What are possible economic systems for use within a space-based industrial settlement? The different approaches are to be weighed by the competitve advantages they offer to their respective communities.
Many science fiction stories are written about the space industrial settlement or colony as a “company town”, owned by an all-powerful corporation. Often workers are portrayed as oppressed wage slaves. My idea is to have a background that specifically prevents that, and instead encourages small independent companies.
This is a future where heavy industry has moved into space, with asteroid mining, settlements on various moons and other planets, in-space habitats, and shipping liners. An Autonomy Accord exists, preventing big companies from owning and being dictators over these various communities. Rather, each one must be owned and governed internally, by the people living and working there. So a big conglomerate might be a creditor, but cannot be your boss. What you have, in effect, is a federation of micro-nations.
Now any kind of industrial mining, shipping, or manufacuring concern will have a huge shared infrastructure. You can’t just have each person own his own tools and a little homestead. Not only that, but they must maintain a space-worthy habitat with life support systems.
So, in a pure capitalistic system you will need a labyrinth of contracts and stocks to provide for individual ownership of a logical piece of group property. But some communities noticed the whole “the workers own the factory” narrative as a parallel of the Communist movement that came out of the original industrial revolution, and decided to simply go with communism internal to the community.
I'm asking about the internal economy of a “town” where workers can’t really go elsewhere after work; not about the political system of the “town” or the management of the company. Certain rights will be guaranteed by the federation, so we can’t have workers exploited by a resident ruling caste. Getting that sorted is not the scope of this question. I'm asking about how the community will distribute and share resources internally.
What is a possible (good) system, and how will adopting your suggested system provide the entire community (company) with an externally visible competitive advantage or disadvantage?
Each settlement is a member of the federation which exists to facilitate trade, provide for common defence against piracy, and establish international law for contracts, claims, and disputes. We assume it is aggressively capitalist, so the individual companies need to compete for business and value. There may be layers of politics, alliances, and preexisting deals in place, but long-term it’s safe to say it’s capitalism where the best deal gets the business.
As the off-Earth industry grows, buying and selling to each other becomes a larger part of the market.
Settlements have great variety in their self sufficiency. As more niches spring up, they can offload more non-core functions to other settlements. E.g. they can buy from a farming community if the logistics make it practical rather than shipping adding to the cost. In crowded Lunar L4, you will see a lot of narrow specialization. Prospectors will patronize outfitters before setting off to remote destinations, but need to keep onboard vats for basic food calories, fix their own equipment, etc.
Are the settlements designed to be self-sufficient? What is the variation in population of these settlements? Are there nation-state or larger groups out there, interacting with these settlements?
Note that the settlement “doing better” must translate into more bounty to the individuals. People who feel oppressed can just leave, and a large number of dissatisfied among the population can force a recall of the leaders — the trade federation backs up the principles of the autonomy accord whose main tennant is to prevent oppression.