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It's Not Getting Done: #3

Economics Gaming. By,

Martha Adams

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Europeans began to settle the American East Coast in the early 1600's. Of course everyone knows of the Pilgrims, because that's a key part of the canonical mythology taught to American children. But if you look at writings from the times, you will see that early after the first settlements, trading developed quickly up and down the American coast, and small sailing ships (hundred-ton range) were built to carry that trade.

Which trade was, of course, because no one of those early settlements, had all the local resources or made all the materials they needed to exist and grow. This basic settlements scenario seems to me to translate to off-Terra settlements quickly, easily, and convincingly.

The practical meaning of it being that one single settlement Out There won't of itself, be viable. Such a single settlement must connect right back to Terra to survive; and if that settlement is on Luna, shipments back and forth must navigate two gravity wells. Same for Mars. Which leads me to believe that whatever the details, humans in space is a matter of several settlements, not just one. That is, a program to build just one settlement, is a well defined recipe for failure.

Which in turn, means my above Set1 piece that encourages the reader to sit down and design a settlement, with my above Set2 piece that goes into practical detail about lifespaces, are incomplete. Your settlement and lifespace must exist in an economic context and it will be up to someone to build that economic context. So here in Set3, we think about a human business ecology, or a human culture, in space.

* * *

Off-Terran business economics will prove another hard challenge after the lifespace and social issues studied in the analog settlements projects. I see two reasons for this. The business economics of space settlements must extend far in space and among many concerned people and institutions. And extend far in time. And over the long run, a business economics that works is as necessary to life off-Terra as the air and water in the lifespaces. It is a central part of what the people who are there do there; and it pays the costs of Settlement operation and growth.

How will business economics work in space? Some details will certainly be very different from local experience here on Terra. History provides useful parallels. A few centuries ago, business people could wait months or years for business to complete that they had started. (Giving us today's expression, "My ship came in!") It does make a difference that today, business parties across the solar system can communicate with lags up to a few tens of minutes, but manufacturing and shipping hardware and materials across space seems likely to require years of time. History's useful parallels, won't be answers.

We can't afford put out a few settlements and speculate as to their eventual economics. Before we put our space settlements out there, we'll need to study how business economics probably works there. That study, and testing, must start at least as early as our first work on longterm analog settlements. Its results will certainly bear upon site choices. We must understand early-on what the basic economics will approximately be for each particular settlement. I expect the early work of space settlements to include serious economics modeling and gaming to study this new field of business and economics in space.

(Which carries a risk. An old hippie saying goes, "Where all think alike, none think much." Here, it's a warning to the small space settlements community that this work, so like gaming, risks having too few people and a single closed group doing the work.)

(I think here is where those who advocate just one settlement for starters, go severely wrong. Three settlements might be a practical minimum.)

I expect this topic to develop over time about the usual way: cycles of trial and error, supported by theory in its present state; cycles of assessing what was learned. Such work, done in effigy, won't cost as much as the analog settlements projects, although it's equally as necessary. It can be set up by knowledgeable people as computer games. (For an old and limited traditional game, think 'Monopoly'.) To see reasons not to try this first for real out in space, see today's American economy.

Over historical time, you see a lot of trial and error in Terran economics. As I write, one might mention today's American economy in particular. In this trial and error, if something crashes, well, someone takes a beating. I look for economics in space to work different from this, because space is a seriously hostile environment.

* * *

Whoever intends to face this large business ecology challenge, is working at it now. In those wonderful NASA programs, I don't see that. The reasonable belief from what's visible out here is, NASA's feet are firmly glued to Terra's surface, and they're going to keep it that way.

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