federation?

    • It depends on the number of rogue nations (worlds?) relative to the federation’s dominance. If there are only a few rogue planets left, I’d be hesitant to recruit them actively since their usefulness as a safety mechanism against black crow events is greater than their benefit from trading possibilities. If the federation has control of 10%-60% of worlds, I’d be less hesitant to recruit.

  2. Nice article. I’m reminded of the situation at the outbreak of the second world war when the British government suddenly needed to recruit all kinds of individuals with certain skills that, hitherto, had been classified as ‘bad’: e.g. black market trading and sabotage not to mention tossing a whole load of prejudices onto the bonfire to allow women and minorities to take an active role in everything from code breaking to heavy-duty factory work. It’s why I’m always happy to read about ‘preppers’ and celebrate their activities – although I would never get involved, it’s nice to think that we have a group of people on standby for the end of the world. Just as long as they don’t end up electing the next POTUS 😉

    You can view it as an argument for biodiversity. You keep things as diverse as possible, because you never know when you might need the rogue elements. But you can’t let the rogues become dominant.

    As for the ‘free trade’ comment, I’m not sure what johnbarleycorn12 means by ‘pure capitalism’ but it sounds a lovely dream. In the real world, any ‘free market’ yields big winners, who use their market advantage to squash everyone else. In the absence of any kind of rules (and enforcement) this spills over into abuse of power, injustice and violence (power corrupts). Governments exist as a ‘wrapper’ to ensure the engine of commerce operates within safe limits. Agreed, we often get the balance wrong, and we must exercise ‘eternal vigilance’ to continually reduce government and avoid the emergence of corporatism or communism – but good governance is exactly akin to the ‘governor’ on Watt’s early steam engines, that prevented disastrous feedback loops and the destruction of the engine. Perhaps pushing for ‘pure capitalism’ is the way to keep that balance – I hope for a more mature electorate who recognise the need for good government, not just less or more government 🙂

  3. If memory serves, the basic political principlesubsidiarty discourages remote governance and Adam Smith seemed to think human nature would likely maximize economic productivity – if government avoided interfering to prevent that? So: will interplanetary trade be open or a closed government servant, seems to be the critical issue – just as here and now, perhaps.

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