Think Tank: The Economics of Death Star Planet Destruction

Lee

Cost-benefit analysis, anyone?

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.

McNeil

Did these stormtroopers have problems with blaster fire accuracy?

This is a pretty standard imperial tactic for dealing with rebellion. The Romans would do this in the eastern empire every once in a while. A city would become a hotbed of rebellion, threatening to pull other cities into the action. The Romans would wipe out that one city, no matter how wealthy (Palmyra comes to mind) to put any other potential rebels on notice. Kind of like a mastectomy. You lose one productive part of the body in order to keep cancer from spreading.

As America has learned in recent years, chasing down rebels is hard. One key part of our strategy, preventing the Taliban from sheltering inside Pakistan, has failed completely because so many Pakistanis welcome the Taliban. Imagine if we’d just nuked every town in Afghanistan in 2001. Pakistan would be a lot more hesitant to shelter them. Of course, the American people wouldn’t have accepted that course of action and the Afghans and Pakistanis knew it.

To my mind, this is why the rebels are on Hoth in the second film. Palpatine, the absolute monarch, had a new apocalyptic technology. Like Truman and Hiroshima, he need to prove to everybody that he was willing to use it. He nukes Alderaan and so all the habitable planets have turned the rebels away – too afraid of the Empire’s new weapon. Why else would the rebels set up shop in such an inhospitable place? There’s not a planet with Cancun-like weather anywhere in the Empire?

This dichotomy is why I don’t think you can have a democratic empire. You need an unaccountable monarch to make the ruthless decisions required to hold disparate cultures together.

As for the economics, it really depends on the number of planets in the empire. Based on the number if representatives in the senate we see in the prequels, there are hundreds of planets in the empire. The loss of Alderaan hurts, but is better than letting the rebellion spread to other planets. That would require long-term occupations in several places, and even in this long-ago, far-away place, Halliburton’s prices are steep.

Perich

War in general makes poor economic sense. Thousands of lives are lost and millions of man-hours are spent producing things that will break, explode or be exploded. Even the shittiest factory in the world at least produces crappy T-shirts. It may produce them at a higher cost than would justify the operation of the factory, but at least at the end of the day there’s some shirts.

The strategic calculus of the Death Star, on the other hand, may be more rewarding.

One of the more effective negotiation tactics, from a game theory perspective, is to convince your opponent that you’re crazy enough to do something stupid. An example is the purchase manager who’s willing to walk away from a 6 month negotiation process if one measly line item in the contract isn’t changed. This would cost both the buyer (him) and the seller (the other party) lots of money! That’s crazy! But if everyone believes that this one guy will jettison an entire deal just because one detail doesn’t please him, then people start paying attention to him.

"I used to bullseye womp rats in my T-16 back home, they're not much bigger than two meters."

The more famous pop culture example is Dr. Strangelove. The Russians have built a Doomsday machine that will blanket the world with radiation if a nuclear weapon goes off at certain Russian targets. This is crazy. The loss of the entire world hurts the Russians much more than the loss of Stalingrad would hurt them. And yet, if the Doomsday machine can’t be turned off, the U.S. has no choice but to back down.

The Death Star is clearly that kind of negotiating threat. The loss of an entire planet hurts the Rebellion, but it probably hurts the Empire too. And yet if the Emperor can show that he’s committed to vaporizing an entire planet, that makes open revolt a very frightening proposition.

Fenzel

I always assumed the Death Star was primarily designed as a cost-cutting measure. Consider the discussion between General Tagge and Grand Moff Tarkin:

TARKIN: The Imperial Senate will no longer be of any concern to us. I have just received word that the Emperor has dissolved the council permanently. The last remnants of the Old Republic have been swept away.

TAGGE: That’s impossible! How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?

TARKIN: The regional governors now have direct control over their territories. Fear will keep them in line. Fear of this battle station.

There is a political angle here, of course – the Emperor doesn’t want to share power, so he abolishes the Senate. But there’s an economic angle, too.

It’s pretty clear at this point the Emperor can do pretty much whatever he wants. He could have installed puppets in the Senate. He could have continued to dominate it and made an ongoing token effort to deal with their bullshit (which is really what government is all about and why conquering the world isn’t as fun or sexy as it sounds). He could have installed some sort of other system or infrastructure to support, you know, a galactic empire. One person, even with Dark Side force powers, can’t rule too many people at once. He can maybe manage a team of 20-100 people, and that’s assuming he has some small degree of magical mind control at his disposal.

An important part of the bureacracy.

For the Empire to actually exist as an institution, it needs to have the mechanisms in place to exist – namely, donks like Queen Amidala and Senator Jar Jar Binks who basically just sit around and handle boring government work. And you also need people everywhere. Like, if the Emperor controls everything, he needs to make sure every Speeder Registry office in every settlement on Tattooine has somebody working the counter except during major Imperial holidays. And he needs to pay them something (they can’t all just be clone slaves – that’s clearly not how the Empire works). If you don’t pay your people, they tend to first, be lazy, second, take bribes and be likely to betray you, and third, leave their posts or actively conspire against you.

To maintain order, the Emperor would generally need a MASSIVE, MASSIVE bureaucracy. The Old Republic built up a serviceable one over thousands of years, but that took a lot of time, money and effort, and in the end it was bloated, ineffective, and ultimately subverted against the Old Republic.

The more you spend on bureaucracy, the less control you have directly over your Empire. The less you spend on bureaucracy, the more you have to tighten your grip, and the more star systems slip through your fingers.

So, the Emperor and Tarkin focus on making one really huge, high-impact investment: The Death Star. They throw in Alderaan as part of that investment. This doomsday weapon will supposedly free up their resources to spend less on administration, personnel and infrastructure, and continue to function without a Senate. It seems like a big investment until you realize how much they save by not actually having a functioning government.

This is an attractive option even today, as politicians look to pay for tax cuts and handouts to core constituencies by laying off or cutting salaries and benefits for bureaucrats and government workers, as well as by skimping on infrastructure.

The problem, of course, is that it doesn’t work. The underpaid, undermotivated, poorly managed stormtroopers can’t even track down the Empire’s most wanted fugitive androids in an extremely sparsely populated area where they have undisputed control. If Tatooine still had meaningful senatorial representation and local government, Luke never would have gotten off the planet. Whole systems just break away and form not just a resistance, but a giant frickin’ fleet of spaceships that destroy not one, but two death stars. The failure of leadership is so total and complete that Tarkin is killed in his own fortress and the Emperor is murdered in his own office by his own right-hand man.

It’s a lot like assuming having nuclear weapons will allow you to dictate policy and control people and places pretty much for free. In reality, to control a place, you have to spend a lot of resources, no matter how powerful you are. Because people will continue to have problems and complain even if you threaten to kill them, and not dealing with those problems, no matter how strong you are, eventually leads to the failure and collapse of your administration.

The Death Star is a cheaper solution to the problem of projecting imperial power across the galaxy, but cheaper solutions are worthless – and turn out to be much more expensive in the long run – if they don’t work.

159 Comments on “Think Tank: The Economics of Death Star Planet Destruction”

  1. slims #

    Depending on how far you expand the Star Wars universe (in this case, I’m including KOTOR, since it’s convenient for my argument) I think you have to seriously consider the Empire as a corporate state.

    * In KOTOR, one of the major actors is the Czerka Corporation. It is a much maligned mega-corporation that administers the spaceports and cities throughout the Empire, including bureaucracy and towns (notably Anchorhead on Tatooine, a small city not because of the scale of the empire as suggested above but because desert worlds have neither the resources nor the need for larger cities). By imposing a profit-model corporate structure, you reduce the bureaucracy problem of the far-flung Empire.

    * Trade Guilds in the prequel trilogy – suggesting that economic motives are not just important but central to many of the movements of the Republic/Empire and its internal actors

    * As noted above, economic actors are the rule, not the exception (merchants, smugglers, black market, gray market, etc.)

    * The mass production of TIEs, armaments, droids, AT-ATs, etc. has never been done on a state level – this level of development suggests, at minimum, a very intricately connected military-industrial complex – but more likely a situation where the corporation and the state are the same entity.

    * The operations of the Galactic Senate – particularly with the “Vote of No Confidence – easily mimic those of a highly contentious public stockholder meeting.

    * The uniform requirements of the empire suggest a strict set of operating rules for even the most autonomous actors – not unlike the uniform requirements at your local McDonalds.

    In this case, then, you get a new perspective to analyze the destruction of Alderaan. The Empire is essentially eliminating the license for a franchise. In the same way that Burger King might revoke a branch’s franchise rights for misrepresenting the brand somehow, even in a profitable way, the Empire is revoking the rights for Alderaan to be a Empire-franchised planet. Aggressively, in this case. And as you’ve noted above, the brand power of the Empire may be its most important asset.

    The beauty of the franchise model is that Death Star Planet Destruction isn’t a macroeconomic issue but a liability solution. If the empire is essentially taking a cut off of the planetary economies (e.g. franchising fees), it isn’t incurring any massive hits by destroying Alderaan. It is one of many franchises paying its licensing fees and, if those fees become a liability, ultimately expendable at minimum long-term expense.

     
    • richies^ghost #

      In the Star Wars expanded universe, magic wands make economics meaningless – these wands are essentially energy/matter converters which can produce anything from anything, as dreamed of by nano-technologists and Trekkies.

      The use of such tech in Star Trek makes for a utopian society as people are left with their desires for material goods satiated, with the more intangible things such as knowledge, friendships, and serving the federation (would you like to know more?) being the most desirable things.

      Whilst this would impress Maslow, it’s perhaps not applicable to the Star Wars universe given the emperor has control and doesnt exercise it towards philantropic ends. Whilst this technology is available, the culture of its use is not, likely as a means towards further control.

      Even were it widely available such as if the rebels gained control of it, the hunt for resources would still prove the impetuous for war as it doesnt create nothing from nothing, but rather something from something. To maintain control, the Emperor would have to shut down the Rebel use of this tech by producing as surplus amount of arms relative to their own.

      Maintaining control, in either instance, would relate to the power to harvest resources and control production, and to exert power over life and death. Essentially, little would change in broader terms, though the devilish details would alter dramatically.

      As this relates to the original topic, the economics of the Deathstar, its usage would be of assistance towards gaining such powers. The destruction of a planet would likely help to convert its materials to a more easily alterable form much like smashing rock into concrete, with its tractor beam assisting to collect and distribute it to production line.

      Doing so also has the additional benefit of being a good way to secure the power over life and death, whilst not actually needing to use it – the fear of such power is ultimately more valuable, as the dead cannot be controlled and have little use save for raw materials.

       
      • Ariel Cinii #

        To Ritchies ghost:

        Palpatine, as a Sith Lord, may have been playing a much bigger game than was originally presented. Why, indeed would anyone try to gain control of something as unwieldy as a galactic republic in the first place? The answer is Power, but of a completely different order than economic or personal. There’s the distinct possibility that he could have been playing the “Divine Right” card. As a Divine Right Ruler, Palpatine (Darth Sidius) could have been using The Force as a means of Real galactic controll.

        To wit: Telepathy & mind-crafting skills are right up Jedi Street from Sith Row, and the corresponding corridors of controlling not just petty mortals but The Universe Itself.

        A story arc in The Clone Wars series toward the end of this season covered a small patch of this. The Force was presented there as a transcendental element behind the creation of Life, the Universe & Everything and it manifest on a macro-universal scale, which common society and technology had yet to take seriously (much like this society’s approach to Pyramid Power & psychic ability). Those who really knew what’s going on; i.e., the Jedi & the Sith; were effectively playing with the galaxy’s control rods and having effects beyond what their physical doings suggested in just six movies. We were shown the results but not the mechanism involved, and I don’t just mean the hardware.

        For Anakin & Obi Wan it wrapped up as “just a dream” in a crippled spacecraft. But Anakin was given a preview of his future (which was wiped in-story) and Obi Wan conferenced with the reconstituted essence of Qui Gon Jin.

        So the real answer to the topic may be way beyond economics.

         
    • gwern #

      Actually, if you’re willing to expand to the EU, the corporate state part is even stronger.

      There’s an entire significant part of the galaxy that is literally a sovereign corporation, like the East India Corporation – the Corporate Sector (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Corporate_Sector).

      And then there are the corporate systems, like http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Kuat

      Besides the ones depicted in the prequels, we also have mechanized planets devoted solely to one industry and apparently overseen by one master computer; eg. Mechis III http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Mechis_III

      One of the long-running subplots is the Hutt expansion into the Core worlds – a commercial/political subversion and conquest. The Hutt worlds are all controlled by the Hutt corporations, with political power appearing to align exactly with wealth.

      And so on.

       
    • Stan D. #

      Just a footnote, Leia represented Alderaan and was already viewed by the Empire as “part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor”. Her (adopted) father was, as the leader and dignitary representative of this planet, outspoken and against Imperial rule. This brings the argument back to the “making an example” theory; Showing force against a terrorist organization in a galaxy full of literally hundreds of populated worlds, by destroying a sympathetic locale, with a headstrong leader and his possibly more criminal daughter. As for the economics…clones had long since served their purpose and the military was already accustomed to taking children to train as troopers at an early age, which we see in the real world, in societies too large to micromanage their people. And yes, in addition to consuming Czerka and almost every corporation in the galaxy, the Empire controlled ALL technology and shipyards. All Rebels flew extremely outdated fighters, modified cargo ships and privately owned, smuggling vessels.

       
  2. Timothy J Swann #

    Beautiful. I’m sure some Expanded Universe sources look into these questions – taxation is practised throughout the Empire, and its burdensome weight is part of the reason for rebellion breaking out when it does in the Empire’s reign (well, that and a massacre in response to anti-tax protesters, so I guess the Tea Party should be glad Obama isn’t Tarkin. After all, Tarkin wasn’t born in the USA). Coruscant net-imports food – a few worlds are described as being food-rich worlds taken over entirely by industrial agriculture (Ruan being the one that comes to mind for me. http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Agriworld has more detail). It definitely has something to offer in terms of financial services, as do many of the worlds that are city-dominated.

    Mining is a big business, especially via slave labour/disregard of environmental consequences. The Imperial legalised the spice business and monopolised it, and while it’s not as consequential as in the Duniverse, it’s probably the equivalent of the USA occupying Colombia and controlling the cocaine industry directly to its elite.

    There are holodramas, music both live and recorded, and some kind of internet, but no word on whether there are Star Podcasts. Yet.

    slims mentions production of war materiel – all of that is done by aligned corporations on either side – but they do remain corporate entities with contracts with the military, i.e. Sienar Fleet Systems for the TIE fighters – one of the choices made strategically is economic – for the Empire, it’s cheaper to build cheap fighters and train lots of pilots than invest in good, shielded, hyperdrive-enabled fighters and a few pilots who survive long enough to become really good.

    Alderaan is noted for philosophy. Art, maybe, a second note. They’re probably not contributing all that much to the galactic economy, except to be a higher class world that can give a fair amount of tax revenue. It is one of the three worlds that are signatories to the Declaration of Rebellion – but Chandrila makes food, Corellia makes ships, and Alderaan gets destroyed. This is backward logic, of course, but I like the idea that if they had to pick one, Alderaan is the one they’ll miss least, economically.

     
  3. Smeel #

    …and that concludes the most overthought post of this year so far.

     
  4. Gab #

    That Trade Federation is one of the myriad plotholes Plinkett discusses in his review of Eipisode I. My stance on the blowing up of Alderon has always been along the lines of what someone else (Fenzel, right?) said, that in the aggregate, it doesn’t really matter all that much to blow up one planet. I find the idea that the Empire could catch the bits of planet floating around hard to swallow, given it couldn’t catch our rag-tag team of heroes.

    (And btw, the inherent hypocrisy in Marxist-Leninism makes it rather difficult for me to take seriously, imo. Capitalism is evil because it kills people, but gulags are fine because they’re in the name of communism. Right, sure…)

    This brings up the issue of planets on the outskirts and such, though. Take Tatooine, it’s so remote that it doesn’t really matter. Sure, it’s “part of the empire,” but like with Rome and some of its most distant territories, it was so far out there that what does it really matter. Remote places like that are left basically to themselves and function with their own self-sustaining economic systems that may or may not contribute a lot to the rest of the empire’s overarching system. So how “in” the empire was Alderaan? (I apologize, I haven’t seen the originals in quite some time and can’t remember Alderaan’s political and economic position within the hierarchy of the Empire.) To go back to my previous assertion, there are enough planets in the Empire that probably the only ones affected much are already the ones near the epicenter of things, meaning ones that are already contributing a lot and that have more weight within the entire system; ones out in the far reaches of the ‘verse probably wouldn’t even get a trace of the ripple effects from the destruction of another planet. And in the reverse, if Alderaan was, itself, one of those remote planets, then the Empire would barely “notice” its absence. Again, to go back to Rome, this is why it was able to “let go,” so to speak, of some of its more distant territories and not suffer financially. And yes, one could argue it “let go” because the cost of keeping rebellion down was getting too high, but to tie in other arguments, the scare-tactic of blowing up an entire planet would certainly put a damper on whispers of revolution or what-have-you around the Empire. (And if the nature of gossip and the diffusion of information is any indication, by the time the news reached places off in the Outer Rim Territories, the story would probably involve the destruction of an entire solar system and a feast comprised of dead young-lings as the main dish and Eewok tears to wash it down with.)

     
    • Valatan #

      I don’t think Marx, or even perhaps Lenin, were ever pro-gulag. Lenin was much more flexible than Stalin was. And you’re misunderstanding Marx’s argument if you think that he was aruging “we shoudl set up this system”. It’s much closer to “I have a theory of the dynamics of history that says that this system is inevitable.” Marx thought he was Hari Seldon.

       
      • JosephFM #

        As I read this post in between catching up on the last couple of Foundation Week posts over at io9, that line really hits home.

        Interestingly, I always took the lesson of the Foundation books to be precisely that as long as humans have individuated egos, they cannot live in a harmony of equilibrium with each other but instead will remain locked in a struggle for power.

        ****SPOILERS****

        I mean, the Seldon Plan is to some extent only effective due to the development of what amount to psychic powers on the part of the Second Foundation to begin with. And how is mankind eventually (supposedly, the books never actually get that far) to finally live in peace and harmony? By sacrificing all individuality into a galaxywide shared consciousness. Which is basically the only way something like communism would actually work.

         
  5. MikeJ #

    “As America has learned in recent years, chasing down rebels is hard. One key part of our strategy, preventing the Taliban from sheltering inside Pakistan, has failed completely because so many Pakistanis welcome the Taliban. Imagine if we’d just nuked every town in Afghanistan in 2001.”

    The War Nerd at eXile has pointed out before what a strange era of warfare we live in today. It used to be that if you had an irreconcilable beef with another people you would fight a war with them and try to kill as many of the people giving you problems as you could. Think of Germany’s conduct towards the Soviets during WWII. Nowadays that type of warfare is considered largely unacceptable, which is how you end up with conflicts like Israel’s fight with Lebanon in 2006, where they tried and failed to attack Hezbollah with surgical precision, but only ended up getting the world angry at them when the inevitable collateral damage happened.

     
    • bulbul #

      It used to be that … try to kill as many of the people giving you problems as you could.
      No it didn’t. Remember Middle Ages and the idea of knighthood? Remember Early Modern Era and the idea of officer’s honor? Neither allowed for indiscriminate killing – scorched earth policy is either a nomadic thing (think Jingiskhan) or an invention of the 20th century (and no, Sherman in Georgia doesn’t count, he wasn’t nearly as ruthless as rumored).
      And then there are issues of economics: used to be you wars were about controlling a territory for the purposes of exploiting them, either militarily or economically. In both cases, it’s stupid to kill as many people as possible – you need someone to mine coal / plough the fields.

      Think of Germany’s conduct towards the Soviets during WWII
      Think of Nürnberg.

      Israel’s fight with Lebanon in 2006
      A completely different problem. Used to be wars were fought between states or state-like entities (city states, orders etc.). Hizbullah is neither. The problem is Israel wanted to fight some Lebanese, but not all of them.

       
  6. Mark #

    Leaving out any ‘expanded universe’ stuff, it seems to me just from the original movie that Alderaan is a perfect target for maximizing the impact of the demonstration while minimizing the economic effects.

    Alderaan probably had a large role in the Republic’s history, but has become decadent, more of a nature preserve for the plutocrats that live there. “No weapons”, Princess Leia? Really? What kind of modern planet-state has no military worth mentioning and still has an active monarchy with considerable (local) power?

    Alderaan is pretty much the Monaco or Luxembourg of the Republic.

    It’s primary economic outputs are probably financial services and tourism, but with the advanced technology of Star Wars all the wealth is just electrons anyway, backed up on servers all over the galaxy, so there was only a brief interruption in account services when the main branch of the Royal Bank of Alderaan blew up. And travel for pleasure will be heavily restricted under the Empire.

    But because of its history and cultural prominence, everyone in the galaxy will pay attention that it was destroyed (not like if they’d destroyed one of those huge cities in China that we Westerners can’t even pronounce, even though we totally depend on it for our cheap goods from WalMart). There’s a reason that the Michael Bays like to destroy Rome or Venice but not Guangzhou or Chengdu in their movies.

    So Alderaan is great bang for the buck.

    Plus, Tarkin was still pissed about getting rejected from Alderaan’s Royal Conservatory of Music and being forced to take the all-expenses-paid offer from the Imperial Academy, so you know he was just looking for an excuse to show those jerks…

     
  7. Adam Villani #

    “There’s not a planet with Cancun-like weather anywhere in the Empire?”

    That was Yavin-IV, the site of the Rebel base when they attacked the first Death Star. The exteriors were filmed at Tikal, Guatemala, only about 300 miles from Cancun.

     
  8. frug #

    Ultimately, it comes down to three questions:

    1. How much money is the Rebellion costing the Empire?

    2. How much money does the destruction of Alderaan cost the Empire?

    3. What is the perceived likelihood that the Destruction of Alderaan will scare the Rebels into surrender?

    Anyways, after this you just need to determine if
    (Cost of Rebellion) X (Likelihood of Success) > or < (Cost of Destroying Alderaan)

    Now we don't have the real numbers but based on what we do know the Galactic Empire is made up of 1000s of planets and Alderaan has relatively little strategic importance to the Empire. We are also led to believe that the Imperial high command believes that single high profile demonstration of the Death Star's power will lead the Rebellion to collapse in fear. Based on those two facts, the Empire made the correct decision, from an economic perspective, when it made Alderaan go bye bye.

     
    • richies^ghost #

      Well actually…

      You’re probably right about the questions provided the definition of money goes beyond cold hard currency and the ability to trade it with impunity for goods and services. As we all know, there’s somethings money can’t buy – like the intense satisfaction an Emperor gets from supreme control of a galaxy when a plan comes together (he loves it when a plan comes together yo).

      If we trade the term “money” in your questions for “freedom” than the questions are more better. Money translates to power, but power translates to freedom, with freedom for self being the end goal of any self respecting dictator. The Rebellion costs the Empire quite a bit of freedom – for instance, the Empire isn’t even free to find the droids they’re looking for or to carry on their operations without disruption to its ongoing freedom.

      The freedom that the destruction of Alderaan costs is arguably nil as we have little indication of its value in securing freedoms for the Empire, especially when it’s most notable export seems to be rebellious vixens such as Jar Jar Binks. The removal of such a source of rebellion coupled with the instillation of fear in other rebels may even mean the Empires freedom is increased.

      Though such an increase is likely only temporary given that the story will spread to grinning farmboys far and wide, bored with the idle amusement of killing womp rats and other helpless animals. Such farmboys and the like would perhaps hear this story and decide that fighting for the rebellion is the only morally justifiable course of action, or at least be guilt tripped into buying an extra slice of cake from the Rebellion bake sale.

      As noted, there are thousands of planets within the Galactic Empire – whilst Alderaan may have had a surplus of rebellious volunteers their loss will likely prove a boon to the Rebellion given the right marketing strategy. If the average of each planet has 10 billion people and we have 1000 planets, it won’t take a high percentage of people to begin actively sympathizing with the Rebellion before the loss of Alederaan breaks even for both sides.

      Assuming this 0.1% of the galactic population avoids the gulags and this rate stays constant or increases through farm boys coming of age and furthering recruitment rates, the destruction of Alderaan becomes a compounding liability to the Empire. This is due to the increasing restraints on their freedom, as they must dedicate more of their dollar dollar bills (y`all) to handling the Rebellious upstarts instead of inhaling sweet sweet death sticks.

      The flip side to this is the gains the Empire makes due to marketing the positives their actions had on industry. Not only is blowing up a planet seriously seriously cool and a great way to advertise for gung-ho storm troopers, it’s also a good way to create more jobs.

      The trade blockade in episode 1 indicates that Alderaan did produce something valuable, with either the ability to produce and export goods and services, or to import them due to budget surpluses. The absence of their economy in the galaxy makes for new opportunities in whatever it was that sustained them (i.e. Gunguns blue balls) that other planets can now produce and sell. This movement of business and labor is a feather in the Empires cap as far as such planets are concerned, as are the jobs created by cleaning up the wreckage of Alderaan for a trans-galactic bypass.

      It seems that the Empire creates many jobs due to its exploits, such as those associated with creating droid and clone armies, starships, and various sundries. We can expect that this would increase goodwill due to the upwards pressure on wages that such an increase in industry brings – given the vast resources of the Empire which would likely include a cracking marketing team, the destruction of Alderaan would lead to even more goodwill and the like from the working man. More than enough to stiffle the rebellious dissidents who threaten such peoples livelihood I’d wager.

      That said, the Empire got its ass handed to it due to the creation of the Death Star – had it not been for this venture, the plans wouldn’t have been stolen, wouldn’t have been put in R2D2, wouldn’t have gotten to Luke, etc etc…

      So yeah, bad economic move there Empire, bad economic move.

       
      • Carrie S. #

        Alderaan wasn’t the planet that got blockaded, nor was it the one Binks and Amidala are from; that’s Naboo.

         
  9. Brett #

    I suspect that Alderaan is more important politically than it is economically – it’s an old Core World and a hotbed of pro-Republic sentiment. I think it’s likely an importer of goods and services, paid for by revenue it earns as a political hub.

    As for the Death Star, its significance has to do with combat in Star Wars. Planetary shields in the Star Wars universe are strong enough to force long sieges (the “Outer Rim Sieges” mentioned in the Revenge of the Sith novelization), but the Death Star is powerful enough to simply ignore them and annihilate worlds in open rebellion. With it, no significant world in the Galactic Empire would dare mount an open revolt.

     
  10. Anders #

    Given the massive arms buildup in manufacturing the Death Star along with the creation of a SuperStar Destroyer and the updating of the TIE fighter fleets, I can only assume, given the economic history of wartime economies here on earth, that debt financing played a huge role in funding these projects. If we understand Alderaan to be a post-industrial core world, I think it is not a huge step to assume that they hold a lot of Imperial debt.
    Perhaps the Empire was actually able to erase a good portion of their current liabilities from the balance sheet?

     
    • Mark #

      That’s brilliant. Although with that kind of debt-handling policy, the Empire is sure to get its credit rating downgraded and the interest rate on Imperial T-bills and bonds will go through the roof. I don’t know where they would get investors to finance the second Death Star. Ironically, there were probably a handful of far-sighted (force-sighted?) Alderaanian investors that were set to make a killing on credit default swaps if the Death Star was destroyed. If I told you that Goldman-Sachs was a planet and you had a Death Star, wouldn’t you destroy it?

      On the other hand, the destruction of the first Death Star may have been an elaborate insurance fraud scheme by the Emperor, where he went ultra-cheap on the design and construction, took out a huge insurance policy, and then manipulated the Rebels into destroying it so he could use the cash on building the second Death Star, with enough left over for the Super Star Destroyer and the TIE upgrades. That would explain how the Rebels got the plans, why they “couldn’t” find the droids they were looking for, why they designed-in a self-destruct exhaust port, why there was no support fleet around the first Death Star, why the Emperor was absent when it was destroyed,… It all makes sense now!

       
      • slims #

        Journalist: Emperor, are you saying you have a “secret plan to fight inflation”?

        Emperor: /blows up planet

         
        • Anders #

          It is one way of assuaging fears of potential raises to the Imperial Debt ceiling.

          I imagine that disintigration risk would have to be a new risk signal when Glorbnak & Bothan Inc. determine credit quality for imperial debt. Of course the people that should be concerned by the volatile market for Imperial paper are the Retiree People of the Assisted-Living Nebula (maybe the next target?).

          I won’t rule out insurance fraud. Some things did seem a little too perfect in the orchestration of the first DS’s destruction. Intergalactic re-insurers are the real victims of inter-stellar civil war.

           
          • Mark #

            Yes! Join the Yavin Truthers! DS1′s destruction was an INSIDE JOB! (There’s a very convincing report from a panel at Corellia Institute of Technology that proves the station couldn’t have been destroyed by a proton torpedo. Plastanium doesn’t even melt at that temperature!)

             
      • fenzel #

        “Perhaps you refer to the imminent collapse of the Imperial credit rating? Yes, I assure you, we are quite safe from your ‘bondholders’ here.”

        “Your overconfidence is your weakness.”

        “Your faith in the credit ratings agencies is yours.”

         
      • John #

        Brilliant! It also explains why Darth Vader finally betrayed the emperor: the emperor had set him up to not only fail, but fail spectacularly and get killed.

        Maybe the emperor had a premonition about Vader’s ultimate betrayal, and in fact brought it about by trying to prevent it.

         
      • Dazza #

        The first Death Star destruction could not have been an insurance fraud scheme, no insurance company could afford to exist if they covered any act of war. Nor would any company offer cover on any type of weapon or weapons platform.
        Every insurance policy I’ve come across in our world has words to this effect “Exclusions: any war – whether it is formally declared or not – or hostilities or rebellion…”
        I like the fact they use the word rebellion there! :)

         
        • Steven #

          Excellent point. However, remember, this is the Emperor, for whom all logical considerations are skewed. I can certainly see him wielding a great deal of influence over the provisions of this policy. How persuasive might he have been in his conversation with the chief underwriter with respect to leaving out that particular clause? Plus, consider the windfall the insurance companies (this would have been a collaborative effort between many co-insurers to reduce individual risk) would anticipate from receiving massive premiums to insure against destruction an asset that was deemed by everyone concerned indestructible. The power of greed would have perhaps been even more potent than that of the Dark Side in this instance.

           
        • Mark #

          Yeah, that’s a big hole in my theory. But remember that this all happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Maybe today’s underwriters put that clause in their policies specifically because of the huge losses their ancestors took from the Emperor’s fraud?

          The insurers would have learned from their naiveté and the second Death Star would have been uninsurable, which may explain why its destruction pretty much signaled the end of the Empire while the destruction of the first was really just a setback in the grand scheme (if it wasn’t actually part of the scheme all along…).

           
  11. Egypt Steve #

    Wiping out Jar Jar Binks’ home planet would have been a heroic, merciful act.

     
    • Peter Payne #

      Bear in mind that Jar Jar’s home planet is Palpatine’s home planet. And Amidala’s.

       
      • Carrie S. #

        And not Alderaan. :)

         
  12. Tulse #

    Whoa, there’s a mention of this piece by Andrew Sullivan!

     
  13. Dan #

    They did it because they could and because they were douchebags. See, Neocons.

     
  14. Ariel Cinii #

    First, consider the case of the Old Republic, a very large multicultural & multiracial organisation funded by an apparently inexhaustible stock of membership dues (or whatever). The majority of this membership had to have voted to allow a primarily humanoid-centric military to run down both a sizeable Trade Federation and any number of small-potatoes rebels across some unspeakably huge portion of a given galaxy. And then this organisation conducted a majority vote again to allow a humanoid-centric Empire to control governmental functions Everywhere in (their) known space. This act alone would form the basis of internal dissatisfaction on many levels and among many humanoid and non-humanoid species. {Reference the basic economic inequity present in the Firefly ‘verse}

    Observe also that the military does not seem to be replacing anything that existed before, but rather inserting an overlayer or banner over the universe’s general control structure, e.g., the infamous “We’re Beatrice” banner that graced a whole passel of products back in the 80s. At one time I joked we’d see squadrons of F-15s with little red banners across their tails reading, “We’re Beatrice”.

    This said, I agree with the military-industrial complex suppositions stated earlier, and the fact that all this hardware had to be coming from an established set of manufacturers, probably interlinked and working from a basic template of standards for function and appearance. The competition for the final shape and mfr. of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter comes to mind in re what had to be going on for TIE Fighters and the like, unless the Empire generated the design in-house, then farmed the building out to these companies.

    Yet the design contractors for their most fearsome and most complicated weapon, an interstellar-capable manned planet-killing space station, was based on the work of AI’s and an insectoid culture designing for, again, a primarily humanoid military body, which had ostensibly been brought up with a concept that they had superior numbers and superior technology, and therefore were taught they were invulnerable. These same basic historical precepts could be traced to the construction of the “Unsinkable” Titanic. I can’t help but see quotes of the 19th Century British Empire all over the Star Wars ‘verse: the best tech, the biggest ships and an enforcement domain of thousands, mind you, thousands of civilisations.

    The argument for the justification of creating the Death Star, therefore, might simply boil down to hubris, i.e., the need for what the car industry calls a “halo model” to draw public attention to the overall power and influence of this whole upstart Empire business, which must have been an incredibly hard sell to the non-voting minorities and the fringe territories who’d had only marginal dealings with the Republic infrastructure to start with.

    The original star destroyers from Episodes 2 & 3, though substantial beasties, were snub-nosed 38s in comparison to the Super-Stretch Star Destroyers of The Empire Strikes Back, which could park a couple of those early jobbies in their reception area. There was a memorable visual pan in Return of the Jedi” in which the incomplete Death Star II shone like an artificial moon over an Imperial Walker treading through the woods like an artificial animal. {There’s a Philip Glass reference to “artificial moonlight and artificial stars” that I’ll just inject into the background. I’m a fan.} This was a deliberate design statement, not just in the production designer’s mind but as a philosophical projection for The Empire. It was literally a “whole new animal” to a ‘verse used to a thousand years of law & order, and intended to shake up the psyche. Can you imagine the presentation meeting on Coruscant?

    Jenosha Industries and the Techno War Army present the ultimate design fractal. We can scale this basic design element up or down to ANY size or configuration you like while maintaining its well-known ease of manufacture and repair by using the same tools that built the {equivalent of the K-Car; see Chrysler Corporation 1980-1995}.
    But now, look what we can do!

    But of course, size and design competency do not always match up when you alter the basic principle by such huge multitudes of scale. Somewhere along the way, I guarantee you somebody somewhere along the way resorted to the venerable cut & paste method and therein lie the Fatal Flaw. That’s why R2D2′s hidden plans were so vital.

    “The more complicated they make the plumbing, the easier it is to clog up the works.”
    (paraphrased) Montgomery Scott: Star Trek

     
  15. Kamish #

    I’d like to point out that we since the prequels we have known there are hundreds of thousands of star systems in the Star Wars Galaxy…having said that, I think economic impact of one, two or even 1000 planets, would be much like KFC, closing a dozen stores over the next year…they wouldn’t be missed much… A few planets in the scheme of things on something in the scale of possibly a million inhabited worlds…why is anyone even having this conversation? The death star would need to be able to take hundreds of systems to see significant impacts…and remember, sometimes less is more, and you have to contract, to expand…

     
  16. Shawn Levasseur #

    Here’s one overlooked thought:

    The economic peril of the entire governance model of the Empire, with or without a Death Star, is not a bug but a feature.

    The point of the Empire is to keep the Sith in power. Economic woes breed conflict, which the Sith exploit no matter how such conflict plays out. So the economic viability of the Death Star is utterly irrelevant. Thus, Sith stack the deck to make it a Win-Win scenario.

     
  17. Jim H #

    I love this, and my ancestors were Union all the way — in the Civil War sense, and in the “industrial democracy” way. The key is, a republic is not an Empire, though a wealthy and even admirable powerful republic is what we’ve been, off and on, for centuries. The first of the great democratic revolutions. Us, then France, then Europe tried in 1848. That’s why the French gave us that statue in New York harbor.

    What’s more, this anti-Empire subplot has been in Star Trek since episode 1, er, 4.

     
  18. Rider I #

    The Soviets where the Real death star, literally.

    Now the Communist Chinese are following exactly in the Soviets foot steps. From everything from creating a Bloc which is now called the Bric, to trying to implement a single world currency, to literally going on a resource domination campaign.

    n Nomeni Patri Et Fili Spiritus
    http://rideriantieconomicwarfaretrisii.blogspot.com/

    Rider I

     
  19. Steven #

    The two conclusions that I take from this discussion are simple:

    1) To address the original question: in the overall scheme of things (EU), from an economic standpoint, the loss of one planet is negligible. An exception would be if there were some vital mineral or cultural/industrial skillset that was available there and few other places.

    2) If the objective was to ramp-up the Empire’s intimidation factor, then the choice of planet would necessarily have been political, economics coming into play only to the extent that the planet’s political influence was comprised of economic factors.

    One other comment – with respect to the destroyed planet’s scattered remains, I would suppose that a tractor beam could be deployed in a configuration akin to a giant agricultural combine to harvest any valuable resources so dispersed.

     
  20. James Katt #

    Unless you are willing to go nuclear or kill every man, woman, and child, then no terrorist is going to respect you.

     
  21. Huck Pituey #

    Yo Fenzel! Two words: spoiler alert. Know when to use ‘em!!!

     
    • fenzel #

      Sorry, sorry — SPOILER ALERT: Austerity programs aren’t going to work.

       
      • Huck Pituey #

        I was actually referring to your paragraph starting “The problem, of course, is that it doesn’t work.” in which you detail things that eventually come to pass (i.e., spoilers).

        OTOH, I certainly have to agree with your premise that taking over the Empire (and equally importantly, holding on to it) can’t be done on the cheap.

         
  22. Hawkmoth #

    Great discussion; however, I’d like to see a more careful analysis of the underlying economics of large interstellar empires given the conditions apparent in the SW universe (sensu stricto). What, precisely, is exchanged among planets or regions of planets? If the kinds of raw materials we see used in the films are distributed more or less homogeneously across the galaxy, what is the economic advantage of moving such large quantities around? I agree with the authors that we see a more or less merchantilist economy where reliable transportation for industrially meaningful quantities of materials is so expensive it requires pooled investment either by guilds/syndicates or by government entities. So what heterogeneities, in what resources, can possibly exist in the galaxy to justify those costs? Let’s run them down: bulk elements (iron, aluminum, chromium, wood, petroleum, uranium, etc.)–though there may be some small-scale coarsness, they’re probably pretty evenly distributed; labor–there seems to be stacks of it on almost every planet and there’s advanced robots to boot–probably not labor; power–definitely not power. If the power required to accelerate the ships as depicted is being generated internally to ships of those sizes, then we can say that the technology allows generation of enormous amounts of power in small spaces relatively cheaply, so it’s not power; rare industrial materials (rare earths, some kind of special mineral or crystal ala Anne McCaffrey’s Crystalsinger)–this is possible, but we don’t hear anything about it and if it were the case, I imagine we’d have heard something about the rebel’s need for it or a struggle between the rebels and the empire for control over it; luxury goods–we know that cultivated demand for luxury goods by people in imperial boundary areas helped drive the Roman economy and such a trade would make sense with what we know about Jabba the Hutt’s and Han Solo’s business arrangements. It also makes sense if you think about the size distribution of ships. There are obviously lots and lots of smallish cargo ships who’s movements are organized around personal relationships and this is ideal for and pretty typical of “down-the-line” type of trade that typifies luxury good trade. Clearly ships the size of the warships we see could transport preposterous amounts of materials in trade, much more than a luxury trade would require, and although we don’t see large non-military ships, we can presume they exist (even though warships on earth are among the largest ocean going vessels, they aren’t THE largest). But as we’ve already said, the homogeneous distribution of bulk raw materials suggests that’s not what they’d be carrying. Commonly, luxury trade requires some considerable movement of population in order to initiate the demand for exotic goods. Again witness Greek colonization of the western Med and Roman colonization of Gaul and Britannia. So what if the largest ships were moving people? Huge colony ships and interplanetary passenger traffic between home and remote population centers. Such a system would help explain why humans are so widely distributed on planets in the movie. Colonies of transplanted people would further support the development of a down-the-line trade system as shown because one thing that would have a heterogeneous distribution at galactic scale would be “momentos” of home, such as specialized liquors, food stuff, clothing, etc.

     
  23. Travis McClain #

    One point I don’t see raised here–and forgive me if I missed it–is the expectation of those who financed the construction of the Death Star. Presumably, there were people who agreed to fund it. Its skeletal framework is already under way by the end of Revenge of the Sith and it doesn’t become operational for another eighteen years. Can you imagine anyone investing that kind of time (eighteen years!) and resources and then be content to never see the battle station actually used in action? I mean, that’s a minimum of 72 quarterly reports coming to shareholders of Death Star, Inc. showing losses. They’re gonna want something to drive up their stock after all that.

    Regarding the artistic works of Alderaan: We don’t know that Palpatine hadn’t already raided the planet prior to its destruction. Perhaps, while Darth Vader was busy interrogating Princess Leia, an Imperial platoon descended upon the planet and absconded with its most valuable works. Now, they’re in the hands of Palpatine and their value has just skyrocketed! “You’d like an original Organa? Let me see…oh, dear. Alderaan has just been destroyed. I’ll have to adjust the price accordingly…” If JFK thought to retrieve a bunch of cigars before authorizing the embargo against Cuba, you better believe Palpatine thought to cherry-pick anything of potential value from Alderaan before having it destroyed.

    Lastly, the majority of Imperial subjects seem content with Palpatine. We know, for instance, that the Empire had a strong presence on Tatooine…and that the Old Republic did not. It’s pretty easy to surmise that Darth Vader was responsible for that, and was likely heralded as a liberator for ending human slavery on that planet. Better to be a subject of the Empire than a slave, right? Who knows how many other planets have a similar story?

    In modern American parlance, Alderaan would have been a blue state, and Tatooine red (now that it’s a state at all). For Palpatine to have reigned as Emperor for eighteen years before the Rebellion really took off, one has to assume that he mollified the majority of his subjects. That means a lot of red states, and red states don’t cry when bad things happen to blue states. There were likely a lot more worlds who responded by saying, “Good riddance, you elitist snobs!” rather than, “Oh, no! That could be us tomorrow!”

     
  24. Mike #

    @ Travis: I think the DS was most likely built on a cost-plus arrangement by a defense contractor. If this was the case the contractor would show a profit even during construction – placating the shareholders. It might even explain why it took 18 years to build, ala current US defense contractor performance.

     
    • Hawkmoth #

      Yeah, I don’t think there’s any question that this was built by a typical imperial defense contractor in an arrangement like cost-plus. Actually, it makes you wonder if it didn’t start out as a DoD spec for some sort of an interplanetary strategic bomber but then got scaled up and up and up through a feedback loop involving the prime contractor and the bureaucrats managing the project. Think about it this way, if a superstar destroyer is as small as it is, and elongated, too, but still fits some worthwhile primary offensive system(s) AS WELL AS propulsion, defense, life support, and other basic functions, then in a spherical plan-form where the volume (available space) has increased by the cube over a conventional layout with the same maximum dimension, a lot of the space isn’t being used to support the operation of the main weapon, propulsion, life support, and defensive systems. It must have a lot of other capabilities that got added into it during development then we see in the movies. (UNLESS there is a minimum diameter set by the needs of the main planet smashing weapon but a maximum mass set by the propulsion system, in which case there is a lot of empty space within the volume and a lot less available “floor space.” Actually, this might be the case since death star with a fully operational main weapon still has enough open space to fly a pretty substantial vehicle around inside…just a thought).

       
      • Travis McClain #

        It’s pretty hard to imagine that the skeletal framework shown at the end of Revenge of the Sith was begun after Palpatine formed the Empire, which suggests that it had to have been approved by the Old Republic government. So the question is: would you continue with 99% of the project after victory is declared? Would it not seem an unnecessarily expansive project at that point?

        We know that the Death Star shown in Star Wars was the first time it was revealed to the public, and if it was indeed the same one begun 18 years prior, then it stands to reason that the Death Star shown in Return of the Jedi went into production shortly after its sister. That means that Palpatine was able to sell somebody on the importance of having two of these things operational, and very possibly more were in lesser states of completion by the end of Jedi. How did he do that?

        Think, if you will, of how embattled President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative program (by coincidence, nicknamed, “Star Wars”) has been since the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. There’s nothing comparable to it (that I’ve heard discussed publicly) for defense, but without the constant threat of a clear and present danger it stops being a priority. The very threat that we would develop it was apparently just as useful in negotiating with Gorbachev as the real thing would have been.

        Perhaps, then, Palpatine played the “You just wait till we have a Death Star!” card too often and eventually had to complete it simply for his own credibility?

         
        • Ariel Cinii #

          You need to think of the Death Star(s) as the equivalent of creating a set of Three-Gorges Dams one by one; they were all likely begun on the same appropriations bill and funded over a long-run with roughly the same amount being budgeted for each. There is insufficient data to determine how the administrators handled either cost overruns or inflation (if any).

           
  25. Will #

    richie’s ghost, & Mark, your posts rocked. Now to serious & boring…
    I never even heard of the Expanded Universe before reading the posts, and I’m perfectly fine with never hearing about it again.
    3 thoughts that are not in the article or in any of the posts, as best as I can tell.
    1) Is the Empire an empire? I gather people think of the Empire as an entity run from the top down. That idea is certainly supported by what we’ve seen of Trantor-like Coruscant. An empire, on the other hand, is made up of parts with substantial autonomy (the Roman provinces) while reserving some critical functions, such as the money supply, foreign policy, & the military, for the central government.
    2) Alderaan may have cost the Imperial government more to run than than it contributed in taxes.
    3) Sure, the emperor could do whatever he wanted, but he would still have to keep the majority of rich people happy. Even Hitler did. So if some Alderaan based company(s) was a big problem for some politically connected company(s)…
    “Galaxy Mart regrets the tragic loss of life that was necessary to maintain order within the Empire. We will do what we can to supply the former customers of AldeCorp with products of the best quality. Prices will be slightly higher in the short term due to shortages of raw materials, but we are hopeful they can be brought down within a century…”

     
  26. Ty Myrick #

    I would think a truly federated republic that offers economic, social, and police/military assistance to member worlds would be attractive to non-member worlds. A tyrannical empire ruled through intimidation would be much less attractive to member and non-member worlds alike. Considering the cost of running such an empire, new worlds may be necessary, but mass withdrawal of members would be devastating. It would be cheaper to blow up one planet and scare the shit out of every one else thinking about leaving than to try to maintain a strong military presence, not to mention hearts-and-minds marketing, on every world in the system.
    As to the economic calculus of building a Death Star, once you know which world you are actually planning on blowing up (as opposed to the symbolic use it would most likely have been put to after Alderaan), you can probably short enough stock prices on the Galactic Exchange to pay it off the next day.
    The only real reason to build it is to keep member worlds from leaving, but that only works if you actually use it once. Obviously, the Rebellion in the movies is the protagonist party, but from what we actually see there weren’t very many people in open revolt. In A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back there only seemed to be about few hundred to a few thousand. It wasn’t until years after the destruction of the first Death Star and the subsequent Imperial crackdown, that the Rebellion had enough manpower to fight a stand-up military engagement.
    Economically, the concentration of power represented by the Death Star was probably a good idea. Strategically, that consolidation of might gave the Rebellion an overwhelming impact for what was actually minimal effort.

     
    • Travis McClain #

      This raises the question: Was there another game in town? It is suggested that when Palpatine “re-organized” the Republic in the Empire, he did it as the victor of the Clone Wars. Presumably, then, the fighting was over and it’s not a stretch to imagine that the terms of conquest involved the defeated Separatists becoming Imperial subjects.

      Excluding anything described in the Expanded Universe, we’re not left seeing anything in the actual canonical films to suggest that there really was a viable alternative to the Empire outside of isolated independence…which, of course, the Empire would never have allowed.

      In other words, there may have been no competition for a planet’s affiliation. The best seems to have been to simply operate on the fringe of the Empire, where perhaps Palpatine was willing to permit a greater degree of autonomy provided the people there didn’t call too much attention to their activities.

       
  27. John S #

    I need to know how to budget for such things as deathstars and the like, and all I get from you people is dancing, long-winded postulations and hypotheses. Give me answers, preferrably in 2011 US dollars. Sheesh.

     
    • John #

      Kickstarter!

       
  28. John S #

    EXCELLENT – The first constructive idea I have seen! THANKS!

     
  29. blight42 #

    It seems the revisionist history purported by homeschooled rebels and the frustrated poets of Dagobah has reached even your impressionable minds. The entire premise is clouded by your insipient partisanship. Travis correctly identifies Palpatine as the “victor” in the clone wars, but does this visionary statesman receive any credit? Rather, this hero of the republic is unmercifully maligned. The Old Republic you seem so fond of was beset with a detached aristocracy that retained its’ power and wealth on the backs of slaves and clones. Lets remember, that if not for he Empire, grinning farmboys on backwater planets would eek out their existence hashing code for moisture evaporators and cleaning the family hovel. The brave new horizons provided by the Emperor by removing the aristocracy gave opportunity for even the most lowly human to rise to the second highest office. Alderan schmalderan. My sympathies are for the real victims. Vader, who gave up everything, home, family and anatomy for the benefit of the entire species. and how do his ungrateful children repay him? By taking up with anarchists. think of the countless clones and loyal citizens who selflessly sacrifice going into harms way to establish order, protect commerce and defend the laws of the empire against these thugs. They are the real victims, the real heros. Of course, you could try to justify your romantic attachment to the republic and the aristocracy by giving the rebels the endorsement of a princess. But how is that “divine right” of Alderan any more legitimate than the absolute right to power of an emperor who earned the position? Pleae dont mistake this for class warfare. Palpatine has as noble a pedigree as any of your stooping insurgents. The difference is that he respects human rights. Yes! I said it. eliminatinf slavfery, removing the traditional barriers to career advancement, supporitng free and open commerce and a committent to enforcing the laws of the empire give him far more moral basis for leadership than any of your scruffy nerf herders.

     
  30. John S #

    EEE-yeah, yeah, sigh. Still no numbers. Big fancy-pants talk. Give numbers.

    JOHN offered more help with ONE word: how’s THAT for efficient?

     
    • Travis McClain #

      Well, even if we had specific figures–which do not exist–we’re still left with the question of how the actual destruction of Alderaan would be placed in a context that allows for the act to make sense. Hence, the socio-political commentary.

       
  31. John S #

    Pish-tosh. All the blather and puffing is a cover up. “Overthinking” – the way it’s exercised here – is to avoid ultimate conclusions.
    Weak.
    Quotes CAN be made, prices ARE available for materials. Hey, I can get ‘em wholesale.
    I’ll do these calculations myself and get advice from B.I.L. Mikey and John if he’s not busy. Then it’s straight to Kickstarter for what I can’t cover myself.

    The rest of you, just keep talking, and touching yourselves:
    I gots me some worlds to build.

     
  32. Karohalva #

    Bah. I reject these so-called experts. It’s plainly a Liberal conspiracy to defame the heroic men and women in the armed forces of our great empire. I blame the Chiss. They hate our freedoms.

     
  33. blight42 #

    John S, You may not know how correct you are. Your Imperial Information Office regrets to inform you that the records for construction costs, permitting, all payroll records, I-9, W-2, Environmental Impact Statement, Zonig approval and parking permits for DS1 were stored in the project headquarters at Endor. The material was helpful in finding efficiencies and cost reductions while DS2 was in progress. Unfortunately, all records and personnel associated with the project fell into rebel hands and are assumed destroyed. If it wil help, there are several engineers associated with the DS1 project interested in supporting your efforts. They can be found at monster.com

     
  34. John S #

    DANG!

     
  35. Rune Naljoss #

    I thought the Death Star was an attempt to bring efficient federalism and subsidiarity to the planets.

     
  36. Chris #

    The analysis was interesting and stimulating, though I think you guys would even agree it overlooked a few things. I am hoping to cover some of this in my comment, here, and I hope the authors of this get around to peeking at my response.

    I won’t spend time addressing the myriad of comments I have seen so far. I’d led to assume the level of economics expertise underlying the comments is a bit limited; as one fellow said, the comments here seem to be broadly from a social/political perspective. As a student of economics, I make no such considerations. I have only respect for my fellow commentators, and I hope they will take this post with an open mind.

    One thing that I would have liked to see discussed more is the benefit side of blowing up Alderaan. A lot of time was spent pondering over trade surpluses and productivity losses, but I think this is not the proper angle to analyze this from. I will analyze this from a Microeconomic Industrial Organizational standpoint, instead of from an international trade standpoint as you gentlemen have.

    The Empire is a classic public-choice government sector. That is- it has the pretense of being public-owned, however it behaves in the self-interest of those in power (Palaptine). Like all government sectors, the Galactic Empire is a pretty dominating monopolistic force relative to its constituency.
    What this means is that the Empire can take a hefty loss before its operating below its “shutdown point.” Let’s not forget this.

    There is definitely a rational framework under which the Empire may be operating in the choice to maintain and employ a Death star. Considering how huge a monopoly the Empire is, they very well may be operating as a Dis-economy of Scale. That is, they are so weighed down by mid-levels of bureaucracy and resource misallocation, that it in fact begins to cost them more to run their operation at current or increasing levels of output.

    As we all know, normally having a large output gives one access to economies of scale, increased efficiency and giving them much lower costs while giving them exponentially larger output. If the Empire is currently “too big” and it is operating as a dis-economy of scale, then the destruction of Alderaan means a number of benefits to the Empire.

    It means they are less bogged-down by bureaucratic administrative costs. If the Empire had military forces occupying Alderaan, they no longer have to pay these costs. Even if they don’t, the persistent threat of rebellion or insurrection opens them to huge amounts of potential costs. By striking down the whole planet, the Empire has made the cost-effective move back towards increasing returns to scale, which gives them more resources to direct toward other parts of the empire. Not to mention, as one of the folks said, the amounts of precious minerals now available for harvest from the fragments of the planet’s mantle and core.

    Not to mention, this sets a precedent for the Empire. They now spend even less keeping other nearby planets in-line because they have demonstrated credibility. Planets expectations are to be annihilated by a huge laser if they step out. This means even more movement back towards increasing returns to scale.

    However, I will say that centralizing so many valuable military resources (raw materials, skilled/specialized labor to maintain the DStar, expensive capital resources) in one place was stupid and non-economical of the Empire to begin with, because we all saw what happened there. Total deadweight loss after the rebels detonated the thing.

    Now, just to touch on international trade briefly since that is what the focus was in the post; I do not know the trade landscape of the area. I do not know what Alderaan contributed to imports or exports, but I assume it was all facilitated by the Empire or a neo-Trade Federation under the thumb of the Empire. This degree of control would minimize trade losses as I understand it. Furthermore, considering how many planets the Empire has control of, I’m also led to believe that Alderaan as a planet has many, many available and close substitutes. So, factoring that in, there seems to be little strategic loss from the Empire’s choice.

    To recap for those whom I lost along the way;

    *The Empire is a dominating galactic monopoly. It can afford many losses such as this.
    *The choice to destroy Alderaan may be rational, freeing the Empire of hefty costs associated with administration as well as potential costs of putting down insurrection.
    *The Death Star keeps other similar planets in line via fear. This further increases the aforementioned returns to scale.
    *Alderaan presumably is not totally unique; the Empire has a multitude of similar planets to substitute Alderaan with.

    Though, I mean, this all falls apart when you realize the bottom line: Blowing up people’s home planet is kind of a dick move. Yeah, thanks a lot, Empire.

     
  37. Travis McClain #

    Admittedly, I majored in history but I kept my Principles of Micro-Economics (2nd ed.; Mankiw) and cracked it open. There’s nothing in there about an intergalactic government destroying one of its own planet members, so I consulted the chapter about shutdowns. Given that the obliteration of Alderaan is permanent, it must be considered as exiting the market, rather than a short-run shutdown. Mankiw tells us that “the firm exits the market if the revenue it would get from producing is less than its total costs” (p. 300).

    Consider that Alderaan was a pacifist world with no defenses of her own (per Princess Leia). In an empire clearly driven by the military-industrial sector, Alderaan was a non-participant in the empire’s chief economy. No Alderaanians helped build the Death Star, TIE Fighters, etc. and they clearly weren’t buying them, either. Furthermore, as an Imperial world, it stands to reason that the Empire would have been obligated to defend Alderaan in the event she was confronted by a hostile third party. The Empire, then, would be receiving no participation from Alderaan in its chief economy, but would have been compelled to expend resources protecting her.

     
    • Travis McClain #

      One additional remark. The initial query asks us to contemplate the Empire, “B) intimidating planets into submission with the threat of destruction, and C) actually carrying through with said destruction if the planet doesn’t comply?” So far as we know, the Empire technically only made an effort to intimidate Princess Leia–not the people of Alderaan themselves, who may have been entirely oblivious to their fate. Even when the Death Star later approached Yavin, no effort was made to contact the Rebels there. Rather, the Empire relied entirely on the word-of-mouth of the handful that Darth Vader and Governor Tarkin permitted to escape. Communication with would-be victims does not seem to have actually been a standard part of Imperial planet-destroying procedure.

       
    • Chris #

      Good post.

      I would have to say, though, there are obviously important factor markets which aren’t entirely devoted to the Empire’s military operation. Cantinas and shops all seem to operate more or less by the economic fundamentals, perhaps taxed thoroughly. For this reason I would assume all such activities at least useful to the Empire. The Empire has no substantial reason in my eyes to be necessarily hostile to markets to begin with, because (like they are now some places) they can be bent to the benefit of such a dictatorship. Planetary tithes and taxation of economic activity are beneficial to the Empire. I think the authors were looking at this in the above sense, because not only can the Empire directly profit from market activities but they can also recruit unskilled, skilled, and highly specialized labor (which only usually thrive in developed market economies) to undertake such activities as the Death Star, or their Military-Industrial operations you mentioned. Though you certainly seem to know more of the universe than I.

      So provided I am interpreting your post correctly, I would say that for the reasons I outlined Alderaan could still be productive to the Empire and it’s economy. However, obviously we know that there’s some Rebel activity goings on about the planet, so this may make the benefits of market activity irrelevant.

      Now, to your point about expending resources to protect it, I would say you’re absolutely right. In fact that kind of ties in with the point I made in my post; it does bog down operations when so many resources need to go into administration of this planet, and maintaining a presence to suppress insurrection and rebellion which are obviously big problems to the Empire. The opportunity cost of unloading so many resources overseeing a subjugate planet- let alone one with known rebel activity- must be quite high.

       
      • Travis McClain #

        I think the fact that Alderaan was selected as the first planet to be destroyed is evidence enough of how contentious it had become to the Empire. In fact, when Governor Tarkin is led to believe that Dantooine is the Rebel base, he insists upon destroying Alderaan first anyway on the basis that “Dantooine is far too remote” to have a comparable impact.

        That suggests to me, at least, that the Empire did not view the continued operation of Alderaan as an opportunity cost, but rather as a “sunk cost.” Mankiw asserts that, “Because nothing can be done about sunk costs, you can ignore them when making decisions about various aspects of life, including business strategy.” (The Principles of Micro-Economics, 2nd ed., p. 299)

        This perspective allows us to see how Palpatine and Tarkin would feel justified in making their decision without delving into the numbers. Alderaan wasn’t on the same page as Coruscant, to the point that Palpatine felt content to simply write it off altogether and be done with it.

         
        • Chris #

          Well, continuing operations on Alderaan is an opportunity cost itself, by definition. Any scarce resources devoted to Alderaan which could have been put to use elsewhere constitutes an opportunity cost, including the choice to destroy Alderaan when Dantooine was a viable opportunity.
          Sunk costs would be simply any of those resources devoted to Alderaan, which can no longer be recovered. If the Empire had “lost too much money already” on Alderaan and chose to blow it up instead of continuing support, that would fulfill your statement. Any raw materials or capital resources owned by the Empire physically on Alderaan at the time of its destruction constitute sunk costs. This naturally excludes military and administrative resources, because those can be re-allocated unless they too were destroyed.

           
        • Chris #

          An alternative I might offer is; there are minimal overall costs associated with Alderaan, and so losses and other consequences associated with the planet’s destruction are irrelevant. In this case, I see blowing up Alderaan as an example being set, in the fashion of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Once the other rebellion holdouts saw what the Empire was capable of and willing to do, the expected utility of harboring rebels may very well drop to near-zero.

           
  38. Hawkmoth #

    Interesting attempt to inject economics (back) into the discussion. To Chris, however, I would say that the economic analysis you advocate is hard or impossible to remove from the political/social discussion for the simple reason that we’re discussing specific actions (to build and deploy death stars and employ one on a particular planet) that were decided upon by specific individuals, individuals who are not required to act optimally, rationally, or in cognizance of what the average person would do. As an example of the different scales, take the argument over whether the Force is a greater or lesser power than the ability to destroy a planet. The ability to destroy a planet is better if you’re the imperial fleet and you want to push around whole systems, but if you’re a particular imperial envoy and you want to intimidate a particular fleet officer who’s sitting right in front of you, the Force is definitely better.

    The fact that we’re dealing with both large scale social forces and individual reactions is why a certain amount of latitude is useful for our discussion. I agree with a previous post: the empire is enormous and any net value of Alderaan to the empire is probably negligible, and certainly of negligible effect on the individuals making the decisions…Tarkin probably could not know whether the destruction of Alderaan was a net plus or minus to the empire and probably wouldn’t have let it affect his decision even if he knew.

    1) The DS got built because of whatever motivated the bureaucracy and military industrial complex (probably during the waning days of the Old Republic); 2) it got deployed out of some strategic thinking on Palpatine’s part that might have had economic input but even so could have been faulty, deliberately sub-optimal, or even counter to his own larger economic interests; 3) it got used on Alderaan in particular because of a bunch of very “local” reasons, some of them dumb luck, such as Leia’s getting spotted by Vader’s forces over Tatooine in the first place, some of them related to Tarkin’s authoritarian approach to problem solving, and probably some of it related to the relationship between Vader and the fleet officers in command of the D.S.

    The original post asked for a discussion of just the first question…what does economics tell us about the viability of planet destruction as a strategy for suppressing a multi-planet rebellion. I actually think that economics is pretty mute on the subject because I don’t think the target of the planet destruction message would be the rebels but rather individual political and military decision makers on individual planets, be they a hereditary aristocracy, a local strong man or junta, or a democracy. As someone already pointed out in an earlier post, this empire, like all empires, is defined by an overarching central authority and the strong local authorities that have bought into it for any of a number of reasons, mostly all characterized by a high degree of personal self-interest. The message from the empire to the local leaders is, “work to suppress the rebellion as if your life depended on it.”

    History shows how hard it is for outsiders to manipulate strong local leaders through force (usually you’re better off co-opting them somehow). In the Star Wars case, the local leaders have been trying to play both sides…telling the empire they’re doing their best while looking the other way about rebel activity because it keeps the populace from challenging their own rule. In this case the empire’s choices are, a) ignore it..which hasn’t worked by the time of Episode IV and has a bad end game to boot, b) try co-opting…which requires compromise and reduced expectations which are not in the character of autocratic imperial types, or c) a very expensive conventional military campaign on each planet with imperial intervention probably galvanizing splintered local factions against a common ememy. Enter the Death Star, with the prospect for a new option, d) change the priorities of hundreds or thousands of local authorities relatively cheaply. The only question is really whether it’s really relatively cheap and I’d argue that it is because the D.S. was being built for military industrial and political reasons (stimulating the asteroid mining sector, building plasma cannons in lots of different senators’ districts), and because the economics of any one planet are insignificant compared to the total empire.

     
    • Chris #

      Totally posted this part on the wrong reply-nest. Oh well, because your post was very well-considered and deserves a good response.

      Like I said before, I’m somewhat pressed for time in a public place so this isn’t as thoughtful as I would like. Forgive me if I misinterpreted some of your points in my haste.

      @Hawkmoth (TES:M reference?), I was not saying my analysis is an attempt to divorce itself from sociopolitical considerations, my point was merely that I would not be addressing those issues in detail. Think of it as me covering my lazy ass. Economic theory would, however, state that even if they are not “required” to act rationally, the main jist of (neoclassical, at least, which is what you are talking about) economic theory is that they DO act in a utility-optimizing, rational/self-interested manner. That said, I agree to the extent that we’re all intelligent enough to know that such assumptions get us nowhere.

      Due to the massive Imperial scale we’re working on, I would say that my point about dis-economy of scale stands. Information asymmetries in the middle/lower-management of the Imperial bureaucracy will cause them to act sub-optimally, and this causes inefficiencies. I recognized (as you seem to have touched on in your post) that because of things not taken into proper consideration such as this, questions of the economic wisdom in the DS are completely legitimate. In the end the thing was a huge deadweight loss.

      That said, if you analyze the decision to destroy Alderaan from a game-theoretic perspective, it’s quite illuminating plus reaches your basic conclusion I feel.

       
  39. Travis McClain #

    I’m thrilled this conversation is still going; it’s really the only diversion I’ve had since last night from the coverage over the killing of Osama bin Laden. I have a side question now.

    Can the destruction of Alderaan have had minimal economic impact and still had maximum socio-political impact?

     
    • Will #

      Sure, why not. Economic impact would depend on 2 things: Alderaan being a major source of a relatively scarce product(s) and/or service(s) or it being a relatively rare major customer for some product(s) and/or service(s). If it wasn’t either, then it wouldn’t be missed in economic terms. Socio-political impact would depend on how surprising it was that the Empire would destroy Alderaan. All we have to go by (from the movies) is the reaction of Leia. She was surprised that Tarkin would destroy Alderaan (something like “it’s a peaceful world”, wasn’t it?) not that he would destroy a planet (she didn’t say “You’re going to what?!)

       
    • Dimwit #

      Most definitely. The overlooked area in this is transport. The Empire is so vast that there is no economic viability for one overarching system. It’s just too big.
      The only way it can work is have the Empire/Old Republic organized into economic zones, probably based on the farthest economically viable bulk transport distance. The Empire coordinates the zones making sure that none of them stray too far from the Empire mean.
      Don’t forget that the true war is hidden. This rebel alliance thingy is a a joke. The MTA’s are the real power because Palpatine is waging war on them, removing their access to governance of their own systems. While he’s an economic idiot — what exactly is he going to DO with the Empire once he has it? — they really only want the RA to keep him occupied while they go about their business. It kinda blew up in their faces, didn’t it?

      Anyway back to my point, Alderaan is the local head office. It’s got the managers and officers, the schools and the local government and I’m sure the planet is pleasant and probably centrally located in that EZ. But there is no valuable economic activity anywhere near it. Blow it up and all you’ve done is killed a bunch of bureaucrats, lawyers and MBA’s. Cry me a river. Of course word will get around fast and every other Alderaan will sit up quick and start re evaluating it’s exposure to “undesirable” activity but the damage economically is minor.

       
  40. Pete #

    Somehow I think the authors of this article owe a lot to Kevin Smith for bringing up the deeper implications of the Death Star in Clerks.

     
  41. omg #

    go to bed, hawkmoth

     
  42. tj s. #

    Nipple.

     
  43. Boonton #

    I think there’s another way to make sense of the films….the Empire is simply not that big to begin with.

    From the various Star Wars sources out there, intersteller travel happens via hyperspace routes. Routes are very complicated and rare. If you want to go from point A to point B, your options are to use a set of known hyperspace routes which may be very easy or very convoluted or try to discover your own route….which is a largely hit or miss affair with much more misses than hits.

    This makes the Empire a lot less like the Roman Empire and more like the sailing empires at the beginning of the European Age of Trade. You didn’t control nations so much as you controlled outposts that were important waystations along the prevailing winds. Most ‘natives’ though would not come into direct contact with you.

    From this POV, planets inside the Empire don’t really feel the empire much in their internal affairs and culture. They must deal with the Empire in terms of trade, though. The Empire is basically a very large navy but not much army. And not even that large of a navy, just larger than what any one planet could ever host.

    IMO this explains lots of things:

    1. The entire fleets of both the Empire and Rebel Alliance appear to be less than 50 large capital ships each….in contrast the US navy once peaked at near 1,000 ships.

    2. A single Death Star getting blown up seems to be a near fatal blow to the Empire.

    3. Hatred of the Empire seems widespread, but the Empire doesn’t seem to do anything. For example, Luke tells Obi-Wan “Of course I hate the Empire” but why? The Empire only seems to have a handful of troops on his planet and they are just there because of the droids. Considering how hostile the planet is, it’s not like the Empire is esp. more nasty to the people than the people of Luke’s planet are to thsemselves. More interestingly there’s no one whose really pro-Empire. Even Luke’s uncle seems to view the Empire as an unavoidable fact of life. This is further reinforced in the Empire Strikes Back were Vadar warns Lando that it would be unfortunate if he had to leave a ‘garrison’ behind. Being in contact on a regular basis with the Empire, was highly unusual.

    4. This ‘remoteness’ from the centers of power was reinforced in the newer movies as well. The Republic has no army, when it gets one it’s a laughably small 100,000 or so men. Large corporations seem equally capable of fielding competitive armies themselves (Trade Federation). Republic laws on slavery are easily ignored and even its money isn’t used.

    5. Neither the Empire nor the Rebellion seem to be united by any shared geography or culture but ideology. Most people have no real stake in the fight, most opt to just not get involved.

    6. Smuggling seems to be quite common and accepted, likewise the taxation of trade seems to be the primary financing for both the Republic and Empire…even though even a fractional income or VAT type tax would easily yield enough revenue for armies of hundreds of millions and tens of thousands Death Stars.

    7. Cutting a planet off from interplanetary trade seems to be a big deal, not so much capturing the planet itself.

    8. The militaries are not of great quality. Discipline is over the top, huge tactical blunders happen over and over again. This is consistent with a military that is vastly overstretched.

    All this points to a Weak Empire Theory. The Empire itself is small but its reach is vaste. The Empire works the way a playground bully works, he bets that he can keep the other kids from ganging up on him but if two or more kids do, his reign of terror is over. Most people need intersteller goods to have a good standard of living so the nature of the Galactic economy/government does impact them but indirectly. The Empire does not control, except maybe in the capital, day to day life. Things like religion, personal belief, speech etc. are probably mostly free. The Empire has neither the intelligence or resources to truely be a Galactic wide empire of the form of Rome or the USSR….one where it imposed an ideology on all aspects of life. The Death Star then is effective because:

    * It allows you to fully intimidate planets without having to occupy them.
    * It can’t be defeated with a conventional navy thereby decreasing the incentives for multiple planets to align themselves together.
    * Despite its use, it’s primarily a defensive weapon. Or more precisely it’s built for a war where defense is very important but you can take your time with offense.

    The Empire rests on a very slim balance of trade. Avoiding it is pretty easy, challenging it can be very expensive. The Empire is able to do evil for the same reason the mafia is able to do evil, most people see it as a ‘closed club’ which is mostly only dangerous to those who choose to join. It’s supposed invulnerability, though, is only paper thin. As soon as it becomes clear it can topple, the equation changes and it becomes very cheap for many planets to withhold their support, ignore their controls etc. This is why relatively minor battles and victories seem to carry such weight.

     
    • Chris #

      I dont have an abundance of time to respond since I am on a public computer, so I will make this as brief as possible.

      @Boonton, I think your statements regarding the trade “landscape” (as it were) should be taken into consideration when we conjecture about the economics of it all. I was not personally aware of some of the finer points you highlighted, so that’s definitely new to me.

      @Hawkmoth (TES:M reference?), I was not saying my analysis is an attempt to divorce itself from sociopolitical considerations, my point was merely that I would not be addressing those issues in detail. Think of it as me covering my lazy ass. Economic theory would, however, state that even if they are not “required” to act rationally, the main jist of (neoclassical, at least, which is what you are talking about) economic theory is that they DO act in a utility-optimizing, rational/self-interested manner. That said, I agree to the extent that we’re all intelligent enough to know that such assumptions get us nowhere.

      Due to the massive Imperial scale we’re working on, I would say that my point about dis-economy of scale stands. Information asymmetries in the middle/lower-management of the Imperial bureaucracy will cause them to act sub-optimally, and this causes inefficiencies. I recognized (as you seem to have touched on in your post) that because of things not taken into proper consideration such as this, questions of the economic wisdom in the DS are completely legitimate. In the end the thing was a huge deadweight loss.

      That said, if you analyze the decision to destroy Alderaan from a game-theoretic perspective, it’s quite illuminating plus reaches your basic conclusion I feel.

       
    • Travis McClain #

      Point-by-point:

      1) We only see what appears to be the full gathering in the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi. It’s implied that the entire Rebel Alliance is present, but we only know that the Emperor has gathered his most elite. It is reasonable to assume that much of the Empire was committed to its daily routine overseeing planets elsewhere. Unlike the Rebels, the Imperial forces had those kinds of obligations. It’s not like Palpatine could simply withdraw all Imperial forces and gather them at Endor. Moreover, we’re led to believe that he was confident he would not need the full might of the Empire there.

      2. The Empire doesn’t seem particularly weakened by the destruction of the Death Star in The Empire Strikes Back. Angry, yes, and they take the Rebels much more seriously, but the loss of that Death Star in itself doesn’t appear to have been all that important. As for the destruction of Death Star II, that one had the Emperor himself aboard, as well as his #2 man, Darth Vader. Their deaths were far more significant than the fact that a second Death Star was destroyed.

      3. Consider that Han Solo was surprised that the Empire had not seized control of Lando Calrissian’s operations on Bespin. Their absence was the exception, not the rule. As for Tatooine, as I’ve indicated in previous remarks, it appears that sometime after the Empire was created, human slavery was abolished on Tatooine. If the Empire was directly responsible for that abolition, then it makes perfect sense why the Empire would be more or less tolerated. Also, given that Owen Lars’s father had been a slave-owner, it may be that his personal aversion to the Empire wasn’t that it was oppressive. Luke Skywalker’s opposition to the Empire may have originally been little more than misguided youthful rebellion; surely there’s a Luke Skywalker somewhere in the Post-Imperial galaxy who feels just as compelled to speak out against the new government.

      4. During the Old Republic, a standing army had not been needed for generations. Respect for the Jedi was sufficient to ward off large-scale conflicts. From the Wookieepedia (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Grand_Army_of_the_Republic):

      “It was created by the Kaminoan cloners on Kamino. It comprised two hundred thousand growth-accelerated clone trooper units and their war machines at the start of the Clone Wars.

      After the initial engagements, over a million more clone units were added to the ranks of the army, followed by numerous additional divisions. The Republic spent much of its waning wealth on grand armies and fleets, making it one of the largest militaries ever assembled by the end of the war.”

      The fact of the matter is, warfare was expected to primarily take place 1) in space and 2) with weapons–including droids–that magnified the destructive power of each soldier. Two million Clone Warriors would be far more destructive than two million Spartans or Romans.

      5. We really don’t know from the films just what the geography of the Star Wars galaxy is. We do know, however, that the Empire overtook the infrastructure of the Old Republic that had stood for “a thousand generations.” The only adversary to the Republic were the Separatists; this was a civil war, rather than one fought between the Republic and an entirely different state. The Empire would have overtaken the structure of the Republic while reabsorbing the Separatist worlds. If there’s another, non-Imperial government to be found, why wouldn’t the Rebel Alliance join that government? Or be aided by it, as when the French aided the American revolutionaries? It seems that even if the Empire isn’t literally everywhere, there’s nothing else there, either.

      6. It’s hard to properly evaluate how widespread smuggling is, since the films show us the Rebels relying on help from, chiefly, Han Solo. What we do know is that there is a lucrative black market. Predominantly, though, that’s an indication that a government is stifling free trade which would actually suggest that the scope of Imperial rule is pretty thorough.

      7. I assume you’re referencing the Trade Federation blockade of Naboo in The Phantom Menace. Remember, though, that was the first step in Palpatine’s plan to pave the way for war. It was a prelude to the Separatist movement, orchestrated to allow him to paint Chancellor Valorum as ineffective and corrupt so that Palpatine could become the new Supreme Chancellor of the Republic. It was a big deal, but not because trade was more important than conquest. Rather, it was a big deal because it appears to be the first act of open hostility seen by the Republic against one of its member worlds in quite some time. The Senate doesn’t seem to know how to react to the blockade.

      8. By the time of the Original Trilogy, yes, Imperial forces appear to be fairly casual and lacking direction. But remember, after the Clone Wars were ended and the Empire was formed, the Empire became more of an administrative organization than a military one. Stormtroopers were meant to give teeth to the Imperial bureaucracy; not to actually fight. It doesn’t appear that combat-ready forces had been really needed until the Rebel Alliance, nearly twenty years after the formation of the Empire. There was simply no impetus to compel higher standards within the Imperial military.

       
      • Boonton #

        I just want to note that I’m only going by the films and not the ‘extended universe’…excpet maybe a bit about the nature of the galaxy and hyperspace travel.

        1. The impression given in Jedi is that the core of the Empire’s fleet was believed to be scattered, when in fact it was at Endor. “It’s a Trap!” remember referred not to the Death Star being operational but to the fleet being there. But the problem wasn’t the size of the Empire, it’s the size of the Rebellion. The Rebellion is seen as outgunned but large enough to pose a real danger. The Rebel Fleet by itself was singificant and that fleet was maybe 20 large ships at best. If the Empire commanded a 1000 capital ships, the Rebellion would have been no more than a nasty police action.

        2. Using just the films, let’s note that there was a long lag between the plans for the Death Star, first seen in the prequals, and the actual working Death Star seen in A New Hope. The Death Star was a priority for the Empire but its construction was slow and appeared to consume a lot of resources. Death Star II likewise had its commanding officer complaining about a lack of manpower and presumably materials. Even given the massive scale of the Death Star, an Empire that could command the entire galactic economy should have been able to churn out men and Death Stars like the US churned out battleships in WWII. Or if you think the Empire suffered from poor economic policy, consider the USSR’s output of tanks in WWII.

        3. Bespin is the type of operation that’s purely in the Interstellar economy. It’s products have to be sold offworld and presumably its consumption needs need to be imported. It’s a world highly reliant on ‘hyperspace trade routes’. Note that Lando implies that Bespin has been able to avoid detection by being just small enough not to attract attention. In fact the only reason it does attract attention is Vadar was seeking Solo & Co. out. So it’s kind of surprising Bespin was ‘too small’ to attract attention but then if the Empire’s military is made up of hundreds of ships rather than millions even an entire city purely dependent on interstellar trade might be ‘too small’. The analogy here is the Early European powers efforts to establish trade routes. Even though they were ‘great powers’, the world was still a big place relative to them.

        4. Relatively speaking even a million man army is not impressive compared to an entire galaxy. Today the US military has about 3 million in active and reserve. In WWII nearly 8% of the population was in the military (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US_military_personnel_and_expenditures.png). If the Empire is to be taken to be anywhere near analgous, it’s military forces would need hundreds of billions of members at least. More importantly, if the galaxy was so peaceful before the Empire, then why is nearly everyone walking around with blasters and armed spacecraft? Tatooine does not seem like a planet used to a peaceful age where wars only happened in the distant past. In Phantom it’s casually mentioned that Tatooine is ‘controlled by the Hutts’, clearly systems are not all peaceful democracies who couldn’t imagine fighting each other. Note also the Republic’s inability to really enforce its basic provisions like anti-slavery laws. Naboo’s blockade was shocking probably because it was a ‘respectable’ planet.

        5. What I meant by ‘shared geography’ is that usually large scale wars have something a little bit more basic than just idelogical differences. For example, even British who had some sympathy for fascism recognized the raw threat of a direct invasion. The Rebels, though, aren’t united by blood so much as belief. The rebellion is an idealistic effort but also an optional one. It is implied in the larger galaxy it’s just as easy to more or less avoid the issue if its not to your tea.

        6-7 For most developed economies, gov’t tax revenue from trade is usually pretty small compared with what gov’ts can raise with sales and income taxes. For a strong Galactic gov’t view of things, it’s kind of puzzling why taxes on trade seem to spark so much angst. Note the smuggling plus the fact that Bespin is ‘too small’ and you get a good case that there’s intersteller taxes are high but easily avoidable. This is techincally a black market but not the same type of black market you see in places like Cuba or the USSR where the gov’t is overreaching. Consider the blockade of Naboo again. Yes it was part of a large secret plan but it had to make sense in its own right at the time. Why would the ‘Trade Federation’ blockade a planet over the imposition of taxes on trade? Why Naboo? Possibly because they supported the tax. Why so upset? Because a multi-world trade federation might be just too big to dodge all the taxes just as Microsoft can’t pay its employees cash under the table. This would imply that galactic gov’t was itself very weak and could illustrate some of the nature of the argument. “Progressives” like Naboo’s Queen see the solution to ‘ineffectual and corrupt’ central gov’t as increase the tax revenue, get enough funds to fuel an effective gov’t. The counter argument is why pay more to a corrupt gov’t anyway? Note that the films say there are honorable people on both sides of the conflict (although the only separtists they ever show are clearly villians).

         
  44. Ariel Cinii #

    I am very much in favour of Boonton’s theory. It explains the relative impact and the economies of scale a large control organisation would have to deal with. In order to try and control anything as big as a galactic empire you’d need to appear to be in more places than you really are and seem to possess more effective clout than you actually do. Hence, the ability to destroy a planet is the ultimate bullying instrument because Gods help you if they actually pull the trigger and your planet is sitting in front of it. I refer once more to my previous argument that because the Empire would require this intimidation threat the real reason for the Death Star is hubris. Before you can get anybody to believe you can do what you say you’re going to do, your staff, your allies and your subjects have to believe it too.

     
  45. Hawkmoth #

    Boonton’s “weak Empire” theory is very interesting. The latest detailed argument makes me think about China before the First Opium War as a more productive analogy than Rome. From the point of view of Canton, China had an emperor who was remote, both physically and metaphysically (he was a god, after all). The Emperor had some degree of control over the country because he had some degree of control over a hereditary bureaucratic class, the mandarins. Unfortunately for the mandarins, the Emperor had limited income and spent what money he had on luxuries at the palace. The mandarins made their money by manipulating local trade in the Emperor’s name. The Emperor wanted trade to be constrained because it enriched not just the mandarins, but the general public that produced the tea and silks and reduced the contrast between he and his public that he’d been trading on to remain in power. He recognized Europeans as a threat to his control and tried to constrain trade by issuing dramatic sounding but practically unenforceable edicts from his palace in Bejing but the mandarins had no intention of ACTUALLY following his wishes because then they couldn’t get rich through their own local schemes and anyway, the emperor didn’t have much real sway over them, having neither money nor much of a military. As long as they publicly supported the Emperor’s orders, they could do what ever they wanted in private. The problem was with those pesky Europeans who kept showing up and trying to trade with anyone with a sampan full of tea, which was just about everyone because they were desperate for opium, following neither the Emperor’s ridiculous edicts nor, especially the Americans and free-traders the systems set up to benefit the local mandarins. They insisted on breaking the Emperor’s rules conspicuously, which made the mandarins look bad, AND threatened to end run even the mandarins. The Europeans thought it was the Emperor who was making trade difficult with petty rules (when it was really the mandarins) and that’s why they ended up in a war with the Emperor. (He must have been bummed.) It wasn’t as portrayed by some modern revisionists, where drug-pushing European hegemonists fought a war to force evil on the virtuous Chinese. The war happened because the Chinese wanted to keep the drug trade (and the reciprocal tea trade) regulated in a way that benefited the political status quo. It was a lot like the scene in Casablanca where the police chief, making a noisy show of raiding the casino, stops to pick up his winnings. Unfortunately for the Chinese emperor, as he lost what control of the mandarins he ever had he didn’t have a death star. By the time of the First Opium War, the Emperor was fulminating in Bejing but powerless to manipulate the new trading system or prevent the coming crunch. Read Priscilla Napier’s book Barbarian Eye, especially the early chapters that describe the Chinese political and trade system, and Arthur Whaley’s The Opium War through Chinese Eyes to get a great picture of the situation from contemporary diarists on both sides.

    In the Star Wars analogy, using the “weak Empire” theory, the emperor is indeed semi-divine, spends most of the imperial household’s income on capital ships of little practical value, and exercises very loose practical control over an expansive territory though a bureaucracy that is maintained mostly by inertia (“tradition”) and by giving out (or allowing to persist) local governmental functions with potential for private gains. The emperor has enough power to keep an occasional wayward system in line, but not much more than that. The Hutts are the mandarins in this analogy. When systems like Naboo attempt to manipulate interstellar trade outside of the systems of power, as the coastal towns OTHER than Canton did in China, the local mandarins (Commissioner Lin in China, the Trade Federation in SW) shows up with a modest fleet and tells them not to rock the boat or they may wake up one morning with their credit rating slashed.

    The difference in the star wars universe is that there was a death star. As the emperor grows frustrated with the apparent disloyalty among the mandarins, he figures maybe he can focus their resolve a little by pushing around a few examples. The rebels aren’t rebelling against the right enemy (not an atypical situation) by the time they focus attention on the death star. I wonder what the galaxy is like 10 years after the RotJ? Probably the rebels are back to harvesting moisture in hopes the Hutts will trade them a little whatever it is they put in those hookas in the cantina.

     
    • Boonton #

      I would differ in a few areas. The capital ships the Empire has are not useless or trivial. They are, in the entire galaxy, the greatest navy around after all. The Empire isn’t weak in the sene that it’s wimpy, it’s weak in the nature of the galaxy. Control of the galaxy happens by controlling the vital choke points created by the hyperspace routes, but that’s really all the Empire can afford to do. It can’t afford to directly control the planets in the galaxy hence most view the Empire with a detached hostility. The exception here might be a few core worlds like the capital where the gov’t is seated.

      The Death Star isn’t a luxury, it’s actually a quite rational weapon for this type of battlefield. If the capital is threatened, just park it as a ‘new moon’ and no conceivable fleet could defeat it. Likewise you can plop it at any major ‘choke point’ of hyperspace traffic. Finally since planets can’t go anywhere, it’s ok as an offensive weapon if you need to slowly move it in place to take out a troublesome planet.

      The historical analogy I think that works best is the original European trading empires which were about controlling routes rather than whole colonies. The Star Wars galaxy is transportation constrained. There’s only a few ways to get from A to B, many of which involve using the same ‘highway’. In contrast, the Star Trek galaxy is transportation open. You just point your ship in any direction and engage your warp drive.

       
  46. Aleric #

    It amazes me when people who are use to a regulated capitalism can’t seem to grasp the concepts of a true totalitarian state.

    When you have ultimate power, your word is law, the Empires needs are met or people die and resources are seized. The normal concerns of controlling trade, currency and resources are thrown out the window, the Empire wants, they simply take, if you resist they kill or imprison you. Now arguing that it would ruin trade or keep people from filling the spaces that are vacated is nonsense, the void is always filled by those who want to elevate their position in the Empire and will accept whatever they have to for riches or power. China is a prime example of this use of power, you are allowed to be successful as long as it doesn’t interfere with the state, if it does your business is seized and you are jailed or killed and another person takes over your position. History proves this works as many nations have risen and fallen over the centuries.

     
  47. Travis McClain #

    Hawkmoth’s Chinese analogy is fascinating, and my first reaction is that it may just be the most appropriate analog so far. Plus, given George Lucas’s obvious fascination with Asia, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that some of his notions of the Empire were, in fact, taken from studying that period in Chinese history.

    That said, I do think Aleric is right to characterize Imperial economics as being far more absolute than the traditional, capitalist-based conjectures thus far posited. It’s worth noting even as we contemplate the “Weak Empire” theory, that we only ever actually saw a few worlds. Tatooine was a remote backwater likely not considered terribly important by the Empire at all. The forest moon of Endor is similarly misleading, as the Empire doesn’t appear to have even considered the Ewoks as anything more than woodland creatures. Even if they had, it’s unlikely the Empire would have considered anything the Ewoks had worth exploiting or seizing.

    Bespin appears to me as more indicative of the fate of most planets, because Cloud City seems well populated and even cosmopolitan. Plus, they’ve clearly got an economy built on natural resources. Once the Empire took notice, it was essentially theirs. Darth Vader approached Lando Calrissian with an offer he couldn’t refuse and by dinner time had added Tibanna gas mines to his portfolio.

    It may be that Imperial oversight on most worlds was minimal, but it didn’t need to be much more because those few overseers were backed up by the full might of the Empire. Ergo, while it may be that in practice the Imperial presence was not particularly large on any given world, those present did enjoy strong authority over their subjects.

     
    • Boonton #

      Endor is clearly less than a backwater, it’s roughly analgous to the Bikinii Atol. A place that’s far out of the way that no one has any reason to be going too…hence a good place to build/test your weapons.

      Bespin has two revealing features. One is that they can’t be a planet but just a city and while the people there live well, they are pretty brazen about it…esp. given that their economy must depend entirely on intersteller trade. The other is that the Empire doesn’t care much about them. They are “too small” in Lando’s words. An analogy might be some offshore resort island that’s a banking heaven. A challenge to the larger ‘system’? Yes. Will the people there live good? Yes. Will they live in fear as if they are fighting a war? No. They are just at that ‘sweet spot’ where they are too small to have the law enforced on them but big enough to have a lot of fun. Remember the only reason the Empire bothers them is because Vadar has his personal mission to seek out Luke.

      The fact that the Empire runs on trade and Bespin makes a good living on trade yet its ‘too small’ to be touched by the Empire during normal business indicates to me that the Empire is weak.

      Tatooine strikes me as a bit different in that it’s more like a truck stop than a true ‘backwater’. But the contrast between the locals (sand people, for example) and the ‘globalists’ is analogous to what I think the whole galaxy really looks like. Most of Tatooine’s inhabitants are not spacefaring people. They range from very primitive to sophisticated people who only indirectly engage with the larger galaxy as a trading partner. To this supermajority, the Empire is a distant problem which may or may not cause them some hinderances in their lives. To the spacefaring class, though, Tatooine is a big nothing. A place to stop while going somewhere else, loyal to the Empire or not Tatooine’s primary place is as a watering hole.

      I suspect the more populated, ‘urban’ planets likewise don’t have their populations dealing directly with the Empire as much as they have local gov’ts who have to deal with the Empire as their business.

       
      • Travis McClain #

        Regarding Bespin, my interpretation is that it’s standard operating procedure for the Empire to establish a garrison wherever it takes notice of a planet. Vader keeps upping his portion of the deal with Lando without so much as bothering with pretexts. Even though he stops short of formally planting an Imperial flag at Cloud City, Lando’s final address informs the populace that, “The Empire has taken over the city.” It’s pretty clear that, now discovered, the Empire considers Bespin its property.

        You do make a very keen point about the proportion of space-faring residents of the galaxy. It’s implied in the Cantina scene that it’s not common to have access to space-worthy vessels; Han Solo is able to command what appears to be a hefty sum to transport Luke, Obi-Wan and the droids. Later, Han makes a remark about how even if they’d found another ship, they would have an even harder time finding a pilot capable of managing hyperspace.

        This may easily explain why the Empire was able to dominate while having what appears to be a small sized military.

         
        • Boonton #

          Remember, though, that Lando makes his announcement in order to incite a panic thereby providing cover for his escape. What exactly would change in Cloud City if the Empire ‘left a garrison’ there? Probably not all that much from the point of view of the everyday settler there. The garrison would have been bad news for Lando. And the panic was justified given that this wasn’t the Empire ‘noticing’ Cloud City but the City getting in between Vadar and Luke.

          And what exactly happens to Cloud City? With sociopath Vadar and his Super Star Destroyer in orbit, only a few years after the destruction of Alderan, one might reasonably panic. Yet none of Lando’s men have the slightest qualms about directly attacking Imperial troops. After Return of the Jedi we get a glimpse of Cloud City and what do you know, it’s still there and the people are happily celebrating….none the worse for wear. I wouldn’t be surprised if Vadar, after losing Luke, simply pulled up anchor and left Cloud City entirely never bothering with it again.

          I think the Empire’s power and interest is not the micromanagement of the planets in the galaxy but holding the essential ‘choke points’ of interstellar trade, esp. the capital which seems to be at some type of a natural hub of hyperspace lanes. For the small players, and by small this means entire cities and even planets, this means more or less nothing. The action happens with the giant players who are simply too big to just keep to the backwaters in small ships. (I.e. The Trade Federation). That was the Empire’s point, crush all large clusters of systems that would fund their own armies but local systems were more or left to themselves.

           
  48. Dimwit #

    I like the China analogy but the biggest block to most of these types of economic systems is the fact that it’s not one mass. Does anyone think that there’s a common currency? If not, the farther away you are the worse it would get. By “away” I mean off of established trade routes. I can see the MTA acting as middleman, posting prices and holding/transferring funds and probably setting the echange rate as well. They would own most of the merchant banks and in effect, control these economies. So where does that leave the Empire?

    As such, it doesn’t dictate policy, it doesn’t hold the money, basically it blackmails the moneyholders for financing its military. There has to be a core moneymaker in there somewhere. Banks owned by the Sith? Planets? I never saw in any of the movies anything that looked like customs or ID cards. How would the Empire establish a galaxy wide interstellar datanet that would allow positive ID of the citizens? I can’t see them even being able to establish common technologies let alone communications.

    As for the smugglers, notice all their ships. Small and fast. That means that what they smuggle is small, highly portable and valuable. The only thing that would fit that bill is info. Fortunes can be made and destroyed with having the right facts at the right time. Not having an instellar communications grid would facilitate a network of couriers more than happy to be able to outrun the offical notices for a price.

     
  49. Baron Karza #

    A very interesting discussion. It brought a question to mind about economic forcasting. The Emperor Palpatine is a precog is he not? What ramifications are there when the one making all the decisions is getting forknowledge of events and how do they effect decisions that would normally be more influenced by standard economic theory?

    Is he making decisions simply based upon his hatred of the Jedi or is he thinking that the future results of his decision to destroy Alderaan will not break his rice bowl becuase he has forseen it. We all know it did but it would then be the case that he is misreading what once was a trusted resource for him(The Force itself).

    So he may be a very shrewd individual who has mastered Galactic economics but at the end of the day he is still consulting his magic eight ball or perhaps a computer model of events.

    Of course he could have pulled a Zaphod and gave Tarkin a signed order that said “Hugs and Kisses Palp!” after one too many death sticks.

     
    • John #

      Do we have reason to believe that destroying Alderaan played any significant role in the Empire’s downfall? Perhaps he was right: perhaps it didn’t matter at all.

       
      • Boonton #

        I think it’s interesting that there’s not a single thought about Alderaan expressed except Leia being upset when it happened. Not even a “Remember Alderaan!” sentiment expressed in the final battle….

        But then the galaxy is set up as a rather isolated place. The nature of hyperspace means that you can have two systems very close to each other but because the hyperspace route may be long and complicated, they will have little interaction.

        This is what I meant by there’s no sense of geography in Star Wars. There’s no sense that anyone’s way of life is really threatened, there’s no ‘North.v.South’ or ‘East.v.West’. Planets are tied into the galactic system by oddly detached. The people who are fighting the rebellion are fighting a war of choice, but not really necessity. That problem existed in the Old Republic as well. Most systems seemed to view the galaxy as either a source of corrupt profit for insiders or simply bemoaned the fact that there was no ‘common good’. The gov’t’s chief problem is that there is literally nothing really in common.

         
        • Travis McClain #

          There are two other reactions. General Dodonna greets Princess Leia saying that the Rebels had already heard of Alderaan’s fate, and they were clearly disheartened by it. It is peculiar, though, that he specifically says, “When we heard about Alderaan, we feared the worst.” That seems quite the slap to the Alderaanians who perished, to suggest that somehow it’s not as bad as it could have been because this one princess had been spared. (Though it is possible that his real fear had been that the information in Leia’s possession that was key to destroying the Death Star had been lost.)

          The other reaction is Obi-Wan’s demonstrable pain at the “great disturbance in the Force.” This is a much harder impact to really appreciate because we can’t really quantify it. But it’s clear that the destruction of Alderaan has thrown the Force into disharmony. Of course, balance is eventually restored as the Force reaches a new equilibrium, but we aren’t really privy to enough information to properly evaluate the scope of that aspect of its destruction.

           
          • Boonton #

            I viewed the disturbance as a temporary event. It doesn’t quite alter the galaxy as a whole, it simpley ‘registers’ to individuals who are sensitive to the force.

            I wonder how exactly Alderaan was played out by the Empire? Did they just keep quiet about it letting people fill in the blanks to explain the sudden destruction of a leading member of the galaxy? Did they announce the Death Star’s existence? But then would they announce its almost immediate destruction?

            No doubt the Rebels would brag not only about the Empire’s use of the evil weapon but their victory over it. Perhaps, then, the Empire denied the Death Star even existed, blaming the planet’s destruction on something else. This is why the 2nd Death Star was built in secret. In the 2nd movie they clearly state that the galaxy would not tolerate anything like a Death Star. No wonder, it makes the game of galactic politics suddenly serious. If the Empire was strong, they could build it in the same system as the capital, letting everyone see it and having it protected by the full navy. A weak Empire, though, couldn’t build a Death Star in public. It had to do so in secret only letting it become public one it was ‘fully armed and operational’.

             
    • Hawkmoth #

      This is a very interesting question and I’m sure some of you more familiar with economics could say what the conventional wisdom is on the importance of leading vs. trailing indicators.

      There are two indirectly economic points raised in the discussion recently that could do with more thought, though. First, we assume that Palpatine sent Vader and Tarkin out to blow up Alderaan but we know he didn’t. As per my earlier comment, the only reason Alderaan got blown up is because a princess of Alderaan had the plans when Vader finally tracked them down. If he’d been a bit faster in his detective work, he’d have captured Bothan Prince Gloc (so some such citizen of Bothnia or whatever) and they’d have been blowing up HIS home world instead of Leia’s. This is important because it means the decision to blow up Alderaan wasn’t really based on an analysis of its especial economic situation. That’s why I think the leadership styles and relationship of Vader and Tarkin to each other are so important in the decision to nail Alderaan, much more than an economic calculus on the part of Palpatine or anyone else NOT already on the D.S. when Leia was captured above Tatooine.

      The second point is about the geography of the galaxy, which Boonton has raised and very cleverly used as part of his weak empire theory. As I tried to point out in an earlier comment, the distribution of economic resources in the galaxy is very important to the question of the underlying economics of Death Stars as a strategy. The distribution of resources is affected by both their inherent distribution and, per Boonton, the affect of space travel technology on their movement. I and someone else have already observed that cargo ships (legit or otherwise) are pretty small, which suggests that the distribution of most raw materials and industrial products are either homogeneous or mapped closely to the pattern of demand. What moves over large distances then are probably luxury goods or some other good with a highly specialized, and scarce, widely dispersed, consumer. I suggested colonists with a taste for homeworld delicacies; someone else suggested information, which is an interesting idea.

      This supports Boonton’s weak empire theory, because most mass raw materials are obtained locally and there is no down the line trade significant enough to warrant or fund costly imperial bureaucracy. There are few “central places” where galactic scale material heterogeneities are re-mixed through markets and finance. But there is a substantial amount of down-the-line trade that continues to take place in very small units because of the specialized knowledge needed to make money connecting scarce producers with scarce consumers (obviously this was before the invention of Craigslist). These traders fall into the sway of federations, guilds, or mobs to a greater or lesser extent depending on their own backgrounds and local circumstances. The empire isn’t interested in tracking them down because of the cost of running down that sort of thing and because the supply of those commodities keeps local populations happy.

       
      • Baron Karza #

        “First, we assume that Palpatine sent Vader and Tarkin out to blow up Alderaan but we know he didn’t.”

        I am not certain how we know he didn’t. Is this revealed in an EU story? We know that Palpatine and Vader are in direct contact in ESB even over fast distances and and can assume that Vader or Tarkin would have made an immediate report of the capture of Leia.

        Using the Force Palpatine could have forseen events as turning to his advantage with the capture of an Alderaanian Princess who is a proven traitor to the Empire. What he does not forsee (possibly) is the x-factor of a farmboy who apparently meets his long seperated sister as a direct result of the destruction of Alderaan.

        If Alderaan is not destroyed then Luke delivers the droid to Alderaan and Leia is executed and they never meet.

         
  50. Travis McClain #

    I don’t recall anything in The Empire Strikes Back to suggest there was any kind of resistance to another Death Star, but then I admit it’s been a while.

    As for how Alderaan was presented to the subjects of the Empire, my guess is that a press release went something to the effect of, “Today, the Empire conducted an investigation into the growing threat of rebellion. Using actionable intelligence obtained from a key rebel figure, Princess Leia Organa, Governor Tarkin carried out a strike on Alderaan that quelled once and for all any dissidence that was harbored on that planet. Securing the safety of Imperial citizens was costly, however. Rebel forces immediately responded with a counter assault and we regret to inform you that X Imperial officers and troopers perished, laying down their lives to protect our own. Emperor Palpatine assures you this violence will not stand, and he is committed to bringing the responsible parties to justice.”

     
    • Hawkmoth #

      Yeah, but did Palpatine fly in to the Death Star while it was in transit from Alderaan to the rebel base to proclaim victory in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner?

       
    • Ariel Cinii #

      I have no doubt that anybody signing up for service to The Empire gets a little disclaimer in their contract that reads: “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it.” Their version would doubtless use terms like “The Enlistee agrees to hold harmless” and yadda, yadda, yadda {rather than Yoda, Yoda, Yoda :-) }. But did each Empire (non-clone) soldier’s family receive a death benefit, or just a folded Empire Banner in commemoration of the loss of their offspring?

      And how can we discuss finances without bringing up wages? Did anybody think about what or how these people were being paid for any of this? Was there a signing bonus for more highly trained recruits? When The Empire converted Old Republic resources and personnel, was there an opt-out clause, or was the money too good to turn down?
      There had to be money in the Empire ‘verse, otherwise Lord Vader wouldn’t have needed to tell Boba Fett, “The Empire will compensate you if he dies.”And smugglers and bounty hunters wouldn’t work for free Star Destroyer Miles; they’d need the Credits, the Woopiupi. Cash is, was and shall always be king. Or Emperor. Even a Tatooine slave knew that. The question of what the Credit was backed with could doubtless start another debate, as well as how, when or whether exchange rates against the Imperial Credit were calculated.

      Other personnel questions arise: Aside from the Clone Warriors, later Storm Troopers, who were born into their jobs and doubtless had some form of Universal Coverage, was the Empire an all-volunteer fleet? Clone Wars covered at least one incident where a Clone Soldier hung up his helmet and turned into a farmer–a civilian. Was that even administratively possible, or was enlistment a “lifetime agreement” (subject to relative length of incarnation)? We never heard from veterans of previous conflicts, even in the established Empire period of the latter three films. Who kept the corporate memory for either the Empire or the Rebellion to keep the same stupid crap from happening over and over?

      (Droids don’t count. They obviously have no rights as artificial intelligences; they aren’t even allowed in bars on some planets.)

      And where were all the women in this man’s Empire? Or was their gender masked by those black or green uniforms with the Jolly Ranchers® across their chests?

       
      • Travis McClain #

        You know, just last night I was wondering what will happen to our economy when we do (finally!) bring home all the brave men and women who have been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq all these years. Will the stop-gap hold on their discharges finally cease, allowing them to honorably leave service? What will that do for the already hyper-competitive job market?

        I just wonder: after the Clone Wars, did the civilian population even have any exposure to the veterans of that war? The droid army would have simply been dismantled. The Separatist leaders and the Jedi were exterminated. That only leaves the clones themselves–likely viewed as property of the Empire.

        Ergo, there really weren’t many veterans of the Clone Wars in circulation. This may be an underlying reason for Luke’s astonishment that Obi-Wan Kenobi and his father were veterans. We’ve always assumed he was surprised because he was told a different account of Anakin’s fate, but maybe he was also surprised just to encounter an actual Clone Warrior.

        It seems entirely plausible the Imperial population that had lived through the Clone Wars would have seen the destruction of those conflicts…but would not necessarily have had to live with those who had caused it amongst them. That has to have an interesting psychological impact, as though war really does just kind of…go away.

        So figure the average Imperial planet has spent much of the two decades or so between the beginning of the Clone Wars and the destruction of Alderaan in some kind of peace bubble. They’ve spent much of their time rebuilding their worlds. If you think of how long it took to implement the Marshall Plan, it’s easy to speculate that rebuilding an entire planet could take much of that 20 years. Then, figure even if the Imperial military is operating with a disproportionately high budget, that at least means that some manufacturing planets are living well selling ships and arms to Palpatine. The best thing for the Japanese recovery after World War II was the outbreak of war in Korea. Palpatine likely kept Imperial citizens on guard, so that they would accept the need for a military “too big to fail” to protect them in the event of another insurrection which, of course, did eventually come in the form of the Rebellion.

        If manufacturing led to jobs (which made many Imperial subjects happy), then it’s very possible that an outspoken segment of the population insisted on expanding the military to include non-clone personnel, rather than automation. Your planet may not be able to get in on the manufacturing side of things, so wouldn’t you want to get your best and brightest a stable job in the military, rather than relying on droids–which were clearly the tool of the enemy, not to be adapted by the victors–and clones?

        Side note: I suspect the prejudice against droids was a sentiment amongst those who had lived through the Clone Wars. Wuher, the Cantina barkeep, may have witnessed destruction during the war caused by droids and carried that hostility with him ever since. That would seem to be a reasonable effect of the Clone Wars, and one likely felt by a lot of Imperial subjects.

         
      • Boonton #

        This is kind of odd. If material is rather evenly distributed all over the galaxy then wages shouldn’t be much of a burden. Then again with so much stuff around, wouldn’t people demand quite a bit to take on a dangerous job like tank wipe on a Star Destroyer? (And impressment by the Empire only takes you so far, at a certain level people must want to do their jobs, not simply be afraid of punishment).

        Let’s note two things, first that the assembly of the droid army appeared expensive but not unreasonably so. Yet the Attack of the Clones movie did point out that several large groups had to agree to contribute resources in order to raise what they thought was the largest army in the galaxy.

        Second, the Empire’s military is light on drones but heavy on manpower. The ships seem to require huge amounts of people. So here’s the ‘weak Empire’ theory again. The Empire, being weak, can command resources taxed off the major intersteller trading partners, but can’t draft many people. It’s evil stuff is tolerated by the extensive use of clones. Granted you have to feed and cloth them for life, but that’s a relatively small expense. Taking care of a few million people in a galaxy of trillions?

        This also squares another problem with the Star War’s circle….it explains why all the militaries seem so crappy. Neither the clones nor the droids seem like very impressive military forces. The Jedi come closest to ‘special forces’. The thing is, you don’t have to be very good if everyone around you is bad.

        The fighting styles of the Revolutionary Era and before came to an abrupt end in the Civil War and WWI. Standing in formation, marching, fire, reload, fire…..all ends the moment you approach a trench with machine guns and snipers. Yet that absurd military fought it out in Europe for hundreds of years, when it arrived in the America’s it crushed the native people’s. It was fantastic, when it was the best game in town.

        Let’s recall that an “Entire Legion” of the Emperor’s best troops were trounced by teddy bears.

         
        • Dimwit #

          You are doing the Empire a diservice. The teddy bears are the Viet Cong. Small, fast and only good in the trees. Get them out of the forest and they’re dead meat. The Empire is a 3rd Gen army facing a 4th Gen army. Their tactics, their organization and especially their armament isn’t up to the task. Either they have to napalm the forest canopy or raze it with energy weapons. When it’s all said and done, the teddy bears aren’t worth the trouble.

          As for Travis’ lack of peace dividend, more than likely the D.S.’s were financed as part of the Clone Wars. One of those black projects that never show on the books. The probability rises when you consider that if the Empire had hiked the tax rates to pay for the Clone Wars (likely) and haven’t reduced them after the fact, then the Trade Feds would be rather antsy, causing a ruckus to reduce them. A D.S. on the doorstep would quiet that down quick, now wouldn’t it.

           
          • Travis McClain #

            I caught the end of Attack of the Clones on TV tonight and was reminded of something important: the Death Star was originally planned by the Separatists, not the Republic. Count Dooku is charged with the task of escaping Geonosis with the plans for the Death Star, touted as the Separatists’s “ultimate weapon.”

            This means that he began construction of the Death Star(s) as Darth Sidious leading the Separatists, but completed them as Emperor Palpatine of the First Galactic Empire. It would be interesting to hear how he pitched that to the Imperial Senate. “Look, they had this in the works and even though the war is over and we theoretically have no actual need for such a weapon during a time of peace, whaddya say we go ahead and finish it anyway?”

             
          • Boonton #

            Unlike the VC, though, the Empire had no interest in controlling the planet. They simply needed to maintain their relatively small footprint for the shield generator/base. It’s interesting that the Empire’s best troops could not do that job all that well. At this point, though, we have to just grant a bit of incoherence to the movies. IMO, that’s like in A New Hope where Obi-wan knows the storm troopers had taken down that rolling building because “only Imperial Troops are that accurate”….in reality it seems like Imperial Troops are the only ones who can barely hit the side of a barn.

             
  51. Dimwit #

    AS I said before, the Sith must have some serious financial streams. To even think of building a D.S. preEmpire takes somes serious balls. That would lead me to believe that the Sith are as financially as solid as the Empire is. Or that the Empire is pretty weak as an economic entity.

    The one thing that is missing in all of this is Corps. An Interstellar Corp would have massive reach and might be financially more powerful than this proverbial “weak” Empire. Where are they in all of this? Obviously politically silent. Hiding behind the T.F.? Having the Hutts front for them?

     
    • Boonton #

      Actually this all supports the Weak Empire Theory. The ‘corporations’ were a major player in the Separatist movement. We see that in Attack of the Clones where Count Dooku has his meeting with the Separatist Council. From Wookiepedia, these are their members:

      These included Nute Gunray, Viceroy of the Trade Federation; Passel Argente of the Corporate Alliance; Tikkes of the Quarren Isolation League; Wat Tambor, the foreman of the Techno Union; Poggle the Lesser of Geonosian Industries; and Shu Mai of the Commerce Guild. These individuals and several others were summoned to the planet Geonosis, where they would formally join the Separatist Movement and organize an army to destroy the Republic.

      Clearly the Separatists are not made up of an ethnic, religious or geographical group. They are made up of monied interests. This tells us a few things:

      1. The ‘government’ is vastly weaker than the underlying economy. If private corporations can unite to overthrow the gov’t, you have a weak gov’t on your hands.

      2. They would have easily won, if the Sith weren’t playing their games. At some point, the Sith got a hold of a large amount of money and siphoned it off to make the clone army. If the Republic didn’t get the clone army, the Separatists would have had an easy victory.

      3. This does kind of imply that the Death Star’s appeal was that it could challenge Coruscant’s dominance. One extreme strategy, destroy the planet itself with the Death Star. Since Coruscant is the major hub of the hyperspace routes, the Separatist gov’t could control trade by parking their Death Star there. This also says something about Coruscant’s role in the galaxy. It’s probably resented for its ‘natural resource’ of being the hub of all the major hyperspace routes. The Sith, then, pulled off a major coup. They had the major non-Coruscant players fund the design of the weapon that would be used for the enemy and waste their remaining funds on a droid army that the Sith could, from headquarters, simply ‘deactivate’. This also explains why the Separatists are so willing to go along with Sith and Sith-like players. The Jedi are the defenders of Coruscant’s dominance and meddling in galactic affairs. The Sith are the dissidents.

      The Empire then, was probably a good deal for Coruscant since the Sith’s agenda was not to usurp Coruscant’s place but simply take it over and enhance its power by stifling other possible combinations of powerful players in the galaxy. The celebrations seen on Coruscant at the end of Return of the Jedia, then, are probably a bit premature.

       
      • Hawkmoth #

        Yes, this is an excellent analysis. It does make you want to ask how the “winners” felt 5 years after the end of RotJ. Probably pretty bummed.

         
  52. Dimwit #

    It certainly seems to be, from all this, that the conclusion is that the Death Star(s) are necessary. Unless these were built, there really isn’t anything that is a tipping point between the factions, and worse, there’s probably not much in the way of difference between them as well.

    Any one of them in charge wouldn’t have much influence on the day to day activities on most worlds and the farther they off the main routes the worse that gets. Even the vaunted Jedi’s are a pinprick, politically. Their greatest strength is the multiplanetary recruiting. No matter where they are in the Empire, one of them is from “around here”.

    Only in having the DS can any one group have the ability to power project and force compliance to their viewpoint. If you accept premise, then it follows the the DS HAS to be used, at least once. ref: Nagasaki/Hiroshima. The weapon is terrible enough that, therefore, you want the biggest bang for the buck… a mainline world, popular, well known, but ultimately not crippling to the Empire if destroyed. Enter Alderaan stage left. Even if it was unwise economically, politically it makes the most sense.

    And it worked. Those meddling Skywalkers ruined a perfectly good strategy that would’ve made the Sith the envy of every Napoleon/Alexander in the universe.

     
  53. Ariel Cinii #

    To Joseph FM:
    1: No far invoking the classics. You’ll just expand the discussion beyond all reasonable length!

    2: I was just shown a clip that demonstrated the basics of Chaos Theory by releasing a set of balls on stings of progressed lengths and just watching them swing side-on. They at once form a sinuous pattern that morphs into three or four different patterns with moments of chaos in between until all the balls sync up again. So is it with the Universe. Whole bunches of differing races and cultures will resonate at different rates at different times, but will occasionally reach states of harmony in spite of themselves.

    Now, translate all of that to the scale of a galaxy. Chaos is the nature of order, which is also the nature of chaos. And that’s why you’ve got the Jedi around, to administer to the balance of the Living Force.

    3: Assuming both the Jedi and the Sith are following this macro-galactic scale happening on a hundred-thousand or so planets and civilisations, one must also assume both sides are like surfers trying to time the next Wave to work in their favour.

    The Old Republic’s wave was deteriorating into chaos, probably having reached its Peter-Principle level of incompetence and choking on the economics and logistics of its own immense scale. This is why large countries are on the whole ungovernable.

    4: When the Old Republic fell, a chaotic tumble followed in which the Empire, guided by super-surfer Palpatine and the obviously potent mis-information agencies of the Sith, gathered up all the pieces, which were lacking in direction anyway. While some planets resisted, they and others would eventually get caught up in the Empire’s tide, which itself had to be smashed back into chaos due to the uncontrolled spending of the Space Armada on planet-busting manned stations like the Death Star Project!

    The above does not constitute the support of smaller government; I am a Democrat after all.