We should send the Swiss to space

I started a new blog with a couple of my fellow George Mason PhD students and friends. Well, they started it, I tagged along. You know it’s going to be awesome because of the name, Calculus of Dissent. The blog will be a bit more technical and academic oriented than here, focusing on our research. Given this is my blogging home and it fits my eclectic tastes rather well, most of my blogging will remain here.

My first post was on who we should send to colonize space. Hint, its the Swiss.

Consider the following thought experiment. Earth is dying, unable to further sustain human life. Mankind has thrown their last resources into creating a space ship that can reach a habitable planet. However, the space ship can only carry 10,000 people and little is known about the planet beyond gravity and oxygen levels. With the literal fate of humanity lying before us, who do we send and why?

My post was picked up by Nick Land who expressed shock and bemusement at my tone, though I suspect he agreed with my reasoning. I took that tone because as an economist playing the outside observer helps alleviate bias, as well as my perhaps naive belief that most people are reasonable.

I do not believe anything I wrote was terribly controversial, though that is perhaps more symptomatic of my bubble than anything else. Land seemed most surprised by my nonchalant tone arguing for sending a single culture to colonize space. What I said is not particularly controversial among economists. There is a large literature on the (negative) relationship between ethnic homogeneity and various outcomes.

The economic theory is fairly uncontroversial. People tend to trust their in groups more than out groups. High ethnic fractionalization is linked to low trust, among other things. This become especially problematic with modern states as no ethnic group wants to trust the other with state power. Mark Weiner gives a persuasive account of how an important aspect of the creation of the modern nation state was wiping out tribal affiliations.

The common sense theory is similarly uncontroversial. We would not want to send a stone age tribe which murders strangers to colonize a new world. Similarly, we can rank, though there would admittedly be some disagreement, which cultural groups have traits that are most likely to lead to success colonizing a new planet.

Basically, this is a long winded way of saying you should check out my new blog. Here it is again in case you’re lazy.

(Image source)



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