Re: Burning the Cosmic Commons

Robin Hanson (hanson@econ.Berkeley.EDU)
Mon, 23 Mar 1998 10:14:30 -0800

Wei Dai writes:
>> Catching them is the trickiest part. In my model colonists are moving at
>> the fastest sustainable speed, so unless you are as far ahead as them, it
>> takes exponentially more resources to try to catch up.
>Yes, the enforcers would have to be other colonists in the same area.

In my model, colonization without property rights happens at the fastest
possible speed, so if property rights had any effect it would be to
reduce the speed of colonization. So if any "sooners" slipped ahead
of the colonization wave, the cost to catch them becomes roughly
exponential in how far ahead they slipped.

>> Also, by the time you detect a violation and arrive in force, new seeds
>> have already been flying for years off to parts unknown.
>I can imagine an enforcement system where all descendants of property
>right violators would be stigmatized and attacked whenever they meet

You'd need to stigmatize all probes which couldn't verify their ancestry
at legit oases. And if they stayed ahead of the wave of property folks,
they may not care about the stigma.

>If large areas of the colonization wavefront are composed of colonists
>that share common ancestry, property right violations might occur only
>in the borders between such areas.

This might make it easier to enforce property rights within a region,
but regions should still fear falling too far behind competing neighboring
regions. So a pressure for maximum speed still seems to apply.

>> >How would your model change if property rights could be enforced?
>> It would be a lot more complicated :-). I haven't modeled that.
>Things should be fairly simple if property rights are perfect. There would
>be an initial allocation of rights before the colonists leave their home
>planet, and then each colonist should be able to independently optimize
>his colonization strategy.
>I guess the complexities would come in if property rights are not perfect,
>and the end results would be very sensitive to exactly what rights are
>enforceable and to what extent.

The nice thing about the no-property-rights analysis is that
behavior and values can be predicted purely from a selection effect.
If property rights can change behavior, behavior should be based on actor
values, that I'm not sure how to predict.

Robin Hanson
RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-8614