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.

2-mule-foundation
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.

What is the proper role of government? Galactic Edition

Mordanicus of Fascinating Future, a sci-fi blog, is musing over the purpose of galactic government. As Mordanicus points out, galactic empires are a staple of science fiction. They can be found in the Star Wars, Star Trek, Dune, Firefly and Foundation universes.

…the feasibility of a galactic empire is questionable.

In Asimov’s description of the galactic empire, it consists of 25 million inhabited planets and 500 quadrillion people, 20 billion per planet on average. It is hard to even imagine a planetary empire, and no such thing has ever existed in human history, let alone such enormous empire.

The fundamental issue with an empire of this size is effective control by the central government. Its sheer size makes it inevitable to delegate many administrative powers to “local” planetary official. But the more power is transferred to individual planets, the less power remains with the central government. The question is then what is the proper function of the imperial government?

What is the purpose of these empires though? In those sci-fi universes with aliens these empires serve some defensive role for our Milky Way galaxy, but in many sci-fi universes there is no clear visible external threat.  What is the purpose of the empire then? Or is it simply a way for wealth distribution by those living in the Saturn beltway?

I personally view merit in a galactic empire if it were able to maintain internal peace. I have no doubt that in a space faring civilization there will be pirates and I believe that there are economies of scale in galactic trade route policing.

There is also merit in an empire that can keep rogue planetary governments in check. A galactic empire would be restrained in its ability to govern on its own given the largess of space and would need to delegate many functions to different layers of government. An empire would however still serve as a last layer of resort for those petitioning against their planetary government.

What about NOL readers? Are you convinced that space piracy warrants an empire? Or would a space faring civilization be better government by planetary or sub-planetary governments?

Read the full post from Mordanicus here.