Property Rights in Outer Space

 Posted by on 5 June 2008 at 10:52 am  Law, Technology
Jun 052008

There have been a couple of recent articles on extending the concept of private property into outer space. One is from the May 18, 2008 Boston Globe entitled “My Space“, and one is from the June 2008 issue of Popular Mechanics entitled “Who Owns the Moon? The Case for Lunar Property Rights“. (Both links via Instapundit.)

Here are a couple of noteworthy quotes from the Boston Globe article:

There’s a variety of opinion as to how extensive extraterrestrial property rights should be – whether to allow, for example, the outright buying and selling of land, or whether to forbid ownership and instead rely on leases, trusts, and easements – but there’s nonetheless a growing consensus that some form of space property is inevitable and necessary.

…”Property rights will provide the only economic incentive that will possibly justify entrepreneurial space exploration,” says Alan Wasser, chairman of the Space Settlement Institute and the former CEO of the National Space Society.

One can legitimately debate the merits of the various proposals to apply the concept of “property rights” to this new realm. But I’m glad that the discussion is at last beginning.

As Ayn Rand noted in her essay, “The Property Status of Airwaves”, in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal:

Any material element or resource which, in order to become of use or value to men, requires the application of human knowledge and effort, should be private property—by the right of those who apply the knowledge and effort.

The precise and proper application of the concept of property rights to new areas may require some hard intellectual work. For instance, the guidelines for the airwaves are different than for real estate. Similarly, the rules for intellectual property in the era of easy internet dissemination of MP3′s may be different than the rules for tangible objects. But as long as men need to think and use their minds in order to create the values necessary for life, the broad principles and justifications for property rights will always apply.

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