Four colonies founded as national-prestige projects, ca. AD 2120

From January 2095 to November 2118 about 920 people per year went by Bifrost to Avalon, an act so reckless as to seem like a particularly gruesome form of slow suicide. The great majority of people found it difficult to understand why anyone would do anything like that, or even, really, believe that real people did it. Few could fathom that there were hundreds of thousands of people keen to go¹, excluded from the program by lack of useful qualifications. Emigration was an obscure fringe activity that few people paid attention to, except to marvel every now and again that anyone was actually doing it. Then the news arrived from Tau Ceti of a safe arrival by Red Earth and benign conditions. Six months later came news that crops were thriving. Three months after that, news of the birth of Adam Missahan. Suddenly, briefly, interstellar migration was the biggest news in history and the future of the human race.

Four of the five great powers of the time had each already received a report from a probe that it owned, confirming the existence of a habitable² planet in orbit around a different star near Sol. Each of them built (or collaborated with one of the others in building) a capacious flinger in a 1.7-AU circular orbit that afforded a window of launches towards its own colony and Tau Ceti, once every 2.2 years each.

  • Bhārat Gaṇarājya (the Republic of India) owned the JAFAL³ probe that had scouted Beta Hydri and confirmed the habitability of Beta Hydri VI. India collaborated with Mercosur to build a flinger to server Beta Hydri, Zeta Tucanae and Chi Draconis, and despatched a colony that it named Navabharata.
  • Mercosur was a coalition of Brazil with several Spanish-speaking countries comprising most of South and Central America. Its space agency owned the probe that confirmed the habitability of Zeta Tucanae IV. Mercosur shared a flinger with India and despatched a colony that it named Paraíso entre las Estrellas del Sur, and which was later known as Paraíso and as Paradise I.
  • The North American Continental Congress was a co-operative consisting of Canada, the USA, Mexico, Belize, and a few other countries in Central America and the Caribbean. It owned the JAFAL probe that had scouted Chi Draconis V, co-funded a NASA flinger that served Tau Ceti and Chi Draconis, and despatched a colony that it named Mayflower.
  • Zhōngguó (China) owned the probe in 61 Virginis, built a flinger that served 61 Virginis and Tau Ceti, and despatched a colony to 61 Virginis IV that it called Xin Tian Di.

Each of these colonies was launched in a wave of political enthusiasm, each with the thought that the power that launched it was staking out a large destiny in the future of Humanity. Each of the powers calculated that it would gain great national prestige and that its people would come together with a new sense of national pride and common enterprise. All were lavishly equipped, the recipients of large public subsidies. But none gained prestige that lasted even half a decade. Every 2.2 years, the flingers made a couple of spaceships, a few thousand highly-qualified young adults, and a fortune in equipment and supplies disappear. Even news of their arrival at their destinations could not be expected for about forty or fifty years. The public got bored. The political enthusiasm dwindled away. Critics lambasted the cost. In no case did the public subsidies continue beyond seventeen years.

Without public subsidies, emigrants had to provide their own ships, equipment, and supplies. But until AD 2168 no word of arrival had come from any colony other than Tau Ceti, so almost all potential immigrants with money to spend preferred to go there. Colonisation rights on the formerly official national colonies had to be free, transit fees covering the variable costs of flingers but nothing towards amortisation. the great powers’ enterprises were forced into a set of face-saving pretences.

  • India “privatised” Navabharata “for economic efficiency”: it sold the rights and future launch slots in the flinger by a sealed tender process, crystallising an enormous loss.
  • Mercosur was saved the embarrassment of the political failure of Paraíso by the even bigger failure of its complete disintegration into the constituent states. Rights to Paraíso (but not the flinger) ended up the property of a Panamanian law firm. The lawyers asserted but did not exercise their rights, granted free settlement ex gratia to refugees and making no efforts to check the genuineness of any “refugees” that went there.
  • NACC rather suddenly declared that Mayflower was now an independent state owning its own immigration rights, and that it was chock-a-block with freedom and anyone could go there, at their own expense.
  • China experimented briefly with appointing dissidents and reformers as government officials on Xin Tian Di, deporting them and their families, and confiscating their property on Earth as “voluntary contributions” to a co-operative fund for covering the cost. Then it experienced a unexpected involuntary change of government, and the old guard with their families were explicitly deported to Xin Tian Di. A hiatus ensued until 2188, when new arrived that the first crew to land on the planet had immediately announced a revolution, and that Xin Tian Di had been established with free institutions. Interstellar emigration being in demand at the time, migrations to Xian Tian Di resumed.

All the colonies colonies founded as national prestige ventures about 2120 were political failures, but demographic successes.

¹ In September 2013 the Mars One Foundation received 202,586 applications to take a one-way trip to Mars.

² At this stage no-one had a clear idea of the range of habitability that was going to emerge from later explorations. Standards were not all that high.

³ “Just As Fast As Light”.

I also think about network effects. Part of your motivation to emigrate may well be “Earth feels too crowded”, of course; but any colony world is going to have orders of magnitude fewer people than Earth. If you have some kind of minority hobby or interest, you may well go for the most populous colony so that the tiny fraction of people with the same interests are you becomes a significant number.

Yep. Tau Ceti’s population was a major attraction even after it became known that people had arrived safely at Navabharata and the rest.

Was China’s change of government involuntary for the people, or was it only involuntary for the former government?

I don’t want to commit to a future history of China, having had my fingers burned by the fall of the USSR. My idea is that it was a Pigovian circulation of elites: a small and rigid oligarchy had become weak and oppressive. More concerned with holding office than governing well, it had become ineffective and unpopular. So a larger, less rigid elite of mostly younger people deposed and exiled the old government with popular support, but not through an election. Some of the new governing elite we genuinely committed to liberalisation, others were content to get more wealth and power than the old regime had seemed likely ever to allow them, not demanding all the wealth and power that the old regime had accrued. Effectively splitting the proceeds with the People, they roughly halved the graft and halved the unwarranted impositions on civil and economic liberty. But it was not a liberal democratic revolution: the new regime was another bureaucratic oligarchy with technocratic features.

That’s pretty much the level of resolution I wanted. I was mainly interested in the spectrum from “a substantial majority of the people want the old regime out” to “the new regime was imposed on the people at gunpoint.”