Off-Earth Governance

[Epistemic Sta­tus: Un­knowl­edgable, Cu­ri­ous, Doubt­ful]

It is rea­son­able to as­sume that we will even­tu­ally colon­ise space. There are many or­ga­ni­za­tions in­volved to­day in (very) early stage pro­jects for space coloniza­tion. Their effort might shape how early off-earth civ­i­liza­tions are struc­tured and gov­erned. Far-fu­ture civ­i­liza­tion may have gov­er­nance struc­ture (and value sys­tem) which may be in­fluenced by these early at­tempts.

As­sum­ing a longter­mist per­spec­tive and that hu­man­ity will flour­ish, the value of early off-earth set­tlers is neg­ligible com­pared to the enor­mous amount of valuable lives in the fu­ture. There­fore, we can con­sider the fol­low­ing claim as an im­por­tant crux when con­sid­er­ing whether to work on im­prov­ing near-term off-earth in­sti­tu­tions:

Claim: Fu­ture civ­i­liza­tion is likely to con­verge on val­ues and struc­ture which is more in­fluenced by near term space coloniza­tion efforts than ex­ist­ing in­sti­tu­tions.

My in­tu­ition is that this is very un­likely, and that there are cru­cial-er con­sid­er­a­tions with re­spect to any­thing re­lated to space or gov­er­nance. Nev­er­the­less, I’ll make some pre­limi­nary ar­gu­ments sup­port­ing and op­pos­ing this claim.


1. Gover­nance struc­tures tend to lock in to some equil­ibrium.

2. Space is a neu­tral en­vi­ron­ment, where more peace­ful and more globally-minded val­ues are more likely to per­sist.

3. If, say, a hun­dred years from now there will be a global benev­olent gov­ern­ment, it will likely re­sult from a new gov­ern­ment as op­posed to ex­ist­ing ones. In which case, one com­ing from a dom­i­nat­ing off-earth civ­i­liza­tion is likely.

Counter Arguments

1. I find it highly un­likely that such an equil­ibria from the near fu­ture will per­sist for very long, con­sid­er­ing the prospects of AGI and other ad­vance­ments in the far fu­ture. This is very im­por­tant from the point of view of steer­ing the long term fu­ture—Can we ex­pect to im­pact the gov­er­nance struc­ture of fu­ture civ­i­liza­tions?

2. Er­rrr, I doubt that space will re­main neu­tral as hu­man­ity will be more ca­pa­ble to use off-earth as­sets, as ex­em­plified in this doc­u­men­tary. In the far fu­ture there may be no rea­son to fight over re­sources, if they are abun­dant enough (see for ex­am­ple Pare­to­topial Goal Align­ment), but in the near term I do not see a suffi­cient rea­son to view space as the best way to in­crease peace.

3. I find it more likely that a sin­gle­ton gov­er­nance will re­sult out of unifi­ca­tion of ex­ist­ing pow­ers or out of some ma­jor eco­nomic achieve­ment. I don’t ex­pect space colonies to have any real power. In fact, it seems more likely that in­no­va­tions in the near fu­ture will still be earth-based, and thus they may not trans­fer to off-earth set­tle­ments. Thus, I’d ex­pect a sce­nario that re­sem­bles the british coloniza­tion of the already colonized Amer­ica—where the su­pe­rior Earth­lings will dom­i­nate the Off-Earthers.


  • Another rea­son to fo­cus on off-earth gov­er­nance is that it can be an in­ter­est­ing route to ex­per­i­ment on differ­ent so­cietal struc­tures. This how­ever is prob­a­bly much eas­ier to do on earth in the com­ing decades by routes such as char­ter cities or the Seast­eading In­sti­tute. De­spite that, a case can be made for off-earth gov­er­nance work by con­sid­er­ing the high pro­file of the first off-earth civ­i­liza­tions (even though Mars one, a pro­gram that wanted to fund Mars coloniza­tion by filming the pro­cess as a re­al­ity show, went bankrupt..).

  • As space tech­nol­ogy im­proves and be­comes cheaper, space be­comes more use­ful: As­teroid min­ing, ICBMs, Satel­lites and so on. Reg­u­la­tions in this do­main can in­fluence com­mon goods (such as the prob­lem of space junk). Also, dis­putes over re­sources and ter­ri­tory can lead to con­flicts among ma­jor pow­ers.