Who Pays for the Spaceship?

Not just spaceships, but most complex things in the cosmos. Where does the money come from?

(Have I written about this before?)

It’s a question that spoils a lot of science fiction films for me. We see these utopian visions of interstellar travel and cities on other planets, the Death Star, and I think ‘well that’s all very well, but how were they financed?’

It’s dangerous to assume the same financial environment exists in the 24th Century, but just for a moment let’s assume there’s a will to build a city-planet, the kind you see in Star Trek and Star Wars. On earth in the current climate, you can spend nearly a billion pounds building a football stadium.

How much would an entire city cost? A city the size of a small planet? In space?

Yorktown from Star Trek: Beyond. Not only is it a city in space it’s also covered in glass.

Consider the engineering logistics for a moment. How do you get a 120 metre box section steel beam into outer space? It’s hard enough dragging one of these things up the M6. They won’t fit into the back of a Space Shuttle.

Build them in space. Fair enough. That means building a steel works in space and you’re back to square one. The biggest thing we’ve built in space is the International Space Station and looking at some of the pictures of it, there’s not enough room inside to swing a cat. It’s taken nineteen years to build what’s there and it still isn’t finished.

The biggest thing we’ve put into space and the only inhabitable bit is the tube in the middle.

Whatever cosmological or engineering solution you find it still brings us back to my original question. How much? How much did the Death Star cost the Empire to build? It’s the size of a moon. Even if they used slaves to build it, or apprentices, you’d still have to pay something. Labour costs can be up to half the budget of a construction job, but that still leaves 50% to find for all that cladding, piping, flooring, IT, heating systems, foul waste treatment, not to mention the fees for planning permission (which the Empire would probably ignore anyway.)

Raw materials: mine another planet. Transportation: quantum tunnelling. We can find an answer for most of the engineering, but if you know how these megaprojects are paid for in the 24th Century let me know and we can get a Kickstarter campaign going.

Building something like this would drain Poland of its carpenters
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6 thoughts on “Who Pays for the Spaceship?

  1. The issue is the degree of surplus value, over and above what is needed to sustain a population, that the population (or its technology) can produce, which can then be diverted to non-productive projects. Many factors could contribute to decisions relative to how much of that value is to be diverted, including military need, commercial return or even prestige. I am not sure this has been particularly thought through, of course, in science fiction spaceships! There is also the issue of cost vs the total scale involved – we don’t know the Empire’s actual GDP, and it could be that a Death Star is actually a trivial expense by comparison with the total size of the Imperial economy (and hence potential surplus). Or maybe it was expensive on an Imperial scale, but the benefits of having it were thought worth taxing the peasantry even harder – and, in a command economy, any value can be re-directed.

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    1. Combined GDP may, for smaller megaprojects, be a consideration. One aspect of a lot of science fiction is the assumption that nation states don’t operate in isolation. This suggests that GDP on a planetary scale would be much higher and then all the other factors you mention can draw on a much bigger pot of money. At the Empire level you might be talking about numerous planets pooling their economies, voluntarily or otherwise.

      The amount of wealth stolen away offshore does suggest there’s money out there; whether its real or assets on paper that can be liquidated is another thing. Perhaps as we move towards more electronic money and cryptocurrencies, the nature of finance might change to the point where the concept of exchanging money for goods and services becomes outmoded.

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    1. There might be a totally different way of paying for things. Money has changed quite drastically in a few hundred years from gold coins to Bitcoin. Let’s hope the ‘love of money’ does die a death one day then we can treat it like any other staple commodity.

      Liked by 1 person

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