By Bryan Caplan
Last week I had a few days on my own, so I decided to try Season 1 of Battlestar Galactica. I’m probably the last geek on earth to take the plunge, and I wasn’t disappointed.
My verdict: It’s a great show, but awfully depressing for a libertarian. BSG gives new meaning to Rothbard’s laments against the “welfare-warfare state.” In this dystopian future, the former secretary of education and the military commander of the last battleship share near-absolute power. At least in the early episodes, civilian and military government is about the only social structure you see; the market – and civil society – are out of the picture.
Now of course the authorities rationalize this system as a response to the Cylon threat. But even if the Cylons disappeared, it’s hard to picture either the civilian or military authorities relinquishing much of their power. So, libertarian fans of BSG, tell me: What’s the right path from the statist world of Battlestar Galactica to the free world of Battlestar Libertopia?
The first step is easy: Recognize the property rights of the owners of the civilian spacecraft. The technological units are well-defined, the owners are probably still alive, and the property titles are clear. It won’t be perfect competition in a world with less than 50,000 people, but liberty can hardly wait for perfect competition, can it?
The next step is harder: Privatizing the public property. In the world of BSG, this means spacecraft, plus the contents of the spacecraft. Auctions are the simplest mechanism, but are they the best? And what do you do with the revenue? Perhaps the best answer is to do what the former Soviet bloc should have done: Pay off the pensioners with privatization earnings, so you get government out of two areas at the same time.
The last step is hardest of all: Privatizing the Galactica itself. Even without the Cylon threat, wouldn’t you be worried that whoever gets his hands on the Galactica will use it to become a malevolent dictator? Well, maybe not – without the Cylon menace, a power grab might just provoke an exodus into deep space.
For all I know, the show has long since addressed these issues – after all, I’ve only seen the first three discs. But I don’t really want to know what happens on the show – I want to know how libertarians would handle this hypothetical. Any takers?