What Politics Can Learn from Star Wars

I’m not going to pass on a good Star Wars thread — this one begun by the good folks at Overthinking It, who explore a good question:

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?

As expected, Death Star cost expert Seth Masket responds by pointing out the importance of factoring in actually building the Death Star and wondering how Palpatine handled the budgeting; my brother David, however, moves the discussion along by pointing out the importance of the absent press corps.

I think the question about why there’s no press corps has to do with whether the Republic is more similar to Rome, or to the government under the Articles of Confederation, which is what I’ve argued before (although I’ve also noted that the Republic lasted a long time, which makes it more Rome-like). If it’s like the Articles, we’re talking about basically a weak central government overseeing, but basically irrelevant to, an unimaginably large area. Why no noticeable press in such a galaxy? Perhaps because, for those outside of the capital, the “federal” government really isn’t all that important. Oh, it helps out when there’s a trade dispute with another planet, but other than that, it’s mostly irrelevant, even to the point that in some of those planets the federal money isn’t even any good. Why bother to keep an eye on what’s happening there?

As for those in the capital, it wouldn’t be surprising if the focus is much more on personalities and gossip than on the serious business of government — after all, in the USA a lot of the press coverage is about personalities and gossip, even though the central government is quite important in people’s daily lives. It’s just not really clear that the Galactic Republic actually does very much real governing.

(And, yeah, it’s not hard for me to believe that Palpatine could lay his hands on quite a bit of money. First of all, the guy is able to manipulate Yoda, so imagine how much he might be defrauding, say, his friends in the Trade Federation, if he needs the cash. Second…remember, we’re talking about some very large number of entire planets, all of them incredibly far advanced in technology. I’m guessing that a tiny sliver of Gross Planetary Product in taxes from each of them could buy a lot of clones, and even a Death Star or two, without anyone really noticing much).

Of course, once the Empire takes over then it does make sense to know what’s going on, but you’re not going to start up a free press then, are you?

I’d expect very little press coverage of the central government under the Republic until the Clone Wars break out…and even less after they end.

Want more? All the nerdy you can handle here.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.