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Whaling and Space Migration

Ben Muse comments on a recent study (abstract only) of incorporation in the 19th Century U.S. whaling industry:

U.S. whaling began in the 17th Century as small groups of colonists set out from shore after targets of opportunity. Gradually the business shifted to whaling ships with crews of 30 taking world wide trips lasting years at a time. Despite the 19th Century IT revolution, management of an enterprise like this would pose big challenges.

Near-shore “targets of opportunity” followed by later “trips lasting years at a time” sounds curiously like the possible near-term future of humans in space.

In the typical whaling enterprise a small group owned shares in the vessel. These persons delegated most management decisions to agents, who themselves had significant shares in the operations…

The lesson to be learned from these whaling operations is that the standard corporate model — here, a form of organization in which the business is owned by many small shareholders and managed by a group of their representatives — may not be the most effective form for enterprises in which those doing the actual work operate of necessity with a great deal of autonomy. Time differences, variable communications delays, cost of communications, etc., point towards a similar situation with future startups on Mars, mining operations in the Main Belt, and the like. Despite fears by some of the “corporate dominance of space”, the conclusions of the study suggest that one of the results of the “social experimentation” involved in space migration may be the bypassing of the traditional corporate model in favor of smaller enterprises, funded by small groups of financiers and operated by employee-investors with a financial stake in the success of the undertaking.

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