10 December 2010

Must We Kill All Tort Lawyers Before We Can Go Into Space?


Over at NextBigFuture, Brian Wang looks at the supply and demand economics of space colonisation. Brian points to a more extensive posting by Paul Gilster at Centauri Dreams, "The Economics of Space Infrastructure." Brian and Paul are correctly looking at the economic costs and benefits of space infrastructure and space colonies. But the topic goes far beyond mere economics.

Science Fiction author Charles Stross downplays arguments in favour of space colonies as "quasi-religious." Physicist Stephen Hawking wishes for humans to colonise Mars and Luna, as a way to preserve the human race and Terrestrial life, should Earth be destroyed by comets, asteroids, geologic catatrophe or other forms of massive upheaval. Physicist Freeman Dyson has thought along similar lines since the mid-1960s. The idea of "not having all of one's eggs in a single basket" appeals to the long term thinker who wishes the human enterprise to be ultimately successful.

Humans appear to possess an "exploratory instinct," a natural urge to explore. From the very beginning, humans have been willing to risk what they have, in order to find something more. The urge for outer space is another manifestation of this instinct.
At times it may seem that we have lost this exploratory urge, but always it returns, reshaped by current events. Why is it that we strive to understand our place in the heavens and seek other intelligences out there? _Planetary
Exploration is risky. Explorers often die. In an outward-looking, exploratory society, the acceptance of risk is so commonplace as to become second nature. Such a society will spawn many explorers, and many pioneers who are willing to follow close behind the explorer to create a more settled life in the new, risk-filled territories.

Modern affluent societies become more risk-averse, more fixed on security over time. This security-fixation often approaches pathological levels, depending upon whether it becomes accepted and codified within legal, cultural, educational, and legislative institutions.

In modern western nations -- particularly the US -- risk aversion in the form of tort is often costing societies their birthright and their future.
Economists have long understood that America's tort system acts as a serious drag on our nation's economy. Although many excellent studies have been conducted, no single work has fully captured the true total costs, both static and dynamic, of excessive litigation.

The good news: We now have some reliable figures. The bad news: The costs are far higher than anyone imagined.

Based on our estimates, and applying the best available scholarly research, we believe America's tort system imposes a total cost on the U.S. economy of $865 billion per year. This constitutes an annual "tort tax" of $9,827 on a family of four.

...litigation doesn't just transfer wealth, it also changes behavior, and often in economically unproductive ways. Any true estimate of the costs of America's tort system must also include these dynamic costs of litigation -- the impact on research and development spending, the costs of defensive medicine and the related rise in health-care spending and reduced access to health care, and the loss of output from deaths due to excess liability. _WSJ
Most recent attention to tort reform in the US has focused upon medical tort. But the economic destruction of out-of-control US tort law is felt in every part of society, industry, and the economy. In a society ruled by tyranny of tort, all risk is punished pro-actively. In other words, most great ventures are never even attempted, due to the tight noose of tort -- and other effects of excess government -- around the necks of entire societies. As of 2006, costs of tort in the US had been growing at an average rate of almost 10% annually PDF.

In order to advance, humans must take risks. The elimination of risk from society is also the elimination of growth and advancement. Eliminating risk means inevitable stagnation and decline. It is the great human dieoff by backdoor means, albeit in slow motion form -- at first. Decline has a way of accelerating, however, once it passes a certain point.

Massive -- and still growing -- bureaucracies of government shut in most possibilities of escape from this inbuilt decline. When humans are cut off from expressing their natural instincts, they tend to rebel if they can. Eventually, they grow passive, fatalistic.

It appears as if western educational, news media, and entertainment systems are dedicated to the suppression of the exploratory urge in humans. This society-wide trap appears to be closing more tightly every year, with every pseudo-cause and crusade such as carbon hysteria, or resource scarcity doom.

How can we escape this suffocating atmosphere of security-fixation and excessive risk-aversion? There are few ways to escape other than to emigrate to a less regulated nation, or to build a seastead. Every so often a few people try to start a new country, where they can set their own rules so as to allow greater personal freedoms. Of course, new countries in space -- on the moon, Mars, in the asteroid belt, and beyond -- would represent a big step up from previous efforts.

But people will die in the attempt to establish a permanent human presence and economy in space. That is inevitable. People die in hazardous environments on Earth every day, and outer space is far more hazardous than almost anywhere on Earth. Whenever there is a chance of people dying, lawyers flock like flies on excrement.

We can see in the inability of advanced societies to develop a larger, safer, cleaner nuclear power industry, how tort lawyers combined with government regulators drive up costs to the point of abandonment of multi-billion dollar enterprises and loss of future plans and possibilities.

Established powers aim to remain established powers. That is what the vast inbred and corrupt system of government and law has become in the west. Free humans are hemmed in and restricted. Economies stagnate and the human spirit dies a little with every new encroachment by government and its army of allied extortionists.

People do emigrate to Costa Rica and other small countries where there may be less intrusive regulation and more freedom of activity in many ways. Other people "go Galt" and drop out, go off the grid as it were. Expect to see more of that unless something drastic occurs to reverse the creeping strangulation of the government-legal- quasi organised crime complex.

Can SpaceX and other private space companies provide an escape from the ongoing choking of human freedom in the developed world? Even if improvements in technology allowed the costs of space launch were to come down enough to make travel to the moon economical for middle class incomes, the inbred risk-aversion of modern societies places a limit on how far the movement could progress -- without massive changes in western government and legal systems.

Must we kill all tort lawyers and their fellows in crime, before the human instinct to explore and pioneer can find an outlet in space?

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Blogger Jehu said...

Torts aren't so much the problem in space---frankly, the problem is Ownership. If nobody can own anything in space because it's the 'common heritage of all mankind', how can you recover your investment? What is needed is a clear set of homestead-type laws that articulate exactly how much labor/investment you must mix with an area per cubic mile or thereabouts before you can enforceably own it. We had a lot of such laws and conventions (like saying you have to build a fence, a cabin, and harvest at least one crop of corn on a piece of land before you got exclusive ownership of it) in our early colonial period. These rules need to be updated and agreed upon so that people can hope to get rich in space.

Friday, 10 December, 2010  
Blogger Divine Potentate said...

Right now the greatest intellects of the human race have to put up with the rulership selection of the masses that greatly outnumber them. Their vote massively diluted and basically a nonvote.

But once they are able to self-govern in space and allow the masses to reap what they sow independently and without consequence to them, we will see what will be of the lesser minds left to their own devices.

Friday, 10 December, 2010  
Blogger al fin said...

You are correct, Jehu, that torts aren't the only problem by a long shot. The entire legal and regulatory system at all levels of national and international government conspires against private space enterprise. Ownership is but a subset of dysregulation in government that makes an expansive space future almost impossible.

Potentate: Technology is the answer, if you can control it.

As for killing the tort lawyers, that is hyperbole. An irreversible coma would work just as well.

Saturday, 11 December, 2010  
Blogger Loren said...

First group to the moon needs to declare independence from earth ASAP. Once the UN and other bloat is out of it, you can set up laws that encourage settlement and use outside of the legal systems that get in the way.

Saturday, 11 December, 2010  
Blogger Gary Y. said...

I am not a lawyer nor have I ever wanted to be one. I am, and have long been, a libertarian; as such, 'tort law' along with 'contract law,' which could be considered a subset of tort, is about the only kind of law I believe should exist.

Doing it well is another matter.

I disdain NASA and favor private space exploration. At one time I hoped to be a part of that.

I think people should be able to take big risks in order to reap big rewards -- and I value those who do.

Still, it's not proper to risk the lives and property of others, those who do not choose those risks or seek those rewards, absent their consent.

Your article is unspecific about which tort laws you protest and consider unjust. Given your track record, I would expect to agree with you; as it is, I'm left uncertain.


Sunday, 12 December, 2010  

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