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Property Rights and Mars

I’ve been doing a little digging lately into the issue of property rights and Mars. Specifically, what sorts of institutional arrangements should be in place prior to attempts to settle Mars (or the Moon, or asteroids, or empty space)? And more important, perhaps, what sorts of arrangements should not be made?

What I’m looking for is a plan for establishing property rights, a few rules constituting a mechanism for generating title to property where no title currently exists.

There is a parallel to this in the issue of sovereignty: when and how should sovereignty be established for, recognized in, or transferred to an entity which intends to act as a government?

Granted, there are many opinions on this, but I have yet to find a succinct and simple plan for either subject which doesn’t also delve into all manner of other governance-related topics and/or utopian schemes for social engineering. I’m not at this point interested in proposals for a full-fledged planetary government or the like, rather the simplest organizational infrastructure needed to facilitate settlement.

Discuss in the comments.

3 comments to Property Rights and Mars

  • Kip Dyer

    Wouldn’t settlements in empty space, and at least some asteroids, be subject to “ship under way” rules, rather than settlement property rights? Meaning, suppose Hilton went out and built a space station tomorrow. Whether they based it around a small asteroid or just built completely from scratch, I would think that Hilton, or whoever, would be in the same position as the owner of a private ship currently is, i.e. absolute owner. Admiralty law, in at least this type of case, is certainly more well established than that regarding settlements on some piece of Luna or Mars, and should probably be considered separately.

  • T.L. James

    I would not be surprised if you are ultimately correct. After all, the property involved would be created from nothing, so the rights of ownership would be pretty clear — you built it, it’s yours. Precedent already exists for private ownership of spacecraft, and the situation you describe is not much different in its essence from ships at sea; that legal framework could be transferred readily to settlements in space.

    My interests in this question lay more with the trickier question of property rights on existing celestial bodies. If the territory exists already, and no one owns it, how do we go about creating initial ownership?

  • In the first place, I believe current treaties still prohibit nations from claiming rights on any other planet. Which, presumably, applies to their citizens, corporations, et c. Some have challenged that.

    In the second place, the only real historical model we have is the colonization of the new world. In which case, an existing power (the Pope, ruling monarchs, the U.S. Congress, et. al.) granted rights to develop “new” lands. In some cases, private companies received land grants, and sold them off in public and private deals.

    The model one is supposedly left with is the current scientific base partioning of Antarctica. Which I don’t seriously consider.

    Or, as Kip Dyer pointed out above, all claims need to be treated under Admiralty Law. Presumably, that means if you own a working base on Mars, it’s under your control and you’re responsible only to your owners and whatever licensing and regulating bodies you’re naturally subject to. Which sounds like it could quickly turn into Dodge City.

    On the other hand, the duties of parties on the High Seas (immediate response to emergencies, rendering aid, rights of salvage, et c.) don’t seem to be a bad match. Comments?

    Whatever else we do, I think we need to shuck the 1967 Outer Space Treaty and the 1963 Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space. I don’t fancy exploration and development proceeding under the guidance of the United Nations, and don’t believe that the Charter of the U.N. should be the governing document in the High Frontier. YMMV.