Death Star II nowhere, sadly | FT Alphaville

Death Star II nowhere, sadly

At first glance, we admit this petition to the White House to secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016 has got “no brainer” written all over it…

It argues that:

By focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense.

Fair points all, but, when you look deeper there are a few real problems with this seemingly perfect stimulus plan…

First, it’s ruinously expensive and a logistical nightmare. RBC Capital took the time on Thursday to point out that the original Death Star was plagued by delays and staff shortages and had clear design flaws allowing for destruction by a small one man fighter.

Of course, that could presumably be overcome with a smallish design tweak , but their point is well made. And even if you are willing to accept a shoddy, long delayed “Death Star II”, surely the resources needed would be better spent elsewhere.

RBC pointed us to a study by Lehigh University which…

estimated back in May that a Death Star would cost $852 quadrillion, or 13,000x global GDP. Put in a galactic context, this would presumably be immaterial.

Yup, and there is the enormous cost of an operational Death Star II actually being put into use. That question was posed before, naturally:

What’s the economic calculus behind the Empire’s tactic of A) building a Death Star, B) intimidating planets into submission with the threat of destruction, and C) actually carrying through with said destruction if the planet doesn’t comply?

Doesn’t the Empire take a huge economic loss from the lost productivity of an entire planet? They were presumably paying taxes and providing resources to the rest of the Empire. Presumably the loss of that planet’s output would have to be made up by increased output from other planets that were either slacking in productivity due to rebellion or threatening to rebel and withdraw from the Empire altogether. It doesn’t seem to make good economic sense.

Good questions, particularly within a fully functioning Galactic Empire where it is the perfect psychohistoric leverage tool. And we really doubt the Empire didn’t conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis in advance of the Death Star’s construction — although we might be dealing with deeply esoteric drivers here.

But we don’t really need to deal with it in depth in this case, as it brings us naturally to point two — does it really make sense to build a Death Star II in a universe with only one known occupied planet anyway?

One might argue that it’s good policy to prepare for a second civilisation cropping up but we can’t help feel this is more a “Death Star II nowhere” than anything else.

Our Death Star II obviously falls down on a leverage front as it can only be seen as a final “gun to own head” style threat.

And if we were to confront an external civ that needed to be put in its place, the marginal cost of using our ultimate weapon would almost certainly be ruinously high: clearly, the greater the number of planets in your empire the better value your Death Star II becomes.

Even from a game theory perspective we would argue we would need to demonstrate at least once, a la the Empire, that we are willing to actually use your Death Star II. We would presumably lack the planets for such a show of force to make sense.

It would be like a medieval King burning down the only village in his Kingdom so the other, non-existent, villages take notice. How many villages would he need to rule before the destruction of one as a lesson becomes efficient? (Especially when you consider the chilling trade effects of such a move.) Obviously we can’t be sure but the number must be high.

And finally, even if it is being built as pure stimulus, might the Death Star not undermine its own purpose and cost jobs? Clearly it is the ultimate out-sourcing option, so would terrestrial armies not become largely redundant?

To avoid undermining the Death Star II’s stimulating purpose and the risk of extreme civil disorder as bands of once happy soldiers ravened the countrysides calling the Death Star II’s bluff, it would surely become necessary to occupy their many, many hands.

Of course, as a tail-risk defensive installation its value is pretty hard to calculate. So we’d like to see the official response in case we are overlooking something obvious.

Only 19,426 signatures left to go at pixel time.

Related link:
Paul Krugman: An alien invasion could fix the economy – Time