Tuesday, June 07, 2016

No, Musky, Feudalism is best for Mars

Recently, the press fawned all over Elon Musk's comments at a conference. Among them was Musk's claim that "direct democracy" would be the best system, where citizen's vote directly for laws, rather than voting for (corrupt) representatives/congressmen. This is nonsense. The best political system would be feudalism.

There is no such thing as "direct democracy". Our representatives in congress are only the first layer on top of a bureaucracy. Most rules that restrict us are not "laws" voted by congress but "regulations" decided by some bureaucrat.

Consider the BP Gulf Oil spill, as an example. It happened because oil companies got cozy with their regulators, the minerals Management Service (MMS), part of the Department of the Interior. The bureaucrats had a dual mandate: to protect the environment, and to promote economic activity. Oil companies lobbied them to risk the environment in favor of profits.

Consider  Obamcare's controversial mandate that health insurers must pay for abortions. This was not part of the law pass by congress, but a decision by the bureaucrats in charge of all the little details in carrying out the law.

Consider the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) regulation of the Internet. It bases its power to regulate the Internet on laws that essentially predate the Internet as we know it.

No matter how ideal this "direct Democracy" of Musk's, you are still going to leave most decision making in the hands of a bureaucracy. This is especially true on space flight to Mars. If something's wrong with the air system, you want a technician making quick decisions to fix it. Otherwise, people would suffocate long before they had a chance to vote on the issue. Technicians must be trusted with important decisions, like jettisoning that one pod killing 10 people in order to save the remaining 100.

No matter the political system, you are going to have the bureaucracy making tactical, day-to-day decisions. You are also going to have an upper tier, making long term strategic decisions. It's how all political systems work, from monarchies to "direct democracy". They largely just change the names of the bureaucrats, rather than being substantively different.

The corruption in Democracies doesn't necessarily come from those in power, but from the voters themselves. Voters are idiots and vote like idiots. That's why you have candidates like those of the U.S's current election season -- populist demagogues preying on people's ignorance proposing solutions that educated people believe to be unworkable. The majority of voters have never taken an economics class, do not understand foreign policy, or have any other qualification to make the decisions they make.

Instead of education, voters overwhelming decide what's best for themselves, not dispassionately what's best for society as a whole. College students vote for free college. Old people vote for social security and health care. Mothers vote for child leave and child care. Racists vote to keep unwanted types out of their community. And so on. That's corruption at it's core.

As de Tocqueville is famous for noting, democracy only lasts up to the point that 51% of the population realizes they can vote to just take everything away from the other 49%. You call it corruption, but our current system allows a member of the 49% to lobby congress so that they don't get screwed by the 51%.  Indeed, that's what most lobbyists do -- they aren't asking for special favors from the government so much as trying to alleviate special punishments. It's a sort of corruption defending themselves from the voter's corruption.

As the famous quote goes, "Democracy is the worst form of government -- except for all the others". It's a horrible system, it's just we haven't found any better.

But in space exploration, the old rules no longer apply. We can imagine better political systems.

Overwhelmingly, the best system is "vote with your feet". In the future, billionaires will creation space stations around Earth and out in the asteroid belt. Yes, they will be absolutely dictators in their own artificial worlds, but they can't be too evil. They'll be competing for people to come work and live on their space stations.

Such a system doesn't work well on Earth because the barrier in changing countries is just too high. Consider the European Union as an example, where citizens of one country can move to any country they wish. They don't, because they are tied to the language and culture of their own community. In space exploration, such barriers to movement don't exist. Space will look more like the United States, where people do move around a lot, and who do move to the state that they like best. Sure, the culture of the South is different from New York, which is different from the Midwest, which is different from Texas, which is different from the West Coast, but these are tiny cultural/language barriers compared to those that have stopped movement in the past.

Thus, people will vote -- vote by deciding which space station is best. Those who want free health care will go to those space stations. Those who want more money in their pockets now will go to those stations without free health care.

The benefit of the "vote with your feet" system is that there's no coercion. Democracies are always backed up with a police state that coerces you, at the point of a gun. to conform to what the majority has decided. On Earth, you have to submit, because in most countries leaving just isn't a viable option.

But imagine the petit dictators like Musky in his space station. If he tries to coerce people, they'll simply leave. Following laws will therefore always be voluntary -- take it or leave it.

And you will be able to leave. You might imagine that Musky might just surprise the inhabitants and seal all the airlocks, enslaving them all the sudden. That might happen, but only once. Then all the other space station dictators will get together, agree on some sort of "big charter" guaranteeing people rights, such as to leave any space station, and agree that if any member violates the charter, the rest of will just break in from the outside, freeing the people.

Another plausible scenario is that billionaires try to trick people into slavery. A good example is Uber, which provides new workers with cheap loans for new cars. The worry among activists is that it then "enslaves" the worker, because they have to keep working for long hours at low pay in order to satisfy the agreement with Uber -- and agreement they signed without realizing the consequences. That can happen in the future where workers can never leave the space station until they've paid off their debts -- which they can never do in a system rigged against them.

This might happen, but as you'll note above, it can also happen under the current system. Word gets around. Uber has to deal more fairly with its workers who hear such stories, and billionaire dictators of space stations will likewise have to deal a bit more fairly.

Such a system won't be just a billionaire (or corporation) as the dictator with everyone serfs below them. Monolithic corporations are a disaster. Instead, space stations will outsource. They'll have a life support company managing life support. They'll have a propulsion company managing the rockets. They'll contract with a food service company. They me dictators of their own little worlds, but they'll still have to deal with banking corporations outside their worlds -- just like how monarchies in midevil times had to borrow money from banks to conduct their little wars.

What I'm getting at here is that the best political system for space exploration looks a lot like feudalism, though one full of yeomen (who were free to move about) rather than serfs (tied to the land). It's the only morally defensible system of government -- nobody is coerced to follow laws they dislike, but is able to vote with their feet, and choose the laws that best suite them. Those with bad rules will suffer, those who make good rules will prosper.


SJM said...

I thought I was subscribed to a Netsec blog, not some kind of political rambling non-sense. I love your security articles, but this steaming pile of shit? Keep it somewhere else.

ThingFish said...

the barrier in changing countries is just too high

Higher than the delta-V it would take to change space stations? I think you misunderstand orbital mechanics. Inhabitants of space stations would be tied to their habitat closer than serfs to the manor, frankly.

Ele said...

@SJM, you are free to leave to another space station...

Ivo Blaauw said...

"citizen's vote directly..."
What a majority wants isn't always best for everyone, Musk. Imagine if someone would propose legalization of gang r4pe... Just sketching a horrible scenario to ponder about.

"The best political system would be feudalism."
We'd need to define feudalism first, then the conditions that describe a good/bad system. Until then it is just politics and opinions.

"In space exploration, such barriers to movement don't exist"
That would be the case if all people on stations are willing to speak English. Would Americans be willing to migrate to a Japanese station if the situation demands? Or a Malaysian one, Chinese, Russian. Just picture the culture shock, let alone the language barier.

"if any member violates the charter, the rest of will just break in from the outside, freeing the people"
Because punching holes into a spacestation is the smart thing to do when helping people. Apart from being an act of war. In comparisson: it took years to find a way to interfere in Bosnia, which ended up being a bit of a downer. Nobody is doing anything in Ukraine at this point. So why would anyone do anything to a neighbouring station in a galaxy close close away?

Paddle4Life said...

That's exactly what http://www.seasteading.org/ is trying to do on international waters.