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Navy Public Relations, Cont.

By Taylor Marvin

On the theme of American’s ignorance about what the Navy does and doesn’t, in The Diplomat James R. Holmes makes a good point about the word ‘battleship’:

“The op-ed bug bit me in late 2000 after reporters and other opinion makers took to describing the bomb attack on the destroyer Cole as an attack on an American “battleship,” connoting a behemoth comparable to the Wisconsin and her sisters. This was grossly misleading, implying as it did that the assailants in Aden had pierced the foot-plus-thick armor sheathing a dreadnought’s sides. Judging from the reports, they must have struck with uncanny force and resolve to tear a seventeen-foot gash in the Cole’s hull. In fact, American destroyers are lightly armored. The Aden attack was less impressive than many commentators let on. The upshot: battleship is not a generic term like warship.”

If Americans are thinking about their Navy in terms of ‘battleships’ — which the advent of naval airpower made obsolete in the 1940s, though US battleships served in the shore bombardment role until the 1990s — then they have no real idea what the modern Navy’s mission is. In an era of very public debates over the future US defense budget, this is troubling. Americans should be able to question and critically interrogate budgetary arguments from both the Pentagon and advocates of radically cutting defense spending. If the American electorate is ignorant about the military’s missions and capabilities, this debate suffers.

I’m not sure if the upcoming release of Battleship: Based on the Board Game ™ will improve the situation:

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Say What You Want, the Galactic Empire Had Its Defense Procurement Down

By Taylor Marvin

Note: I’m not super familiar with the Star Wars universe. If I mess anything up don’t hesitate to call me an idiot.

Kevin Drum ponders the Death Star, and concludes it’s a cost-effective investment:

“I figure that the price tag on the latest and greatest Ford-class supercarrier is about 100x the cost of the raw steel that goes into it. If the Death Star is similar, its final cost would be about 1.3 million times the world’s GDP.

But there’s more. Star Wars may have taken place “a long time ago,” but the technology of the Star Wars universe is well in our future. How far into our future? Well, Star Trek is about 300 years in our future, and the technology of Star Wars is obviously well beyond that. Let’s call it 500 years. What will the world’s GDP be in the year 2500? Answer: assuming a modest 2% real growth rate, it will be about 20,000 times higher than today. So we can figure that the average world in the Star Wars universe is about 20,000x richer than present-day Earth, which means the Death Star would cost about 65x the average world’s GDP.

However, the original Death Star took a couple of decades to build. So its annual budget is something on the order of 3x the average world’s GDP.

But how big is the Republic/Empire? There’s probably a canonical figure somewhere, but I don’t know where. So I’ll just pull a number out of my ass based on the apparent size of the Old Senate, and figure a bare minimum of 10,000 planets. That means the Death Star requires .03% of the GDP of each planet in the Republic/Empire annually. By comparison, this is the equivalent of about $5 billion per year in the current-day United States.

In other words, not only is the Death Star affordable, it’s not even a big deal. Palpatine could embezzle that kind of money without so much as waving his midichlorian-infused little pinkie. If it weren’t for the unfortunate breakdown in anti-Bothan security and the shoddy workmanship on the thermal exhaust ports, it would have been a pretty good investment, too. In other words, yes: totally worth it.”

E.D. Kain disagrees:

“In order to keep the whole intergalactic society functioning, they had to make sure they could collect revenue – after all, the decline of the Roman Empire was as much its inability to keep collecting revenue from its colonies as anything. Stretch that out over a couple million worlds and a few thousand trillion people, and the expense of governance and infrastructure quickly outweighs any Death Star budget.

Governments shouldn’t put all their resources or tax dollars into big defense systems. Not only would the Death Star almost certainly go over budget, it would also only represent a small sliver of the total Imperial defense budget. Don’t forget all those Star Destroyers and the huge cost of mobilizing troops and keeping up maintenance on all those attack droids.

The Galactic Empire made lots of mistakes. Its hyper-focus on defense spending was one of them.”

I’m going to have to side with Kevin Drum on this one — I don’t see the Death Star as anything close to prohibitively expensive. We know the Galactic Empire was a society heavily dependent on robotic labor. Given that the Death Star’s size, its builders wouldn’t have manufactured it per se. Instead, you’d just find a small, iron dense moon (there are several in our solar system that could work), and land robotic factories on it. The robots would covert a small portion of the moon’s mass into construction infrastructure, and “carve” your technological station out of the moon — all the necessary raw materials are there. This process would take decades, but given the Empire’s highly advanced robotic technology it wouldn’t be very expensive. The project’s only concrete expenses would be the initial robotic infrastructure and design expenses, both of which the Empire’s technological advances would substantially reduce.

I’m more curious about why you’d build a Death Star in the first place — unless the planet-destroying laser is nearly all of the station’s mass, why would you build it so big? We know the first Death Star had “a crew of 265,675, as well as 52,276 gunners, 607,360 troops, 30,984 stormtroopers, 42,782 ship support staff, and 180,216 pilots and support crew.” Wouldn’t it make more sense to limit the Death Star to the minimum mass required for the superweapon, and use an accompanying fleet as troop transports? After all, today’s navy doesn’t use supercarriers for every role: air defense, troop transport, surface warfare and anti-submarine defense are all performed by specialized ships.

The best rational for the Death Star’s truly massive scale would be to make it invulnerable. Neglecting the stations’ weaknesses in the films (Imperial defense contractors: “hey, do you think this two-meter wide hole that leads straight to our insanely unstable reactor will be a problem?”), it’s hard to image how to significantly damage an object with a mass of 1.08 x 1015 tonnes. Speculative science fiction weapons aside, what could blow a meaningful hole in something so big? Even an antimatter warhead would have to be prohibitively large to damage the thing. Throw a few kilometers thick ice shield over it, and you have a weapon that’s pretty close to indestructible. Once the Empire made the political decision that destroying planets was in its long-term interest, the Death Star was a sound investment.

Future US Naval Policy in the Western Pacific

By Taylor Marvin

Next quarter is my last at UCSD, and I’m interested in doing an independent paper looking at future US naval policy in the western Pacific. I’ve been playing around with a few potential thesis statements, and here’s the one I think I’m most interested in:

“US military strategy in the western Pacific faces two notable challenges. Uncertainty about which “type” of China the US faces – an expansionist “dissatisfied” China or a cooperative “satisfied” China – and US policymakers’ preference for frequent small wars has created a US military tasked with fighting both major and minor conflicts but optimized towards neither. Continued advances in anti-access/area-denial weapons and strategies are likely to shift the most important determinant of military victory from force superiority to locality; if inferior forces can asymmetrically deny superior adversaries control over a local battlespace, they can cheaply achieve strategic victory. This bodes poorly for the US, whose control over distant sphere’s of influence (most notably the western Pacific and Persian Gulf) is highly dependent on the ability to project power.

America should expect its power projection ability to decline in the future. If it wishes to maintain a credible commitment to military hegemony in the western Pacific, the United States must shift away from assets irreplaceable assets vulnerable to A2AD strategies – most notably supercarriers — and increase the American public’s tolerance for losses. US politicians have shied away from this commitment, for good reason. Given America’s relatively peripheral interests in East Asia, the growing Chinese defense budget and high costs of war, a risky US containment strategy towards China is not feasible. However, a policy of full engagement that cedes military hegemony in the western Pacific to China is not politically acceptable for both the US or its allies; “mixed” engagement is suboptimal, but appears unavoidable. Given these constraints, the US should cede influence in the western Pacific to China, but balance this realignment  by emphasizing that the US would respond to the loss of a supercarrier with dramatic escalation while leaving the nature of this escalation ambiguous.”

A little broad, though I plan on narrowing it down as I do more research. Thoughts?

Friday’s Reading List

By Taylor Marvin

Jan Vermeer, Officer and a Laughing Girl, 1657.

Jan Vermeer, 'Officer and a Laughing Girl', 1657.

Sorry for the light posting in the last few days. What I read this week:

Asking the right questions about Iran.

The fake chemical compound Isaac Asimov invented to punk science writers.

Attacking Iran is not the answer, argues The Economist.

Via David Cenciotti, a beautiful Cold War photo of American F-15s intercepting two Soviet MiG-29s over Alaska:

Poker Lessons From Richelieu.

Clear and present safety.

Beautiful photos from Kashmir.

Muscle beach and the dawn of huge (via Sullivan).

The plagiarists’ tale.

J Dilla feat. D’Angelo – Tell Me (remix).

Interracial Couples Earn More

By Taylor Marvin

Via Catherine Rampell, a new report by the Pew Research Center shows that Asian-American grooms and white brides are the highest earning marital parings in America:

White husbands and Asian-America wives make slightly less, but are still the second highest paring. Interesting, right?

I’d take the wider significance of this finding with a grain of salt. It’s likely that Asian-white/white-Asian parings are proxying for education. Students at elite American universities are disproportionately white and Asian; it’s likely that many white-Asian couples met at highly-ranked colleges, increasing their chances of achieving high incomes later in life. Pew data supports this conclusion:

Asian-Asian couples are more likely to both be college-educated than Asian-white couples, but the difference is small. What’s more interesting is the disparity between Asian-white and white-Asian couples. It’s possible that this explains interracial couples with an Asian husband’s higher incomes: couples where the husband is Asian and the wife white tend to be higher educated, perhaps accounting for Asian-white couples’ slightly higher incomes. This suggests that Asian-white couples are more likely to have met in college than white-Asian parings, possibly because highly-educated women are less likely to marry a less-educated partner.

Friday’s Reading List

By Taylor Marvin

Jacob Elbfas, 1630s.

Jacob Elbfas, 1630s.

The best links of the week:

How a male feminist alienated his supporters.

Unraveling the new Pentagon budget — leaner and meaner?

Animal-made art.

Soviet ruins in Afghanistan.

Once upon a time in Tehran.

More from David Axe in Afghanistan.

“After moderator Brian Williams questioned if his popular campaign promise to not only defeat President Obama but to enslave his family was racially insensitive, Genghis angrily replied that he enslaves the families of all his defeated rivals, regardless of race.”

Phil Plait on the White House’s brutal NASA cuts.

“Any politician who regards the adult use of contraceptives as a matter under his purview cannot lay claim to the limited government label, nor can he credibly invoke a tradition rooted in the pursuit of happiness.” Rick Santorum is a small, small man in a modernity he can’t understand.

Belated Valentine’s Day: Dwele – Sho Ya Right.

Saving Syrians Will Kill Syrians

By Taylor Marvin

US airstrike during the Battle of Fallujah. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. James J. Vooris.

US airstrike during the Battle of Fallujah. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. James J. Vooris.

Intervening in Syria remains popular with liberals who hold that the United States, NATO, and allied Middle Eastern states have a ‘responsibility to protect’ Syrian civilians under military siege in Homs. This is true in my age group as well as with more influential policymakers and commentators: I’ve started seeing ‘Free Syria’ pins on internationally-minded students at UCSD, most of whom self-identify as broadly liberal. I’ve not been able to talk to enough people to know if most of these students favor a military intervention rather than diplomatic pressure, but it’s a reasonable assumption — Russian and Chinese intransigence has made it clear that diplomatic progress at the UN is a non-starter, and despite a decade of assertions that another Hama or Tiananmen Square couldn’t happen in the age of Twitter and camera phones, the Syrian government seems  intent on killing its own citizens until someone physically stops them.

But there’s a blind spot in the interventionist argument. As other have noted, it’s not clear if killing Syrians to save other Syrians is especially moral, or if taking sides in an ongoing civil war is an especially wise policy for the United States — history suggests it isn’t. But my concern with the rhetoric of liberal, rather than neoconservative, interventionists is more practical. Unlike Libya, the vast majority of combat in Syria is within densely packed cities. NATO and allied air assets could likely destroy Syrian artillery units operating outside of cities with a minimum of civilian casualties, but actually stopping the violence would require engaging regime forces within cities. While it’s possible that a US intervention would begin with the mandate to avoid airstrikes in cities, I highly doubt this limitation would last — as Libya proved, when NATO’s bound its credibility to victory, escalation becomes a very slippery slope. As anyone with a passing familiarity with air operations in Iraq knows, it’s very difficult to avoid collateral damage when conducting air strikes in urban areas, even for the smart munitions-rich USAF. Liberals protest the loudest when the US military kills civilians — which, of course, we have good reason to. But the magical thinking that “just wars” launched by a responsibility to protect can somehow miraculously avoid the civilian casualties air strikes in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan haven’t is nonsensical. War is a dirty, brutal business. Wars in cities are even dirtier. As I’ve argued before, I doubt that airpower alone can protect civilians in Syria, or even coerce a diplomatic solution. Advocates of the responsibility to protect need to be aware that an intervention to save Syrians will kill others just as surely. Whether these dead are legitimate targets are not, their deaths create grudges whose effects are measured in decades and long-term consequences we can’t predict. As analyst Andrew Exum recently noted, perhaps “when it comes to post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction, most liberal interventionists are no better than most neoconservatives.” It’s possible to argue that these costs are justified by the potential to halt the slaughter of the Assad regime, but basing the case for war on best-case assumptions is an argument in bad faith.

Friday’s Reading List

By Taylor Marvin

Franz Marc, The Fate of the Animals.

Franz Marc, "The Fate of the Animals".

The best links of the week:

North Korea’s super-sized hotel is set to open — 23 years behind schedule.

Raise the crime rate. “The Justice Department now seems to be saying that prison rape accounted for the majority of all rapes committed in the US in 2008, likely making the United States the first country in the history of the world to count more rapes for men than for women.”

Is Acts of Valor — an upcoming film that stars active duty Navy SEALs — propaganda? James Gerrond thinks so. Jeff Emanuel offers a well-reasoned defense of the film. Thoughts? (both links via Zack Beauchamp).

US News, the root of all evil.

Truth, lies, and Afghanistan.

Sex for sale in Beirut.

Philip Ewing has an entertaining take on the end of the F-35B’s probation.

Unleaded gasoline and teen pregnancy.

Quality, Quantity and Mr. Miyagi.

Never use the word ‘sheeple’.

Vieux Farka Touré – Ana (Hisboyelroy’s Smooth Dub).

Prophecy in A Song of Ice and Fire

By Taylor Marvin

Note: This post is entirely about George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and has nothing to do with IR or economics or any of the other ‘real’ stuff I generally write about. That said, I think that enough people are fans of the series for readers to get something out of it. Spoilers up to A Feast for Crows; spoilers for A Dance with Dragons are marked.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about prophecy in A Song of Ice and Fire. Specifically, Sean Collins has a great overview of the series’ complicated presentation of prophecy and the supernatural in general:

“But the difference between our world and Martin’s, of course, is that in Martin’s world, magic actually works. Some form of the supernatural is repeatedly intervening on behalf of the worshipers of R’hllor. An army of snow demons is raising a larger army of zombies. And speaking most directly to the question of prophecy, multiple characters have actually seen the future. Now, they’re not always able to ascertain exactly what they’ve seen, and we’ve now gotten first-hand evidence that Melisandre fudges her interpretation of her visions to fit her preexisting ideas. But even so, they have, in fact, seen the future — it’s not just a random assemblage of vague bullshit they spit out, knowing that it’s sufficiently ambiguous that eventually something will fit the bill. I don’t see any reason why prophecy should work any differently.”

That’s the problem with prophecy in ASoIaF: prophecies can be broken, and they stem from unreliable sources. We know of at least one that definitively did not come true: the prophecy that Dany and Khal Drogo’s stillborn son would “mount the world”. But this shouldn’t be surprising — Rhaego’s conquests were foretold by a prisoner that had every reason to tell her Dothraki captors what they wanted to hear.

So not only can prophecy’s fail to come true, the quality of their prophets is variable. We haven’t ever seen any evidence that the religious system of the Dothraki has any practical supernatural impact the real world, unlike that of the Red God which we’ve repeatedly seen sometimes is actually magic. So for that reason, we have good reason to suspect that prophecies made by Melisandre and other followers of R’hllor are more reliable than those of the Dothraki, whose religious doesn’t seem to be any more supernaturally powerful than, say, the Seven — that is, not at all.

[Mild A Dance With Dragons spoilers]

This makes the prophecy I’m most interested in — Dany’s — that much more puzzling. Even after five books we still don’t have any more reliable information on the Warlocks of Qarth who originally cast the prophecy that’s come to define Dany. Those words — “three treasons you will know… once for blood and once for gold and once for love” — are increasingly her leitmotif, her “winter is coming” or “a Lannister always pays his debts.” The Dany of A Game of Thrones was a wholly different person, and her original motif, the inherently dynamic and forward looking “if I look back I am lost” is fundamentally alien to the paranoid, inward-looking and increasingly static Dany of A Dance With Dragons. Prophecies in ASoIaF are unreliable, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important, because they shape characters in a very real way.

So, what do we know about this prophecy, arguably the most important in the series? Though it was made in the Qartheen Warlock’s House of the Undying, we don’t know if the Warlocks were actually responsible for it: it’s repeatedly hinted that the Warlocks’ contemporary supernatural power is far diminished from its former potency. While we do see some evidence of continued supernatural forces in Qarth — most notably, phantom tortoises — this isn’t clear evidence that we should trust the prophecy. Unlike Melisandre’s works (though again, the reliability of our narration is doubtful) it’s possible that the magical constructions of the Qartheen are relics of the past, unable to inform us about the ‘contemporary’ world.

However, let’s assume that the prophecy is trustworthy. What’s most interesting about it is that it’s so ambiguous — just like Melisandre’s visions of the future, it’s easy to twist a prediction as ambiguous as “three treasons” to fit almost any eventuality. What’s most interesting is that the prophecy never actually specifies whether Dany is the victim or the perpetrator of these betrayals. This is wondrously clever because it mirror’s Dany’s fatal character flaw: just as she is repeatedly unwilling to consider the very real possibility that the Targaryens and the madness inherent in their blood could have been bad for Westeros, the idea that she is personally capable of destruction rather than victimhood is alien to her. Dany destroys the institution if slavery in southern Esseros without considering that even patently unjust institutions can have value; that not all social destruction is creative. Though she’s repeatedly confronted with the evidence that her conquests were a catastrophe for the peoples of Slaver’s Bay, Dany refuses to recognize the realities that would destroy her internal worldview, a self-narrative which places her own morality, righteousness, and absolute right to the throne at its center. In her short life Dany’s been repeatedly stripped of everything she loves, except for this — in a world that doesn’t allow her to keep her relationships, this destiny is the only thing she can keep safe. Allowing anything to challenge her own ideal of her righteousness would demolish the only thing she’s been allowed to carry with her.

Dany is acutely aware of the prophecy, and attempt to explain it in terms of her own victimhood. Though Dany remains confused about how to fit the actual betrayals she has suffered into the already ambiguous framework of the prophecy, she most commonly imagines Mirrim Maz Duur as the “once for blood” and Ser Jorah’s as the “once for love.” However, this explanation doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Mirrim Maz Duur made little effort to conceal her obvious grievances against the Dothraki, and calling her actions ‘treason’ is difficult to justify. Ser Jorah’s betrayal is even more difficult. The exile knight didn’t betray Daenerys for gold, but instead in the hope of returning to his homeland. Claiming that Ser Jorah betrayed Daenerys for love makes less sense, though could possibly work if we understand ‘love’ to encompass Ser Jorah’s longing for Westeros. Dany is on some level aware of these logical problems, but she refuses to draw the obvious conclusion — she, not the world around her, is the betrayer.

Intriguingly, Dany’s own actions convincingly fit into the prophecy’s framework of treason. Let’s start with the “once for gold.” It’s hard to say Dany’s acceptance of her brother’s killing fall outside the definition of treason. Though it’s arguable that Dany was powerless to prevent Visery’s death, she likely could have made it less gruesome: we know that Dothraki society allows for strangulation within Vaes Dothrak, a death certainly more merciful than a crown of molten gold. However, Dany didn’t attempt to influence Khal Drogo away from executing Visery in the most graphic (and poetic) way possible. On some level this is attributable to Daenerys’ justifiable hatred towards her abusive older brother. But it’s also because she didn’t want to risk he position of increasing influence in Dothraki society by showing any mercy to her errant brother, mercy the Dothraki would view with disdain. Dany had already began thinking about leading Khal Drogo’s forces across the narrow sea and into Westeros. While it’s possible that she could have made Viserys’ necessary death easier, Daenerys wasn’t prepared to risk her army. Fittingly, this indifference can be seen as the “once for gold.”

[Mild A Dance With Dragons spoilers]

The next treason — “once for love’ — also fits into this framework. For much of A Dance With Dragons Daenerys keeps her dragons locked up in Meereen. She has a good reason for doing so — the dragons are getting big enough that they begin hunting humans. Her increasingly uncontrollable dragons place her in an impossible position: either she locks up the dragons, or they will continue killing children. Her decision is especially interesting because Dany repeatedly and explicitly refers to both her dragons and the people who flock to her as “my children”. Either way she’s forced to betray her own children. Daenerys’ love for her followers and the underclass of Meereen forces her to betray her dragons, the source of all her power. This is the treason for love.

[Major A Dance With Dragons spoilers]

The last treason — the “once for blood” — almost certainly hasn’t happened yet. It’s possible that Visery’s death fits this description, but this is a stretch; Dany arguably allowed Viserys to die horribly out of a desire for ‘blood’ — war in Westeros — but this doesn’t seem likely. It’s a safer bet that one aspect of the prophecy hasn’t been fulfilled yet. After all, we still have 2,000 pages of ASoIaF, and it doesn’t make much sense from a narrative perspective for Dany to commit all of the prophecy’s predicted treason without realizing it. What I think is more likely is a climactic realization by Dany that she isn’t perfect, and that in becoming an instrument of destruction she’s hurt real people. This would fit nicely into the books’ themes. I’ve always though one of ASoIaF’s most interesting themes is the illegitimacy of power through  anything but violence. Dany always talks about her ‘right’ to the throne. However, in a world governed by violence rights are transient. Daenerys has no more right to the Iron Throne than Robert, Cersei, or any of the other pretenders — just because her ancestors conquered Westeros 300 years before the Baratheons doesn’t make the Targaryens any more legitimate than the Andals, First Men, or anyone else. Power flows from the barrel of a gun. Only when Dany conquers Westeros does she have the ‘right’ to rule anything.

A Dance With Dragons sets the stage for this realization. By the book’s close Aegon Targaryn is in direct competition with Dany for the throne. It’s possible that he’s a pretender engineered by Varys and Illyrio as a backup in case their primary instrument of a Targaryen restoration — the unreliable Viserys — didn’t work out. However, Aegon’s legitimacy doesn’t really matter. If he wins the throne it’s his, not Dany’s. It’s possible that this conflict will be resolved through a Daenerys/Aegon (aunt and nephew…) marriage, but again this seems unlikely: Dany’s awful marital experiences, paranoia and deep belief that the Iron Throne is her’s and her’s alone make it unlikely that she will consent to share power with a nephew she’s never known existed. This sets up for a potentially fatal conflict between Daenerys and Aegon, one that could end with his death. This would be one of the most climactic “treasons for blood” imaginable, and one suited for the realization that Dany is as much of a monster as her enemies. For a series that dwells on themes of destructive self-deception, this would be a fitting development for a character we’ve been encouraged to like. George R.R. Martin delights in destroying fantasy tropes. Jon’s failures as Lord Commander have shown that command is no guarantee of righteousness or even legitimacy. It would be poetically just for Daenerys — the fire to Jon’s ice — to experience same realization, and suffer for it.

What do you think?

Space Colonies Probably Won’t Happen

By Taylor Marvin

Via Web Urbanist.

Via Web Urbanist.

At The Economist’s blog Democracy in America, N.L. takes a dim view of Gingrich’s beloved moon colony:

“Money can be made without creating a lunar colony, but it seems colonisation in and of itself is Mr Gingrich’s goal. And that presents a problem. We already know that short periods of near-zero gravity are extremely unhealthy for adults. They suffer significant losses in bone density and muscle atrophy after only six months on the space station. How about a lifetime on the low-gravity moon? And what about the children?! The human developmental process is designed for Earth’s gravity, meaning a moon pregnancy would involve serious risks. Any child that survived would be crushed by gravity if they tried to return to the Earth.

At this point one could mutter something about developments in technology that could overcome basic human biology, but even humanity’s mastery of technology cannot overcome the facts. The moon is a cold, airless, lifeless lump of rock a long way away. Only a lunatic would want to raise kids there.”

Daniel Larison piles on:

“On top of that, there is no need for any of this. Setting up such a colony, besides being bad for the colonists and a massive waste of resources, would serve no real purpose except to serve as a monument to our willingness to embark on useless, costly projects.”

Scientific space exploration is important, and it’s likely that an increasingly affluent and populous world population will drive resource extraction in the inner solar system sometime this century. But living off-world is a different story, and I don’t see any motivation for leaving Earth that could offset the incredible cost and dangers of doing so:

“Humans probably will have the propulsion and robotic technologies necessary to create asteroid habitats this century, and it’s probably safe to bet on the emergence of the types of fusion propulsion systems necessary for reasonably quick travel throughout the solar system in the next two hundred years. However, living outside the familiar environment of the Earth will always be enormously expensive. Even on Mars, whose terrestrial environment is relatively similar to Earth’s and possesses the space and atmospheric pressure to permit reasonably cheap agriculture and habitation, it will always be hugely expensive to house, feed, and protect settlers. The cost on low gravity, vacuum environments like moons or asteroids will be even greater, though somewhat reduced by the ease of escaping small bodies’ gravity well. Ultimately people won’t be willing to bear these enormous costs of settling the solar system unless there is a pressing reason to do so. Science fiction writer have always assumed that the specter of an unbearably crowded Earth would be this motivation. Fortunately, this future looks unlikely. Sure, a planet inhabited by 10 billion increasingly affluent consumers will represent enormous social and environmental challenges, some that may be extremely difficult to overcome. However it is unlikely that the costs of a 10 billion strong terrestrial population will ever be enough to offset the challenges of a significant portion of the human species living off the Earth. If today’s favorable demographic forecasts hold true there simply won’t be enough humans to ever justify investment in significant off-world settlement activity.”

Of course, the off-world settler’s motivations to leave Earth don’t have to be economic. Many libertarian and like-minded groups have fantasized about establishing societies at sea, beyond the reach of government inference. It’s possible that future malcontent idealists will feel a the desire to leave Earth behind completely. But that doesn’t change the fact that even in the medium-term establishing permanent colonies in space will be enormously expensive. Modern prospective “seasteaders” have floundered due to lack of funds — there’s no reason to suspect that this constraint will be easier to overcome in the future. Ultimately space is cold, dangerous, and lonely. If the Earth remains habitable, I don’t see very many people wanting to leave it.