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January 06, 2008



I wonder how libertarians (eg: http://www.samizdata.net/blog/) would cope with an alien species that is biologically socialist? I freely offer the idea to any SF writers out there.


This is an interesting idea, but I don't think our music necessarily appeals to other species--let alone extraterrestrials. Music is effective on us because it scratches the right nerves in our brains. If dogs were intelligent rather than we humans, they may have invented ear-petters instead of music. But how do we know that alien brains resemble our own any more than a dog brain resembles ours? In fact, we should be much closer to dogs since we at least both evolved on the same planet.

I think if we join their economic system, it may be as beggars. They might regard our whole planet in the same way many of us regard Africa.


(not to say that Africans *are* beggars, but that we aren't quite sure what to buy from them)


If those extraterrestrials are so advanced, it stands to reason that they have figured out which sound waves they enjoy the most, so I doubt they'd want ours.
Trying to work out the area in which you have a comparative advantage without knowing who you're comparing with is rather close to impossible, I'm afraid.

jim jay

First of all we could serve them coffee.

Then, as their unions are also far more effective, they could outsource menial tasks to us - as we'll do them more cheaply - call centres, cleaning, that sort of thing.

And lastly of course we could trade them our natural resources - assuming of course they arrive before we've used them all ourselves.


ian, what do you mean by "biologically socialist species"?

"So they'd have little demand for either our physical sciences or our unskilled labour."

But we would have a great demand for their physical sciences. And once we had assimilated their scientific and engineering knowledge, we could pay them back. It is not as if their school textbooks are likely to be that expensive to print, so the debt should not be that great...


We would also offer a different way to be. Music, art, literature in some way denote an underlying perspective of the human species. They maybe intrested in our 'philosophy', as we would be in thiers. Of course, they would have to be a bit like us...if they are gaint balls of intelligent fungus or gas bags things would be more difficult.


I fear that for those alien races specialising in anal probes (see extensive literature) our comparative advantage is all too clear.


Is it not already a well known fact that they want to hunt us?


But from their point of view we are the extraterrestrials and therefore the superior, high-tech blah, blah, blah. Be that as it may, the answer is chocolate.


And if the aliens are tiny (a big avantage for space travel I would have thought) then they might want us as mercenaries (or gladiators). But seriously, this really has to be top of the pile in idle speculation.


Dearieme - sorry to point it out, but their superiority comes from the contact - we can't reach them, but they reached us.

"Better to remain quiet and be thought a fool, as to...."


Economics and the operation of the market are pretty much a function of being human - they are behavioural and our behaviour in the aggregate comes from our biological makeup. Aliens will have a different biology, which may well include patterns of behaviour that we would call socialist - greater cooperation, collectivism etc.

Discussion of socialism and its variants on sites like Samizdata tends to take a moralistic tone - 'evil' socialists etc. My point is simply that people who treat economics and politics in such moralistic terms will have an interesting time when they meet species like those I suggested above.

Tristan Mills

I occasionally think about a post-scarcity society.

So long as we maintain a physical presence (since a post-scarcity society would probably be post-singularity we can't assume this), then there would still be scarcity in things which require a specific location - so live music and phsyical originals of art would still be scarce.

Even with strong AI, creativity and ideas could still be an area of comparative advantage, since every person (and I'd assume AI) is different in this regard.


Unless the universe is infinite, and the reported evidence is that it is finite, the odds against intelligent life in the universe (that would be interested in an Earth type world) are huge. The reasons for this relate to:

Earth's large Moon, responsible for taking off large chunks of Earth's crust, opening up the planet for tectonic activity - movement of continental plates (there aren't any on Mars or Venus)- and removing parts of the original atmosphere.

Jupiter type planet(s) in outer solar system, but not inner, to protect against comet/asteroid hits

Earth like planets need to be in a habitable zone. Ours is just on the edge, as witness the various ice-ages.

The odds against life arising anywhere. There's still no agreed hypothesis for how life got started on Earth. Obviously it did, but the difficulties in explaining it indicate the odds against it arising elsewhere.

If there is intelligent life out there, where is it?


Mankind's comparative advantage lies not in our science or our labour-power but in our arts - and in particular, music, as this is less rooted in human language and specific emotions than other arts.

Chris, what's going wrong? Have to agree.


James Higham...
ummm... Arrogance check needed - our comparitive advantage compared to whom? And how the hell do you know?

My understanding is that earth is on the Inner edge of the habitable zone (c.f. Venus). Ice ages just reduce the part of the earth that is comfortably habitable (and the poles are far from dead). The fact that we have a very weak greenhouse stops us from boiling.

The Moai

When European sailors made first contact with indigenous peoples in the 17, 18th and 19th centuries, the sailors were generally after land itself for expansion purposes, tactically advantageous ports, mineral wealth, plant life (eg. quinine, coffee, rubber, timber etc.), slaves, and souls to convert to their favourite flavouir of monotheism. Will aliens want/need any of those things? I dread to think. Especially if they are after slaves or souls.


Souls are plausible: if the situation were reversed, many Christian churches would launch missionary enterprises.

“Aliens will have a different biology, which may well include patterns of behaviour that we would call socialist - greater cooperation, collectivism etc. ”

Ian, observation suggests that when human beings engage in trade it is because each trader believes the trade will benefit either himself, or some person or thing he cares about. If an alien species does not engage in trade that suggests that there is nothing – not even themselves – that they care about.

Either that or they are extremely paranoid or see the world in entirely zero-sum terms, so that they cannot believe that any trade can benefit both parties, and assume that anyone willing to trade with them must be cheating them somehow.

Personally, I am inclined to suspect that humans do have tendencies in that direction and that only personal experience can convince them otherwise – but that is another argument. In the meantime, a species that did not engage in trade would probably be an extremely disquieting neighbour.

Incidentally, since a trade benefits both parties it must be a form of co-operation in any useful sense of the term.


When the Polynesians reached South America, does that prove that their culture was "higher" than that of the Incas? Of course not, it just proved that they were magnificent navigators. Grow up, "reason", you silly tit.

Backword Dave

DM, I believe reason was talking about technological culture, and if they can get here, they must know things we don't.

Tolkein: Earth's moon doesn't have to be unique - there are a lot of moons in the Solar System. If you believe a habitable planet needs a strong enough gravitational source, what about the hypothetical planet itself being a moon? (Titan is large enough to hold an atmosphere.) Or orbiting a red dwarf (and there are a lot of those of those in the galaxy) - these are so dim that a planet in the 'habitable zone' would be tidally locked, and doubtless subject to the sort of forces you describe.

The evidence that Jupiter protects us against asteroid hits isn't uncontroversial. Conversely, an inner gas giant may have swept the system clear of debris (including possible rocky world material, of course).

The ice-ages (as has been noted already) aren't proof of our being on the edge of a 'habitable zone'.

Finally, I don't believe that one get legitimately get from 'this is hard to explain' to 'this is a very rare occurrence.'


Wow - 10^19 miles of interstellar space navigated in a balsa wood boat? These aliens must have a fantastic set of charts.


Ad - I didn't say they wouldn't trade, only that a different biology could lead to some interesting times. I don't recall the scenario I set out being covered in any SF novel I have come across, although the confusion over what aliens want is of course a common theme.

'We come to serve man' - fly leaf to a cook book!


As The Moai pointed out, what makes Chris think that aliens would respect our property rights?


On another plane altogether, is he sure that aliens would identify us as the dominant or relevant species? I remember Paul Ehrlich speculating in the seventies than an alien landing in North America, might decide that automobiles where the dominant lifeform and we their slaves.


all of us embarass ourselves at some time or another. Some of us, can still manage to behave with dignity in spite of it, and admit to an error. Lighten up!


Oh dear, can't handle the Inca point, so resorting to being patronising, eh


"The Inca point" is an írrelevant distraction. It is also debatable whether the Inca's or the polynesians were more "advanced". They had their own specialisations. The point is that you completely misunderstood what was being implied and are STILL too stubborn to admit it.


If we make contact with extraterrestrials, what could we possibly trade with them?

Services, such as those offered by The Dearieme School of Charm.


"Ad - I didn't say they wouldn't trade, only that a different biology could lead to some interesting times."

I think times would be interesting in any event. But the logic that makes trade sensible, large goverments inefficient etc should hold regardless of their biology.

A species that likes the idea of socialism is easy to imagine - we are one of those species. But liking an idea does not make it any more likely to work.

Indeed, being more co-operative might simply make them happier about the idea of trade...




I tend to sense a tendency to anthropomorphism here. We really do have no idea at all how similar or completely unimaginably different technologically capable ET might be.


Souls are plausible: if the situation were reversed, many Christian churches would launch missionary enterprises.

Really? Surely Christianity is a speciest (if that is the word) as you get. Humans have a special relationship to God. Denying that by preaching to aliens is bound to cause massive theological problems.


And back to original point. I would have thought that the enormous transport costs would have made trade unlikely unless the planets were massively different in their elemental structure.


I'm thinking we don't have a comparative advantage, and that's why we haven't heard from them.


reason, bees co-operate with their siblings (other members of the hive), not with strange, unrelated bees. Relations between hives are not particularly friendly.

Don't you treat your immediate family differently from the way you treat everyone else?

tom s.

"Don't you treat your immediate family differently from the way you treat everyone else?"

Yes - I'm ruder and more short tempered. But that's just me.


Jim clearly doesn't understand comparitive advantage.

Ad - and what if (as apparently is the case with fire ants) they think they are all from one hive?


Yes, I do. We might not be less bad than them at anything. We're evidiently not even good enough to eat.


Jim - your answer proves that you don't. The only way their could be no comparitive advantage if our productivity in producing all things of value is EXACTLY the same as theirs. As there are almost certainly things of value that they have and we don't (they got here) this is clearly not the case.

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