# Does a space government make sense?

Mothership to space vehicle EU W2775LV be like "pay taxes!"

Space vehicle EU W2775LV be like "no!" And flies away in the distance.

On earth we are kind of stuck living with one another, no matter where you go you still find people...even in the freakin' poles.

Therefore it is vital for someone to make rules to protect the people.

But, in space...who's gonna catch you? Who's gonna find you? Who's gonna care about you? Space is filled with rich planets and asteroids, what else could they want from you? Can't they build their own farms? Saturn alone is surrounded with asteroids and Jupiter has dozens of moons, you can take the solar system, I don't care, leave me alone!

So I was wondering, is there even a reason to ever build a government in space? Laws can't be enforced because space travel is too slow, and space pirates can't really exist because space travel is too slow, and traders can't really exist because space travel is too slow.

And unlike cars, spaceships can produce their own energy, without ever needing to stop and refill, a space chase never ends. Ands lets assume one really wanted to build something like a space empire, what would stop people from saying no and raising up their middle finger in protest? The roman legions took months, years even to invade, in space things go even slower.

You want me to join your empire or you will invade my planet!? Hahaha! My bloodline will be already dead by the time you arrive!

In short, in what situation would space governments make sense?

Space = universe

Ship travel = propulsion for limited times, unlimited solar sailing.

• Do you have FTL and FTL communications? Sep 6 at 17:39
• How is your "space" different from, say, Alaska or the Arabian desert? Sep 7 at 4:18
• Are you defining government based on how much they can force you to do something and when you don't, physically approach you to ruin your day? That's one way to look at it and could definitely work for a story, but that's not the only way to consider why a government has loyal citizens. Sep 7 at 8:46
• spaceships can produce their own energy, without ever needing to stop and refill so is this setting science-fiction or magic? because that sentence means the later, not the former... Sep 7 at 9:10
• So you are proposing that we'd all want to live in an anarchic society? I wouldn't, and I'm not wholly convinced most other people would, either. As @kaya3 points out, many (I'd argue most) people don't agree to a taxation system because they "have to", they agree to a system involving taxation because of the things those taxes provide. Be that healthcare, education or rescue services, or even regulatory services to enforce standards should those things be privatised. Sep 8 at 12:54

Yes, it makes sense for several reasons:

Even if each settlement and ship are fully self-sufficient trade between them will eventually be established. The only exception is when distances are so huge that trade is absolutely impossible. Please note, trade does not have to involve material goods.

It is much easier to develop and protect trade when there is some sort of government in place. Trade flourishes only when merchants are guaranteed relatively stable and safe environments. Governments (official or unofficial) are one of the best ways to provide these guarantees.

• big projects

Governments are the only ones that can manage big projects, be they building or social projects. 'Government' here means an entity that has governing authority and is capable of enforcing this authority.

• local governing

Space-faring civilisations require a certain population size, density, specific technological level, and resources. All of these things must be maintained above a minimum threshold to allow space flight. Population density and size requirements can be circumvented if the technological level is very high, especially in the areas of robotisation and automatisation: Robots fully replace people when it comes to maintaining space flight infrastructure.

Big groups of people (assuming that they are similar to modern humans) need governments to be sufficiently efficient to curb antisocial tendencies and maintain cultural and technological continuity.

A big central government that governs over all human settlements will have only a symbolic value. Without FTL travel and communication no central government can extend and enforce its authority in a meaningful and permanent way. If news takes months and/or years to get to headquarters, effective governing is impossible. Most decisions must be made locally.

The symbolic value of central government, however, can be very high and important. Symbols have power of their own. They can unite people and prevent them from fighting each other. They can give a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose. These are very important for humans and human societies.

• Also a central government can have flags. I can just make up a flag but people will titter when they see it because they will be able to tell I made it up because I am not that good at making stuff like that cool. But the flag of a central government will be made up by someone good at it and it will be cool! So when I fly it people will be like - yes, that is a real flag, not a made up one. And I have one too! Let us fly them together, comrade! Sep 6 at 18:58
• @Willk This is the symbolic function of governments. Sep 6 at 19:40
• "If news takes months and/or years to get to headquarters" - this is how many historical empires were governed, a lot of them surviving and thriving for many centuries. They had, however, local governors in faraway parts of the empire, who had a lot of local autonomy.
– vsz
Sep 7 at 4:51
• @vsz Isn't it the same as I said? Sep 7 at 19:16
• @vsz, they also tended to have governors with a lot of local autonomy who decided they wanted to be independent rulers.
– Mark
Sep 8 at 0:36

## It Will ... Eventually

Space as of now, 2021, is pretty much a lawless place. We might think of it as the period before the "Wild West" era of American history. Think of the Moon landings as Leif Eriksson landing in Canada. Think of the various probes from Voyager right on up to the most recent Chinese rover on Mars as De Soto and Lewis & Clarke. Think of Skylab and Mir as Roanoke Colony -- short lived and later disappeared. Think of the ISS as St. Augustine -- the first long term colony. So far Space has only seen a few tenuous attempts at exploration and pseudo-colonisation.

Sure, the crew of the ISS could declare themselves independent. But when the proverbial toilet paper runs out and Earth says "okay, you want to be independent? Make your own damn toiled paper!" it won't be more than about two hours and the Glorious Revolution will come to a constipated end.

As of now, space government is neither needed nor warranted.

But soon... You speak of rich asteroids and planets, and to be sure those are out there. Maybe in a hundred years there will be mining operations in the asteroid belt. There may be colonies and resorts on Mars and the Moon. But none of those places will be truly self sufficient. They'll be like mining towns in the Old West. Set up for one purpose -- to extract a resource and get it back to Earth.

Of course it won't make much sense yet for some kind of space government to be formed. These colonies will be owned by Earth companies and those will be governed by national laws on Earth. If someone gets killed out on Mars, it's possible that evidence will be gathered locally, the person will be tried from Earth and will be punished on Mars. More than likely, some kind of local tribunal will do the best they can with the evidence and testimony available. Word of the killing may never get back to Earth.

This will be the situation until there are enough people and sufficient settlements to warrant some kind of military or police presence in the colonies.

In the Future... As the colonies increase in size and complexity, the need for local governance will increase. Chances are good that these colonies will govern themselves on the local & state model we have in western Earth countries. You'll have local elections for mayor or governor; you'll participate in national elections for your home state's legislators and for president.

Until you can terraform a planet, and thus make its environment truly self-sustaining, there will always be a need for what only Earth can provide. All colonies, especially as they get bigger, will still rely on heavy manufacturing and raw (organic) materials that can't be found or made on site.

Only then will a space government be truly practical. Think of terraforming Venus or Mars as the time in history when America no longer needed England for its manufactured goods and in fact could sustain itself and be considered a net producer rather than a net consumer.

Once large groups of people are born, live and die on another world, when those worlds become their home -- that is when some kind of space government will be needed. Basically when the "Wild West" grows up enough to support its own manufacturing plants, its own towns and universities and churches and school systems and grocery stores and so forth. That's when humanity will need to roll out the plans for a solar system government the seeds of which will have been planted in the 21st century.

It may be hundreds or even thousands of years from now. It may be never. A lot will depend on what is really and truly possible with the science and technology. If it turns out that there is absolutely no hope for rapid interstellar travel, then humanity will simply be limited to the Solar System and just barely be able to reach the nearest stars. If the likely planets of our own system can not ever be terraformed, then human existence on other planets will always be at grave risk of extinction. There will simply be no need for those colonies to be truly self-governing and sovereign states.

• I know not how your bowels work, but mine are not affected by the presence or lack thereof toilet paper. If only it were so convenient. Sep 7 at 2:49
• @DKNguyen Then I guess "the Glorious Revolution will come to a shitty end." Sep 7 at 14:38
• Inspiring! Heartening! It's a relief to know that when humanity "rolls out the plans for a solar system government" they will be based on the strong world government of the planet Earth which arose inevitably at the sunset of the colonial era. Sep 7 at 15:55
• @MatthewGauthier Hah "Colon"-ial Sep 7 at 16:23

Mothership (full of fuel and supplies close to the transport’s destination) to space vehicle EU W2775LV be like "pay taxes!"

Space vehicle EU W2775LV (near its destination, needing to slow down (not speed up) to enter orbit, almost out of fuel for maneuvers, and running low on other resources) : yes, please

There’s a narrow range of velocities to reach an orbital target (11 km/s for an Earth-sized body). Lighter-weight bodies (space stations for example) require more low-speed maneuvers.

Governments usually sit on the places where you want to be: that port where you want to come to zero velocity, open up your cargo doors, and put your goods in the hands of a buyer. They can offer services, but at their most parasitic, can simply take advantage of the ability to easily concentrate armed force where a wannabe Space Ace is weakest - in the hangar with bingo fuel holding the keys to the gas truck.

They can also provide helpful services: wholesalers to be responsible for paying for your goods, regardless of whether or not synthetic Peonies have wiped out the worth of your cargo hold of seed. Harbor services to manage loading and unloading, service and repair, crew shuttle, as well as payment, so that all you have to do is slow down.

• It would mirror history - if enforcement is difficult, you don't collect taxes from personal/company revenue, you collect tariffs at chokepoints or a head tax. Sep 9 at 14:12

We have an analogous situation with the internet. Which is to say, it is possible to anonymize and encrypt your traffic with several hops through VPNs to make you unreachable physically by people you are communicating with, creating pockets of ungovernable space. We see ransomware attacks on the news with official government responses along the lines of "consider paying the ransom" even to companies vital to the nation's infrastructure.

What we learn from this that would require some standardization and curating - which is a responsibility typically given to governments - is, the communication layer still has to be built out and maintained. Even if you don't have faster than light communication, if you're sending messages back and forth between Earth and Titan or Ganymede, those infrared lasers at the base station need to be reliably sending and receiving messages, on a bandwidth that is recognized, using a standard that does not change over long periods of time. This is especially true if you are communicating over light years worth of distance; your communication standard may have to be the same today as it was centuries ago just to communicate with a ship near Alpha Centauri.

Now a standard, maintained equipment, and an incremental update framework does not take a government per-se. But none of this actually benefits anyone at the base station, especially if the ships being communicated with are very far away from the base station and are not expected to ever send resources back. So this definitely falls under the category of utility. While there are several open source efforts in our internet analogy to keep these services up and running, it can easily be argued that these efforts take on all the aspects of a government out of necessity. It's just that instead of using threat of violence to ensure compliance... the technology or service simply doesn't work at all if you don't comply.

And this gives any existing governments tools to enforce laws in space. Even if you cannot physically stop a pirate trillions of miles away, any better than we can physically stop a ransomware attack today, you can restrict the services you are providing to known, accredited parties. If someone is able to report to base station before their ship was attacked, that ship can no longer be used to access not only any Earth-origin services, but any services in the solar system. You've effectively forced these people to rely on "dark" services, and denied them any safe haven save for a few pirate enclaves. The situation would be very similar to being a pirate about 400 years ago; you'll never be able to safely do business in Europe or the colonies. You may be able to take over a small island (or in this case asteroid) and establish yourself as a governor to guarantee resources for your pirate fleet, and other pirate fleets that have managed to do this are going to have a lot of pull over the available safe havens, so even if you're restricting yourself to "free cities", you're still interacting with governments. Many of the most famous pirates had constitutions, codes of laws, and other trappings of governments.

• Good answer. Governments are intended to operate on a social contract that has the interests of the governed as a primary consideration. Everyone WANTS there to be a government. We simply do not want there to be a ruling oligarchy that abuses the trust and breaks the social contract. Design a world where the government is beneficial and people will opt in with a smile. Sep 8 at 7:29

a space chase never ends

That's not entirely correct, a ship presumably goes from somewhere to somewhere else. If it doesn't, then it truly doesn't matter what they do, they're effectively their own sovereign nation outside of anybody's effective control. It's when a ship shows up to a spaceport with a dead body, a cargohold full of drugs, or outstanding taxes to pay that you need to be able to bring down the hammer.

Now, the answer to the question depends on how you define "government". In your context, with only limited travel between generally isolated colonies what you need is a supranational organisation with some legislative and judicial power, and executive powers to enforce laws can be deferred to its member states.

Space United Nations

An organisation that allows members to draw up treaties and gives them authority to enforce them. You don't particularly need space police if you have treaties that empower members to prosecute crimes reported in space at the port of arrival, wherever that is; to arrest people on behalf of other members; and to generally enforce their own laws (or the supranational law) on any ship that enters their jurisdiction.

This would be the organisation that adjudicates disputes between members, accordding to rules everybody has agreed to. It would make up trade and immigration regulation to benefit all its members. And like international law, it would all be largely voluntary and enforced in effect by how much trade you want to do with your neighbours.

• You mean 'United Planets'? Sep 7 at 13:58
• @AspiringMathematician I think that would assume planets form singular cohesive entities, and that would exclude moons, asteroids and whatever the IAU decides isn't a planet next. I think "Nations" has a more universal quality. And it's a fun acronym. Sep 7 at 14:07
• Oh yes, I didn't notice the acronym :) Sep 7 at 14:09

Government makes sense only to the extent that control can be maintained. If your propulsion is such that only single-body colonies can be controlled that will be the extent of your government. If instead somehow your propulsion is extended such that entire solar systems can be reached in reasonable times then government will extend to fill that niche. And for larger bodies it may well occur that you get multiple governments (as we currently have on Earth).

Remember, governments theorize that only they are allowed the legitimate use of organized force (some go further and posit that not even disorganized force is allowed. But if there is no organized force present then disorganized force is pretty much bound to follow.

So decide upon your propulsion and the level of government is answered. Note that Earth governments currently play along because force can be deployed anywhere on the planet in reasonable time, what we've sent into space is so minuscule in comparison that it might as well not count. If/when someone actually creates a space colony/habitat that is actually fully self-sufficient those Earth governments are going to have a much harder time exercising any sort of authority (note that right now we are incredibly far from that fully self-sufficient criteria).

• Never underestimate the amount of control that can be wielded by someone with a big missile and a healthy disregard for your safety. If the ‘government’ wants taxes they can just strap a big old engine to some high explosives and threaten you with it, since your ship acceleration is limited by the fleshy meat bags it contains. Sep 6 at 22:04

For a government to exist, it needs to have power over people, or to provide them with useful services (or both).

If the people on the spaceship can't be caught, they might still want to make use of government services, for the education of their children, or healthcare, or providing a safe place to trade / take holidays / hire crew. In order to enjoy these benefits, they would have to pay their taxes.

• This is good, a lot of fiction does not consider the time frame that extends out of the story line. There are parents in old age homes and children in university and such things are not reliable without some centralised management. Basically the ability to provide manufactured materials required a village the size of a continent and that means agreeing to rules. Sep 8 at 7:32

Sure a space government can make sense IF they control the means of production for creating critical systems and materials. Sure space vehicle EU W2775LV can take off and avoid taxation, until it needs fuel that is. It was carefully built to be dependent on outside manufacturing for that, so was the mothership for that matter. They also don't have the gear, or spare parts, for a full overhaul just enough for short tours of routine maintenance and a few expected emergent contingencies. If you can't take enough, functional, equipment with you to establish a living colony outside existing production and supply lines then you have to render unto Caesar. Functionality is an important constraint, if the firmware of your equipment is hardwired to crash without regular subscription updates then you can't even steal the complex techno-artifacts you need to go it alone, even if they aren't kept under physical lock and key.

Consequently, each State handles its issues with the laws that pertain to its jurisdiction, except monetary issues, such as the printing of money. Other examples of decentralized governments include the governments of Australia, Canada, Germany, and India.

As no one recalled about decentralized government examples, seems it needs a reminder.

In some sense laws and rules can be considered as best working practices, sure it constantly evolving system and many of laws may be far from being good or at mature state. But other rules are. Development of laws takes time, development of procedures, testing all that take time and effort.

Or let's look at software licenses GPL, MIT or creative work CC BY, etc. Once you need one, you will probably stick to some of those, instead of reinventing a wheel. Including for reasons they are recognized/familiar to other people and have some support.

TOS's (terms of service) are usually custom made and those local governors force you to read meaningless walls of text which basically say one thing - we owe you nothing and you owe as much as possible. You agree without reading because it is the only way to access the service, and you expect that if they will oppress you as a user class, the user class can fight back no matter the content of that TOS. There are positive and less successful examples of that so as slavery societies of users(looking at you - windows apple). People of the right to repair act they fight apple madness for years now, and they grow in their strength.

Idealistic anarchy guys way have wet dreams of not having any rules or anything, but pragmatic anarchy guys know that humans need some coherence to be able to combine their efforts to make things(including good ones) happen, which are not possible for a disorganized number of people.

Combination of collective effort, our ability to do so - that actually is what allowed our ancestors to take a dominating position in the animal world. Some animals can do similar things, and thus being more successful in surviving, but we have no limits in the cooperation efforts, no limits by a number of participants, because we invent swarm rules, in some cases, some call them law systems and such.

Our physical ability to cooperate, as individuals, is limited by and proportional to so-called Dunbar's number but with rule systems, we easily overcome such limitations and it has a great effect on our abilities.

An example of that is standardization in production, measuring systems, and units. Which by itself is a system of rules and practices. Adhering to with takes effort, time to learn, and such but it is beneficial to stick to some - for plenty of reasons, including because those rules make sense. There are all kinds of industrial standards.

So any type of government - centralized, decentralized, private, swarm, hive mind, whatever - in the first place it is a system which allows combining individual efforts in a mighty force, way above just simple sum of those individual forces for purpose of individuals to ripe fruits of such large scale cooperation - fruits vary from just survivial as species to our day's technologies.

So it those benefits which join us, which are attractive and which are the reason for different types of management to exist.

Taxation(is theft), enforcing rules, etc - are not what makes governance happen. The benefits are, but the rest is just a payload the ship carries. Sure payload exists for different reasons, big topic, but they are secondary things.

• in what situation would space governments make sense?

Always

• Does a space government make sense?

Yes

It is just not necessarily what you imagine, and does not necessarily work in a way you imagine. But that is a different q. If nothing else, at least look at how The Internet was built, also search for RFC. Take look at how DNS works and why it is possible to sell domain names. I mean look around.

ps btw - language orthography grammar also is a form of government - and if you ask me it is quite oppressive, lol.

Sure (eventually) Mars runs itself and Venus runs itself, but what happens when Mars wants to trade with Venus? Sure ships can start moving goods between the planets but someone will come along complaining that those Venusian's are under cutting the local Mars built products. Thus people will demand that something should be done about it.

The usual way then is import taxes, which needs some sort of government to enforce it (well people with big sticks to enforce it). Then the Venusian's get annoyed their good are being taxed, so they send their fleet. People start negotiating (but that needs some central person who can agree to terms on behalf of everyone else) and everything settles down when a trade deal gets struck. Import taxes are reduced and the chance of getting shot at goes down considerably.

Then those pesky space pirates coming along to raid your space station/colony of all the good whiskey. So again something must be done about it. So you build your police forces up (which need a central body to pay for, train, and control).

Pretty much any time a large enough group of people get together some sort of hierarchy (and eventually) government will form. Mostly for self-protection at first, but then to pay taxes (to pay for the self-protection), and to act as a central body when negotiating with other groups.

Something similar already happened in the 16th to 18th centuries. At the time the reach of the authorities was limited by the technologies, but ships often travelled to the other side of the world. With no other authority around the captain of the ship had absolute power and with the wrong captain conditions for the crew could be harsh. That is why mutinies were severely punished, without the threat of death they would have happened very often. And it doesn't stop with mutinies, piracy was rife.

So, in your setting refusal of an external authority might happen in spaceships with a small crew where people needing each other would avoid trampling over their mates. But in a spaceship with alarge crew eventually some people would start abusing the others, rejecting an external authority with the rules coming from it would not be in everyone interest.

And unlike cars, spaceships can produce their own energy, without ever needing to stop and refill

Energy doesn't come from nowhere. Nuclear fuel decays and produces less energy over time. A fusion reactor requires stuff to fuse. Solar panels degrade over time, and produce less power the further you get away from the Sun (or whatever star you're orbiting). A reaction drive needs propellant to accelerate, and reactionless drives require fantastic amounts of energy. Eventually you will have to stop to refuel, whether that means extracting raw materials from an asteroid or hitting a space version of a truck stop, and that's when they getcha.

Your ship will eventually need some kind of repair beyond your ability to do yourself, at which point you have to interact with other people. You will have to come to agreements on fair values for exchange of materials, labor, and time. Small enough communities can get away with barter systems, but if you're going to deal with any kind of currency, there's going to be a government involved.

There likely will never be a system-wide central government for the reasons you describe, but any outpost or settlement with more than a couple of dozen people will form some kind of local government with their own local law enforcement.

Where is that fleeing ship going to get supplies? Food, water, fuel, medical, you name it. It needs to land or dock somewhere to get all that.

Unless your universe is rife with pirate bases and other outcasts that don't obey the powers that be and are too hard for those powers to track down and destroy or make submit (in which case, are they really in power?) they'll have to go to a government controlled (in some way) facility at some point, probably sooner rather than later.

And if you're thinking of having a single universe spanning government rather than numerous smaller regional ones (with supposedly no extradition treaties) that means falling into the hands of the space police and universal revenue service at that time.

How long that's going to take will depend on the level of control the space police has of course. They can't be everywhere at the same time, obviously, so landing on a remote location on a backwater planet in an uncivilised galactic arm around a small orange yellow star may go unnoticed, extending their freedom until their ship needs repairs or refueling to an extent they can't postpone. But it will happen eventually.