Thursday, March 07, 2013

A Plan to Sell the Moon

My Wild Scheme - Auctioning the Moon

This post is fantasy - something I find pleasing to imagine but not something I expect to become real. However, it contains within it some important considerations on the nature of value - particularly as it relates to both space development and the care of young children.

Step 1: Create an international organization dedicated to providing children age 12 and under with proper nutrition, health care, and education.

Though I have some strong views about the nature of this organization - that nutrition, health care, and education all be guided by science rather than religion - I also recognize a political reality. This organization will represent a compromise among people with a wide variety of views and, consequently, will not be entirely pleasing to any one individual or group. The need for political compromise is a fact of life, and has to be admitted at the start.

Step 2: Fund the organization.

For funding, I recommend the following:

Give the organization an international license to sell property in space - on the moon, on Mars, the Martian moons, the asteroids, the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and so on.

Let me present an image of the first auction.

The action is for the land in a block 100 kilometers wide and 100 kilometers long with the Apollo 11 landing site at its center.

16 square kilometers (4 km x 4km) at the center is not for sale. It is a historical preserve with the untrammeled Apollo 11 landing site at its center. No development is permitted.

20 square kilometers around this (the outer 1 kilometer of a 6 km x 6 km block at the center) is reserved for the association of property owners that is to be formed after the auction. I envision an association where each property owner is given 1 vote for each plot of land that they own - and residents (if there are any) also getting a vote. However, the details here - like those above - are subject to negotiation.

The remaining 964 square kilometers is divided into plots of land 100 meters wide and 100 meters long - a total of 964,000 plots of land.

These plots are all put up for sale in a huge auction. A bidding system is set up so that bidders can log in, identify a plot of land, and put a bid on it - similar to that which is already used in online auctions such as on e-Bay.

On the day the auction closes, the high bidders for each plot of land make good on their bid. The plots of those who do not make good on their bid go back to the international organization for the care, feeding, and education of children to be re-auctioned. The money collected is also handed over to the organization, with the highest bidder for each plot becoming the legitimate internationally recognize owner of that plot of land.

The property owners' association will collect dues from each property owner, as well as rents from the 20 square kilometers of land given to it, and from the sale of any goods and services it can offer on the market. The organization, for example, may arrange for a lunar orbiter to take very high resolution images of the moon and sell those images to property owners, or arrange for a lunar rover to land, or a sample-return mission, or even to send people to the area. It will also, no doubt, be involved in defending and defining certain rights and duties of the property owners in court and in internal negotiations.

The surface area of the moon is such that there can be 3800 auctions of this size. There can me 14,480 similarly sized auctions for property on Mars, 7480 auctions respecting property on Mercury, and 46,020 auctions for property on Venus - though its surface is so far out of reach. There can also be auctions for asteroids, property on the moons of the gas giants (e.g., Titan), Pluto and other Kuiper belt objects, the Oort cloud objects, and (though premature at this point) planets known to orbit other stars.

Of course, I am putting no weight on the claim that auctions must take the form of 100 meter x 100 meter plots. In fact, some auctions should not be auctioned this way. Small asteroids and comets should be auctioned off whole. Ice fields in the dark craters of the lunar poles should be auctioned by the patch (though particularly large patches should be auctioned in sections). The specifics of the auction are, like the other elements, subject to negotiation. However, the principle behind these auctions is that they are used to fund an organization that is dedicated to the feeding, care, and education of young children.

I tend to fit responses to such a plan into three categories.

The first category is the "devil is in the details" category. They concern disputes and concerns about how the details of the project. How should the auction be handled? What should be auctioned? What rights - exactly - does one person have? What powers would the property owner's association have? Who will have the responsibility to make laws governing this land? There are similar questions to be asked with respect to making sure that the aid actually goes to children and not to warlords. Which children? Who decides, and how do they decide?

A second category of responses is like the first, but it declares its problem to be insurmountable - and are offered as reasons to reject such a project entirely.

The third category of objections are objections in principle. "This project should not take place because there should not be any property ownership," or "The International Organization does not have a legitimate natural right to sell this property." This category provides an interesting framework for discussing moral and political theory.

Though, in the end, it must be admitted that this is a dream. It is a very good dream, but a dream nonetheless.

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