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Economic development of Moon

In thinking about economic development for the world’s countries, I think we overlook the possibility that developing space resources might also spur development in some of the lesser developed countries.

I am interested in the development of outer space. It seems to me that our current treaties impede development in space and they need to be changed.

Every organism, organization, or system needs to bring in more resources and energy from its activities, than it expends, in order to thrive and grow. It is becoming clear that private property ownership is the key to developing resources. You need to be able to trust that you will recover your investment, with a substantial increase, in order to invest resources and energy into developing property. A farmer doesn’t plant one kernel of corn in order to receive just one kernel at harvest time.  A farmer hopes to get two or three cobs of corn, with 20 to 30 rows of 20 to 30 kernels in each row, for an increase of 800 to 2700 percent. To promote development of space, we need to provide legal and political assurance that people who invest time and effort into that development will be able to reap the return they work for, if it is at all possible.

Our current treaties practically prevent any interested parties from developing resources in space.  With the agreement that no nation can claim sovereignty of any celestial object, the ownership of any property on the Moon or any asteroids is in legal limbo, and with the language of the Moon treaty echoing that the resources in space are the common heritage of all mankind and must be shared equally, and further, with the language demanding the development of an international UN regime to control and share any resources that someone might develop, any private or commercial development is doomed from the start.  Any corporation seeing those legal and political hurdles rightfully does not spend a dime trying to develop any resources in space.

While you or I would not spend any of our time or money developing our neighbor’s garden if we realized we would never be able to share in what would grow, we would stay up nights trying to figure out ways to develop our own property to realize more benefits from property we own.

One thing that most people don’t recognize, is that the European voyages of discovery all had to make a profit, besides exploring.  When Queen Isabella loaned Columbus the money for his voyage, she also told him to bring her ships back filled with loot, or she would find him.  Thus, when his men tried to convince him to turn back in the middle of the Atlantic, he couldn’t.  He had to land somewhere in order to load his ships with something to take back to Spain and sell and pay off his debts. The British East India Company, the Dutch East India Company, Henry Hudson – all of them had to make a profit from their voyages.  One of the reasons that so many of the New World foods and commodities spread through Europe so quickly: Corn, beans, potatoes, squash, tobacco, chocolate, Beaver pelts, etc, is that the explorers had to bring back stuff and get Europeans to buy it as fast as possible, to pay their debts.

Whereas our current treaties effectively stifle development, I think I know a way to both share the resources in space, and ensure that all countries benefit from space development, and also provide for private development, and assure private returns, which would encourage private commercial exploration and development.

Yes, I understand that the UN is more-or-less a club that is used to mug the United States, and that the nations in the UN are satisfied with the current treaties because they feel they might be entitled to share the rewards if someone does manage to start developing some resources from space, without having to invest anything into developing space themselves.  The space-faring nations feel that they can ignore this, because with their military might, and the backing of the other space-faring nations, any of them that begins developing resources or energy from space can tell the rest of the nations of the UN to go pound sand, but private commercial organizations can’t. The non-space-faring nations are not interested in spending time or resources on space themselves, but are afraid that if someone else begins to develop resources in space, they will be left behind forever.

I suggest that we cede the ownership of the Moon to the UN, with the mandate to grant every nation on earth a non-transferable landhold on the Moon in perpetuity.  Possibly, give them both a holding on the near side, and one on the far side.  We can grant every nation on Earth 50,000 square kilometers on the Moon, and still leave more than 60 percent of the Moon available for a “homesteading” type of land ownership, requiring a landing and proof of capability test, plus nominal payment, for private development and purchase at a nominal fee, say 1,000 US per square mile, in lots of 500 to 1,000 square miles. Or something similar in hectares.

The Moon has been extensively mapped, and it would be simple to divide it up into appropriate plots.  Countries could apply for the plot or plots of their choice, and if there were no conflicts with others wanting the same plot, it would be granted.  If there were a conflict with several countries wanting the same plot for their grant, the plot could be allocated by lot.  It would be easy enough to ask for first, second and third choices, and so on. There is plenty of Moon property to go around. There should probably be reserves set aside of 1,000 square kilometers around the equipment and landing sites of the probes and landers already on the Moon as World Heritage sites.

When I have mentioned this regime to others, many of them have thought that some of the richer areas, such as the craters on the South Pole, or areas rich in HE3 should be reserved for the space-faring nations as, perhaps, they have more right to them.  But I think this would be a mistake.  If other nations felt they would not be able to get a fair stake in Moon property, they would not be willing to change the current situation, and, if they did get a prime piece of Moon estate from this, what would happen? If they didn’t want to spend the time and effort themselves to develop their property, they could lease their property – or the different rights to their property – out to someone that would.  They would immediately profit and their children would become interested in helping develop space.  I don’t see a downside to that.

The downside I see, is from having the current confusing and nebulous situation, where property rights themselves are in contention. No commercial development is taking place because the legal and political situation is too poisonous, and not very much governmental development is taking place because the costs are too high and the resources can always be used for something closer to home.

Mankind has been in this situation before. In the late 1300s, China had the world’s largest navy. They had ships 400 feet long and 120 feet wide.  They had explored around Australia, India, and most of Africa.  Their exploration voyages were politically motivated, with exchanges of ambassadors, and treaties, and because the Emperor liked exploration. The old Emperor died, and his son took over, and because of internal politics, and the Mongolians attacking from the north, the fleet was recalled and left to rot in the Yellow river.  Soon, it became illegal to build ships longer than about 70 feet long, or to sail more than 10 miles from China’s shores.

It was left for the European voyages of discovery almost a century later to explore all the way around the world, and develop a worldwide economy.  And those, as I’ve already noted, all had to make an immediate economic profit, or in other words, bring in more resources and energy than they expended in their activities.

For another example, when the United States wanted to develop an intercontinental railroad, they didn’t form a government agency, which then designed and built the infrastructure and the equipment, and the railroads.  They instead gave away something they had plenty of – land – to the railroad companies, and the railroad companies built the infrastructure, the equipment, and the railroads.  The railroad companies also spent lots of time and effort trying different ways to develop the land they had been given along the railroad. And, lo and behold, America became developed. Yes, some men became robber barons, and some men made way more than they were entitled to, and there was extensive fraud and abuse.  But the infrastructure was developed, and railroads were built, and the country was developed rather better than nothing. All based on government-promoted commercial development based around giving away lots of land that didn’t cost them very much to begin with. We again are faced with the opportunity to trade land which we have plenty of, for development which we want.

Some of the people I’ve mentioned this to have responded that the UN doesn’t have any facility to be a land ownership office.  I contend that the UN, in the office of the ITU, is currently very much in the property rights sales business.  Countries purchase lease rights for a slot for geosynchronous satellite use, and pay the ITU for them. That slot is a legally defined area of space, with precisely defined usage rights that get bought and sold and recognized internationally. There is no difference between that and real property.

This method would provide clear and internationally recognized ownership rights and demarcations, which at the moment are confused and subject to immense conflict.  It would provide real benefits with all nations on Earth gaining new resources, and their own foothold in space immediately, with no fears of being left behind without access to space forever. Nations would immediately get resources without the need to invest any time, money nor effort into these new resources.  In many, if not most cases, the benefits would be more substantial than any they might hope to reap under the current regimen. It would also provide clear benefits for those who would wish to pursue active development of the resources of the Moon.

Asteroids would be amenable to the same process.  There should probably be some of the major and more interesting asteroids reserved as World Heritage sites – Ceres, Eros, and a dozen others for instance, but the remainder could be allocated between nations that wanted them, and ones that were open for commercial development.

In any case, this would clarify and settle the current confused and contentious situation of property rights on the Moon and asteroids, and open up development for any who truly want to develop the Moon.

I think this merits careful consideration, because our current situation impedes space development and World understanding, rather than promoting it.


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