Re: Land rights

Date: Fri Jul 27 2001 - 21:52:10 MDT

Coase's theorem says that the initial allocation is not important, you'll
still end up with efficient usage of the land. By that perspective you
might as well have the Pope divide everything up.

Drexler suggested this approach in his notes to Engines of Creation.
On "Inheritance Day", which he proposes as April 12, 2011, all the
(presently unowned) resources in the universe will be divided up and
assigned equally to each resident of Earth.

IMO the practical problem with this application of Coase's theorem as
compared to homesteading is that the latter tends to be self-enforcing.
Remote owners will have problems enforcing their property rights.
Homesteaders are on the spot and in a position to notice and address

However as Drexler points out, in a nanotech era, rewarding homesteading
could lead to a terrible replicator race. OTOH it could happen anyway,
asteroids transformed into well defended fortifications, and all those
property deeds back on earth would be so much worthless paper.



At we find:

But the limits to exponential growth ensure that universal, unconditional abundance cannot last indefinitely. This raises questions regarding the distribution and ownership of space resources. Three basic approaches might be considered:

One is a first-come, first-served approach, like the claiming of homesteads or mining sites through use. This has roots in the Lockean principle that ownership may be established by mixing one's labor with a previously unowned resource. But this might allow a person with a suitable replicator to turn it loose in space to rework - and thus claim - every unclaimed object in the universe, as fast as it could be reached. This winner-take-all approach has little moral justification, and would have unpleasant consequences.

A second extreme would be to distribute ownership of space resources equally among all people, and to keep redistributing them to maintain equality. This, too, would have unpleasant consequences. In the absence of universal, stringent, compulsory limitations on childbearing, some groups would continue to grow exponentially; evolutionary principles virtually guarantee this. In a surprisingly short time, the result of endless redistribution would be to drag the standard of living of every human being down to the minimum level that allows any group to reproduce. This would mean hunger and poverty more extreme and universal than that of any Third World country. If 99 percent of the human race voluntarily limited its birth rate, this would merely allow the remaining one percent to expand until it absorbed almost all the resources.

A third basic approach (which has many variations) takes a middle path: it involves distributing ownership of the resources of space (genuine, permanent, transferable ownership) equally among all people - but doing so only once, then letting people provide for their progeny (or others') from their own vast share of the wealth of space. This will allow different groups to pursue different futures, and it will reward the frugal rather than the profligate. It can provide the foundation for a future of unlimited diversity for the indefinite future, if active shields are used to protect people from aggression and theft. No one has yet voiced a plausible alternative.

From a socialist perspective, this approach means equal riches for all. From a libertarian perspective, it violates no one's property rights and provides a basis for a future of liberty. In Thomas Schelling's terms, equal division is a focal point solution in a coordination game (see The Strategy of Conflict, by Thomas Schelling, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1960). What "equal division" actually means is a messy question best left to lawyers.

For this approach to work, agreement will be needed not just on a principle of division, but on a date. Space has been declared by treaty to be "the common heritage of all mankind," and we need to choose an Inheritance Day. Schelling's analysis suggests the importance, in a coordination game, of finding a specific, plausible proposal and of making it visible as soon as possible. Does a date suggest itself? A round-numbered space-related anniversary would seem appropriate, if it were not tied exclusively to the U.S. or U.S.S.R., or too soon, or too near a millennial date on the calendar. These constraints can be met; the most plausible candidate is perhaps April 12, 2011: the thirtieth anniversary of the flight of the world's first reusable spacecraft, the space shuttle, and the fiftieth anniversary of the flight of the first human into space, Yuri Gagarin.

If, before this date, someone finds and employs a means to raise human reproduction rates by a factor of ten or more, then Inheritance Day should immediately be made retroactive to April 12 of the preceding year, and the paperwork sorted out later.

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