Property Rights and Economic Growth...In Space

April 9, 2012

Space still remains the final frontier for man, even after the Space Shuttle tried to make leaving the Earth's atmosphere seem routine.  With what seems like infinite potential beyond this big blue marble we live on, it seems striking how underdeveloped and costly space remains.  The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) thinks that  this may have something to do with its relative lack of property rights.  They may be on to something.  In a recent report report called "Homesteading the Final Frontier," author Rand Simberg makes his case:

A legal private property regime for real estate on the Moon, Mars, and asteroids could usher in a new era of space exploration at little or no cost to the U.S. government. As the study explains, space is rich in valuable resources. But without off-planet property rights, investors have little incentive to fund space transportation or development. Simberg proposes that the U.S. begin to recognize off-planet land claims of claimants who

  1. establish human settlements on the Moon, Mars, or other bodies in the solar system;
  2. provide affordable commercial transportation between the settlement and Earth; and
  3. offer land for sale.

These claim rights would transform human perception of space. Currently, the international community treats outer space as an off-limits scientific preserve instead of what it could be: a frontier of possibilities for exploration, resource development, and human settlement.

Though this seems like a rather far-flung topic, space represents more than $165 billion in revenue to a multitude of technology-driven industries.  It's just been within the past few years that private firms have developed technologies to launch both satellites and tourists into space at a fraction of NASA's cost.  Moreover, the sort of property rights being called for by CEI are increasingly being seen as fundamental components of economic and political development.  For these reasons alone, space represents a key opportunity for both law and commerce.