Sciency Words: Triangular Trade

Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Each week, we take a closer look at an interesting science or science-related term to help us expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today I’m really stretching my conception of science-related terms so we can talk about:

TRIANGULAR TRADE

When I was a kid, I had an extensive collection of cards from Star Wars: The Customizable Card Game. At one point, I was trying to trade with a friend to get his Millennium Falcon card, but I didn’t have anything my friend wanted. So we got a third person involved and set up a three-way trade. My extra Princess Leia card went to this third person, who then gave a rare star destroyer to my friend, who then gave me the Millennium Falcon I needed to complete my rebel fleet.

This was sort of like what happens in triangular trade. Like nerdy kids trading Star Wars cards (or non-nerdy kids trading, I don’t know, baseball cards or something), cities or regions or countries set up three-way trade arrangements for their exports. This kind of arrangement served as the basis for much of the world economy in the 18th and 19th Centuries, during the Age of Colonialism.

The most commonly cited example (unfortunately) is the slave trade, where the trade routes between Europe, Africa, and the Americas actually traced out a big triangle across the Atlantic Ocean. European nations exported manufactured goods to their African colonies, which then exported slaves to the American colonies, which then exported things like sugar, cotton, tobacco, etc to Europe.

Obviously triangular trade is more of a historical term than a sciency thing, but much like the word thalassocracy, I feel like this old, history-related term might become applicable again in a far-out, Sci-Fi future where humanity is spreading across the Solar System. And the reason I think that is because Robert Zubrin, one of the foremost Mars colonization advocates in the U.S., wrote about triangular trade in his book The Case for Mars and also in this paper titled “The Economic Viability of Mars Colonization.”

To quote Zubrin from his “Economic Viability” paper:

There will be a “triangle trade,” with Earth supplying high technology manufactured goods to Mars, Mars supplying low technology manufactured goods and food staples to the asteroid belt and possibly the Moon as well, and the asteroids and the Moon sending metals and possibly helium-3 to Earth.

So everybody wins! The people of Earth win, the colonists on Mars win, and all the prospectors and mine workers in the asteroid belt win! Even our moonbase wins (this part might seem counterintuitive, but the delta-v to reach Earth’s Moon from Mars is actually lower than the delta-v to reach the Moon from Earth). And this time, slavery isn’t involved!

Unless the high technology being exported from Earth includes robot slaves who then… hold on, I have to go write down some story ideas.

6 Responses to Sciency Words: Triangular Trade

  1. chemistken says:

    Sounds nice, but then you just know Earth will ruin it all by attacking one of the partners and messing everything up.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ry Yelcho says:

    I will anxiously look for your story about the triangular robot slave trade between Earth, Mars and asteroid colonies. I especially like story ideas that come from thinking through the implications of possible speculative technology. If robots’ AI become sentient would it then create a moral controversy for the related industries and this thriving space trade. Do we then intentionally dumb down the robots or extend to them the same rights as humans?

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      So I wrote this post last night and scribbled down a bunch of notes afterwards, but this morning the story idea didn’t feel as compelling to me as before. I do think it would be really cool to do a story in this setting exploring these kinds of issues, but I’m not if I’ve found the right characters or plot points yet to make it work. Still, some of the ideas I came up with could get integrated into one of my other projects. We’ll see how the creative process plays out!

      Like

  3. Ooo those story ideas sound juicy. I hope we get to read them one day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • J.S. Pailly says:

      Well, I hope so too. Mars should feature prominently in the shared universe I’m trying to create, and I think something like triangular trade will be part of that setting. As for the robot thing… we’ll see.

      Like

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