Now we are thinking about a return to the moon, unless, of course, President Obama or President McCain thinks we ought to use that money for universal pre-K or to end global warming. So perhaps you're thinking about getting up there yourself and homesteading your 40 acres. Well, think again:
A lunar settlement, probably located at one of the lunar poles where scientists believe ice exists in permanently shadowed craters, would be a center of science and commerce. Lunar geologists and astronomers would work cheek to jowl with helium 3 miners and lunar tour guides. There would even be a government of some kind, with lawyers and bureaucrats, to sort out disputes and to pass and supervise laws and regulations.
However, if the lunar settlement is to be more than just an Antarctica style science base, some provision would have to be made about private property rights. And there is the rub.
The Outer Space Treaty, which currently governs national activities in space, is silent about private property rights. The treaty does, however, forbid nations from making sovereign claims on territory on other worlds. National sovereignty is the traditional mechanism for guaranteeing private property.
I know I go overboard sometimes on my libertarian, don't-give-an-inch property rights rants, so I'm happy to report that here is a hypothetical problem I won't lose a lot of sleep over. If we're smart enough to overcome all our earthbound problems now preventing moon colonization, we will have also figured out the property rights issue. An interesting point is highlighted, however, one often slighted by libertarians. While it is true that overreaching government is responsible for the weakening of property rights, without government there can be no property rights at all except the rule of "he who has the most power has the most property."