Monday, April 09, 2012

An Impractical Proposal to Homestead the Moon

Rand Simberg has a plan. "A proposed law requiring the United States to recognize land claims off planet under specified conditions offers the possibility of legal, tradable land titles, allowing the land to be used as loan collateral or an asset to be sold to raise funds needed to develop it."

Here's the first problem. In the original Homestead Act, the United States gave away property rights to individuals to fairly small plots of land within its own sovereign territory. Currently, by treaty, the U.S. has renounced sovereign claims to territory on the moon.

But Simberg has a solution. Instead of giving away part of what it claims to own, the U.S. will simply "recognize" private claims on something it doesn't.

So, the U.S. will recognize property rights to 600,000 square miles of the moon, a territory bigger than Alaska, to a private entity (almost certainly a corporation) that does certain things.

The problem is this. The U.S. can do this, but no other nation is obliged to respect that decision, so the property rights so created are about as tradable and valuable as novelty deeds to lunar real estate.

Suppose the hypothetical YoYoDyne corporation launches a moonbase funded by sales of shares in the Lunar fiefdom recognized by the U.S. law, and starts strip-mining Shackleton Crater, where they have identified subsurface ice.

And a month later, competing firms from Europe, Russia, Japan and China drop landers into the same crater, and start their own operations. What recourse does YoYoDyne have? Very little, and a unilateral U.S. law based on recognition rather than sovereignty does little to change that.

That seems like a show stopper right there.


ken_anthony said...

You're absolutely right will and I've just made a blog post that touches on you're issue.

People keep thinking this issue has to be resolved all or nothing when almost everything is actually resolved incrementally.

I say ignore the chatter for the most part and just act.

guest1 said...

You still did not get it.

In your example, YoYoDyne would have the advantage of legally selling and marketing their products back to the whole US market, the others wouldn't.
That IS a tradable and valuable right.

If the trade and market works out to be important and valuable enough, international level agreements will be worked out next.

Will McLean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will McLean said...

If a Russian corporation mines gold from a site within the Alaska sized Lunar homestead imagined by Simberg without the permission of the homestead owner under U.S. law, and brings it back to Earth, their inability to sell it for the first time in the U.S. is unimportant. All of the plausible Lunar resources that might cover travel costs back to Earth are highly fungible commodities. From the seller's point of view, the difference between selling in the U.S. and elsewhere is trivial.

guest1 said...

Your assumption that the tradeable output from operating on the moon are "highly fungible commodities" is wholly unsubstantiated.

Look into the plans of Astrobotic, Moon Express etc.

Will McLean said...

I do not think the markets sought by Astrobotic and moon Express are likely to be significant, if they are profitable at all.