Science Fiction Project - Free Culture
Analog - All editorials - John Wood Campbell
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ARITHMETIC AND EMPIRE
It was van Vogt's story "Storm" that started me thinking on the problem; this item would have appeared last month had it not been that the announcement of this new size became necessary. The problem is simple in statement - the governmental set-up for maintaining peace and order in a galactic empire.
At present, all theories of how planets are formed are lying in ruins (it's interesting that, even before the discovery of the extra-solar planets, the various stellar-collision theories had been mathematically proven wrong; 61 Cygni C simply confirmed the fact). We haven't any idea how planets come about, but every star which we have been able to observe minutely enough to make the detection of a planet possible has shown planets. I think it's fair to set up an hypothesis on the basis that all stars have planets; many stars have habitable worlds. Four hundred million planets capable of supporting human life, within this galaxy, is not stretching possibilities anywhere near the limits.
Then, given a fast interstellar drive, and, say five thousand years of time, what sort of human population might the galaxy develop? When it comes to population increase, rabbits and guinea pigs have a reputation as experts; the reputation is somewhat undeserved - they simply have short generations. Man can do a very fine job of increasing the population when conditions warrant it, and there's some time allowed.
This planet, under present conditions, has a population of about two billions. With improved methods of producing food - you've perhaps noticed that item about making a meat-flavored, meatlike food from yeast, ammonia and sugar? - it could support some fifty billions without discomfort. Since a planet habitable for human kind will, of necessity, be Earthlike, an average population per planet of one billion would be conservative.
That gives the tidy total of four hundred million billion people. Like the number of light-waves in a mile, the number doesn't have much emotional meaning - it remains a "4" which we can understand, followed by a string of zeros which quickly cease to mean anything real or understandable.
But this part of it does become understandable. Such an empire would have to have a home-rule governmental system, with local area governments in each city, up through continent governments, world governments, and system governments. Van Vogt suggested in "Storm" that some central government would be essential to keep individual planets, systems, sectors, and quadrants from warring amongst themselves. It seems reasonable. Let's see what sort of affair that would be.
I don't believe that the United States Federal government could be operated effectively by one hundred thirty men - including the whole set-up from President down through and including the Army, Navy and Post Office clerks. One civil servant per million people is impossibly small, percentagewise, to be effective. That's a figure that must be expanded.
But our galactic empire government must, then, have more than that microscopic percentage of one-in-a-million, must have more than an impossibly scant four hundred billion Federal employees.
Perhaps, if Earth were made one solidly built-up capital city-world, supported by the microscopic taxes collected from the individuals of the empire, by the goods shipped in from other, producing worlds, this one planet could serve as the empire's governing world. Otherwise, it would take some two hundred planets to support the government's functionaries.
Incidentally, a congress made up of representatives each of whom represented a billion individuals would be a more populous affair than the North American continent now is - twice over! To have a representative body of manageable size, each legislator would have to represent some million billion people.
The one-in-a-million figure of governmental employees is certainly too small; there will be some compromise figure between our present-day over-high percentage of government workers - after all, the problem of governing populations of more than one hundred million people democratically is less than fifty years old - and that too-small figure.
The availability of really fast communications will aid a lot too. As long as human nature remains roughly comparable to what it is today, a face-to-face, person-to-person conference will continue to be more solidly, definitely effective - and it takes time to go from point to point. Since most governmental conferring is within the capitol, fast communications - say van Vogt's trick walls - would help fewer people to accomplish more. But all this deals only with the central government. How many people would be engaged in all governmental work in an empire of 400,000,000,000,000,000 people, including town, city, county, district, continent, world, stellar-system, sector, quadrant and galactic governments?
Galactic empire has been glibly considered fairly frequently in science-fiction. But - has anyone any workable suggestions for a galactic government?