Monday, January 25, 2016

HR 2262: Ownership of Space Resources

On November 25, 2015, something happened that almost nobody noticed but which, I expect, will prove to be an extremely important event for the future of humanity.
And not in a good way.

For all practical purposes, on that day, President Obama gave the richest people on earth complete and total ownership of every asteroid in the solar system. And they did not have to pay a dime to get it.

That seems like a bold,  “What the heck have you been smoking and will you share?” kind of statement.

But, actually . . . yeah . . . it happens to be true.

On that day, Obama signed H.R. 2262 into law. Known as the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act. This states:

“A United States citizen engaged in commercial recovery of an asteroid resource or a space resource under this chapter shall be entitled to any asteroid resource or space resource obtained, including to possess, own, transport, use, and sell the asteroid resource or space resource obtained in accordance with applicable law, including the international obligations of the United States.”.

Asteroid resources are the most valuable resources in the solar system. The energy from the sun also has significant value. However, to harvest the energy from the sun in space one needs to build an energy collector in space. To build an energy collector, one needs asteroid resources. So, the only people who can harvest energy resources in space are those who have been given ownership of the asteroid resources in space.

Mars is, perhaps, the only other place in the solar system with resources of any value. However, these resources are found only at the bottom of a gravity well. This means that their usefulness (value) to anybody not on Mars is limited, and their value to people who are on Mars currently represents a very small market. Even when there are Martian colonists, we can expect that they will get most of their manufactured goods (and be paying money to) those who control the asteroid resources.

Now, the law states "a United States citizen" has the rights to this property.

However, in order to profit from this right, one needs to be able to afford the means to go to the asteroid and collect its resources. Consequently, the only people who actually have a right to these resources - for all practical purposes - are the wealthiest of the wealthy.
So, for all practical purposes, the law says that those American citizens having enough wealth whereby they can harvest space resources may possess, own, transport, use, and sell those resources - and that the rest of us can continue on with our lives as we have before.

There are very few people who actually have the wealth that would allow them to take advantage of this law.

It's like giving everybody the right to all the money in a vault and giving ten people the combination. The practical effect of this is that those 10 people have 100% control over what is in the vault - and can fight it out among themselves as to how they will exercise control. They can divide it up into 10 equal piles, if they please. But they don't have to give even an iota of thought to the rest of us who are locked out. The content of the vault is, for all practical purposes, theirs.

There were a lot of other options to consider.

One option that I have often dreamed would have been implemented would have called for auctioning off these resources in small lots over time. The highest bidder gets ownership of those resources. However, the money raised would go to providing health and education resources to the very poor.

Under this type of system, everybody would benefit - even the poorest of the poor. Yet, the wealthiest of the wealthy would still be able to harvest a profit for themselves (assuming that the highest bidder had a profitable use in mind for the resource).

But . . . you know . . . why share when you don't have to?

It will likely take a few decades before people start to recognize the significance of this law. At the time that those resources actually start to be harvested, we will see just how much wealthier the wealthiest of the wealthy have become, and how little the rest of us have gotten in the bargain.

For a while, people will be inclined to read this posting and shrug their shoulders. It does not change their lives in the near future. It would have changed the lives of some a few decades down the road if the wealthy was purchasing these rights from institutions that would use it for the public good, but it is not like something we are accustomed to has disappeared. Instead, something that we could have had has been lost.

Literally, people who own 50% of all of the wealth on Earth now also own - for all practical purposes - 100% of the wealth that is not on Earth. If you average out these two numbers, you are going to see the very wealthy become far wealthier and more powerful relative to the reast of us than they are now.

That is the future that HR 2262 will help to create for us.


Nathan Nguyen said...

If people begin to recognize that the law is disastrous, couldn't it simply be repealed? Why think that the law would continue to stay in effect for a long time?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

The law would not be disastrous for everybody. By the time it is noticed by those harmed, there will be some very entrenched and powerful interests in place to see to it that the law will not be repealed.

ScottF said...

I'm not so worried about this becoming too entrenched. First of all, since the mineral extraction is still done subject to US laws, it can certainly be taxed. And those taxes can be increased once this activity becomes more feasible/profitable. Right now it is extremely far away from being profitable. So perhaps we can see this as a slight encouragement for someone to go out and get what they can get with minimal interference the first few times. Once it becomes a regular thing then long-standing entrenched interests of government & peoples can swoop it to regulate it further.