Imagining Elon Musk's Million-Person Mars Colony

The greatest thought experiment of all time

by Marshall Brain

[Quick Overview - This book introduces a new economic system that aims to eliminate all of the poverty, inequality, hunger, slums and so on found on Earth today. This new system is introduced as a thought experiment within the context of the million-person Mars colony recently announced by Elon Musk. This new system will radically improve the quality of life for the vast majority of humans living on planet Earth today.]

Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1 - Elon Musk Makes His Big Announcement about the Mars Colony
  • Chapter 2 - The Many Thought Experiments that Mars Inspires
  • Chapter 3 - Why Do We Need a New Socio-Economic-Political System on Mars?
  • Chapter 4 - Imagining a New and Much Better Socio-Economic-Political System for the Mars Colony
  • Chapter 5 - What Happens When We Add a Massive Amount of Farm Automation to the Mars Colony?
  • Chapter 6 - How Will the Mars Colony Produce its Clothing?
  • Chapter 7 - How Will Housing Work for the Mars Colony?
  • Chapter 8 - Coming May 1!

Chapter 1

Elon Musk Makes His Big Announcement

In September, 2016, Elon Musk made an amazing, startling announcement at the annual IAC (International Astronautical Congress) conference. Elon unveiled his Mars project, released videos of his plans, and answered obvious questions people would have. About a month later Musk personally appeared in a Reddit AMA to take questions and further clarify his plans.

Musk's announcement sparked the imagination of millions of people. This article on the National Geographic Web site is typical of the coverage that Musk received:

Elon Musk: A Million Humans Could Live on Mars By the 2060s

    "In short, Musk thinks it’s possible to begin shuttling thousands of people between Earth and our smaller, redder neighbor sometime within the next decade or so." And not too long after that... Mars could be home to a self-sustaining colony of a million people."
Here is a video summarizing the idea:

It is an amazing idea, because a million people is a LOT of people. If we think of the one million people in the Mars colony as living in a city, this city's population is bigger than San Francisco (800,000) or Boston (640,000) or Las Vegas (600,000) [ref]. It is an immense number of people. San Francisco, for example, ranks as the 13th largest city in the United States. To imagine a city that big on Mars boggles the mind. And yet, that is what Elon Musk is proposing and advancing, and when he talks about it it sounds almost like it is inevitable. Musk's video demonstrates how a giant SpaceX rocket could routinely ferry 100 people to Mars at a time [ref].

A Mars city of this scale also represents an huge amount of land. Think about the city of San Francisco in the United States. The city proper is about 50 square miles. With 800,000 people, the population density in San Francisco would be 16,000 humans per square mile. Imagining a project on Mars of San Francisco's size and scale is amazing. It would all need to be under glass, or underground, or under some sort of inflatable habitat structure, or under something, because there is very little atmosphere on Mars compared to Earth, and the nighttime temperatures on the surface of Mars usually dip below -100 degrees F (-75 degrees C) [ref]. No one is ever going to walk on the unprotected surface of Mars without a space suit and life support system. Any kind of large-scale human habitat on Mars will have to be protected by dirt or glass or fabric of some kind in order for people to breathe and walk around in a T-shirt like people do on Earth.

So let's for a moment imagine that all of this interplanetary activity actually occurs, starting in a decade as Elon envisions. People start moving to Mars in large numbers in the near future, and a sizable city manifests itself on the Martian surface. If all of this is going to happen then...

Here is the question that I would ask us – all of humanity – to explore in this book: What should the government and economy of this new Mars colony look like? How should people in this new, far-off settlement organize themselves into a society? What will it be like and feel like to live as a citizen in this new Mars colony on a day-to-day basis? What will people do each day, and why?

Because really, if we are going to go off and populate a whole new world from scratch, wouldn't it be nice if we could get it right? When we look at human beings living their lives on Planet Earth, right now, in the twenty-first-century time frame, life on Earth really can be quite unsettling if you don't happen to have a “good job” (reasonable salary, 40-hours-per-week, health benefits, vacation time, sick time, etc.) in a developed country like the United States. Think of some of the notable things that mark the current era of human civilization in the United States and on our planet:

  • Some three billion of the people on the planet – approximately half – are destitute. They live on less than $2.50 per day. 80% of the people on planet Earth live on less than $10 per day [ref]. They live in shocking poverty compared to people living in "the developed world" (e.g. Europe, the United States, Canada, Japan). If you look at the gigantic slums in places like India, Africa, Brazil, Egypt, Mexico... there is no way to fully comprehend the suffering and squalor, and certainly no way to justify it. Poverty is slowly getting better, yes, but poverty is still a huge problem in our world – the idea that 80% of people on Earth make less than $10 per day is heartbreaking to any thoughtful person. [ref] [ref] [ref] [ref]

  • One expression of poverty is this: there are 10 million children dying of easily preventable causes every year – things like starvation, thirst, cholera. [ref]
  • Billions of people lack access to modern health care services.
  • Billions of people lack access to basics like clean water, sanitation services, adequate food and safe housing.
  • Those of us who use our iPhones and our Android smart phones every day may not realize (or care) that these phones are assembled by millions of people working 12 hour days for incredibly low wages [ref] [ref]. The same holds true for apparel, shoes and many other products.

  • Environmentally, humans are raping the planet in a thousand different ways. A mass extinction event is looming on the horizon, yet we appear unmotivated to do much if anything to prevent it. [ref]
  • Humans are constantly at war, constantly killing one another somewhere in the world [ref].
  • Approximately 65 million people are refugees – the largest number ever seen according to the United Nations [ref]. Millions of people from places like Syria, Afghanistan and northern Africa have moved en mass to Europe looking for some sort of stability and a decent life. But Europe seems to have reached capacity, as well as the limits of its tolerance for change and accommodation.
  • Crime is a problem. In the United states, over two million citizens are incarcerated (the highest number per capita in the world) [ref]. Although crime is declining [ref], 1.2 million violent crimes happen every year in the U.S., including 300,000+ robberies, 90,000 rapes and 15,000 murders [ref]. There are approximately 8 million property crimes (things like car theft and home burglaries) every year [ref]. The total cost of crime in the United States - police forces, courts, prisons, plus the actual damage caused by the crimes - is enormous [ref].
  • Terrorism pokes its head up on a regular basis all over the planet, killing people in random acts of violence. ISIS is one large example, taking over parts of Iraq and Syria. Millions of civilians were trapped and essentially enslaved in ISIS strongholds. Random acts of terror inspired by ISIS in Europe and the United States garner immense media coverage [ref].
  • Several nations together have thousands of nuclear warheads, enough to kill all of humanity many times over and to essentially destroy the entire planet. These warheads are loaded into rockets that we can launch at a moment's notice simply by pushing a few buttons. We put in place "waiting periods" of days or weeks for things like gun purchases and abortions in order to allow time for people to "cool off". We don't have anything like that for nuclear weapons, which are immediately available and ready to fly on a whim [ref].
  • We have spent trillions of dollars building and stockpiling conventional weapons designed to kill fellow humans in a hundred different ways. We can shoot people, bomb them, grenade them, poison them, burn them, etc.
  • Huge, paralyzing traffic jams are the norm at rush hour in every major city.
  • Politics have become an area of constant conflict and infighting, where it seems that people cannot agree on even the simplest of things. In 2016, for example, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump stood as the two primary candidates for president even though both are known to be corrupt and their favorability ratings reached historic lows [ref].
  • Humans often seem intent on bringing misery to other humans: terrorism, dictatorships, warlords, druglords, slavery, torture, unjust imprisonment, sweatshops, child labor, corruption, murder, mayhem, crime, racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. can be found all over the planet.
  • Disputes between neighbors can be a constant hassle. Anyone who has lived in a place with an overzealous homeowners' association, or with a neighbor who is lawsuit-crazy, knows that even the simplest things in a neighborhood can flare into costly battles. One group welcomes a new construction project because of the jobs it brings, while another group fiercely opposes it under the banner of NIMBY and a desire to prevent change to the status quo [ref].
  • Inequality and the concentration of wealth are extreme and seem to be unstoppable, so that a very small percentage of the planet's population owns half of the planet's wealth, while billions of other people have nothing. Bill Gates lives in a 66,000 square foot mansion with 24 bathrooms and six kitchens [ref]. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of human beings are trapped in miserable slums.
  • About one million people around the world commit suicide each year [ref]
  • Obesity has become a large problem for well-off parts of the world, with two out of three adults in developed countries being overweight or obese [ref]. Approximately 1% of adults in America die each year, and perhaps half of those deaths are directly or indirectly related to obesity (things like heart disease, strokes, diabetes, etc.) [ref]
  • Drugs and alcohol are perennial concerns. In the United States, 30,000 people die per year in alcohol related car accidents, and tens of thousands more die from various drug overdoses [ref]. 17% of Americans smoke cigarettes [ref], and in countries like China that percentage can double.
  • In many cases and at many different levels, we humans seem unable to control ourselves or to stop ourselves even when we know we are wrong. The problems seem unstoppable: poverty, suffering, environmental damage, wars, crime, traffic...
If an extraterrestrial alien were to arrive on Earth and bear witness to all of this suffering as an unbiased observer, it is quite likely he/she would be incredulous. Why would humans condone and promote systems which are so obviously unjust, and which lead to so much suffering?

Is this how we want the Mars colony to work? Do we wish to export all of the suffering and strife and unfairness that we find on Earth today to Mars? Do we want to find massive slums filled with poverty on Mars in 50 years? Do we want to see children dying of starvation? Do we want thousands of Mars residents to be rotting in prison and dying of drug overdoses? Do we want to have wars on Mars, with heavily armed nations and nuclear warheads? Do we want people wasting time every morning and every evening trapped in giant city-wide traffic jams? Do we want a dictatorship to arise on Mars, or an incredible concentration of wealth that causes dictatorship-by-the-rich (i.e. plutocracy)? Do we want to see rampant racism, misogyny, xenophobia, bullying, etc. on Mars? What about ISIS? Do we want any of this happening on Mars? Of course not.

We would like to imagine that if we establish a new colony from scratch on Mars with a million humans living there, and we do it in a manner where we have complete control over the outcome, then the million-person Mars colony should be able to avoid all of these problems. In fact, we would hope that a Mars colony would be perfect, or nearly so. We would hope that Mars would be a place where people – all of the people living there – are happy, fulfilled and prosperous. There should be no war, no poverty, no corruption, no politics, no disease, no crime, no inequality, no traffic, no racism, and so on in a society that we have designed from scratch on a new planet, and where we absolutely control every aspect of that society from the start.

But how? If we export the systems we currently use for our governance and economic structure here on Earth to Mars, then we should expect that Mars will soon descend into the same kind of extremes of strife and suffering we see on Earth right now. Why would we expect otherwise? Therefore, we need to rethink human society for the new Mars colony so that we achieve a much better outcome for everyone living on Mars.

And here is another question: If we can develop such a society for Mars, why don't we create idyllic places like this on Earth today, using the same principles that we would use on Mars? For example, countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have been bombed and ruined to the point where millions of people are fleeing. 65 million people around the world are in motion as refugees – the highest number ever seen on this planet [ref]. Why can't we create idyllic societies here on Earth for these refugees, mirroring the perfected society we would like to see on Mars? Why not do it right now? Why not create a new Syria that is so wonderful that people want to move back there, instead of migrating to Europe? Why not create new Mars-like places on Earth that are so wonderful that people are migrating to them in droves?

What should a new government and economic system for Mars look like so that everyone living on Mars is happy, fulfilled and prosperous? And if we can do it on Mars, why not do it on Earth? And why not start doing it today? These are the questions that we will explore in this book...

Chapter 2

The Many Thought Experiments that Mars Inspires

Let's imagine for a moment that several critical pieces fall into place over the next decade:

  • Elon Musk is able to develop the huge rockets, the 100-person Mars shuttles, the fueling systems, the landers, etc. to start moving a million people from the surface of Earth to the surface of Mars.
  • We are able to solve all of the technological and logistical hurdles to allow a million people to begin constructing a million-person city on the surface of Mars and living there.
  • We figure out who we are going to send to Mars.
  • We somehow find the money to send a million people to Mars.
If all of this is really going to happen, then the idea of a million-person Mars colony creates the greatest thought experiment of all time. There are so many things to think about — so many policies, mechanisms and social structures to establish so that the Mars colony functions properly as an independent city on another planet.

Just think about it... if we get the social aspects of the Mars colony wrong, or we get the economics wrong, or the legal system wrong, there very well could come to be a million extremely miserable people living on Mars. We can look at planet Earth to see just how miserable things can get, as discussed in the previous chapter.

The Depth of the Thought Experiment

There are hundreds of issues that we can consider for the Mars colony. Here are five to get us started:

  1. Will we allow anonymity on Mars? Every single person on the surface of the planet Mars will be known. Should any of them be allowed to proceed anonymously around the colony, or should everyone’s location and activities always be tracked? Removing anonymity would do quite a bit to reduce criminal behavior, and would make the arrest rate nearly 100% for every crime that is committed. For example, if the location and identity of everyone is known, then solving a kidnapping case would be a no-brainer. Every case of murder, theft, arson, vandalism, rioting, etc. would be instantly solved. So do we allow anonymity on Mars, or not?

  2. Will we allow guns and ammunition on Mars? This is a huge issue on Earth, so what is the Mars policy? Does everyone on Mars get issued a gun? Are there zero guns? Do some people, like police officers, get to have guns but no one else? Why do the police need guns if no one else has them? What about tasers? What about knives? If we remove anonymity on Mars, and we know the location of every Mars colonist every minute, do a lot of the problems with guns go away?

  3. Recreational drugs on Mars, yes or no? For example, what about alcoholic beverages? These beverages are known to cause a lot of problems on Earth: domestic violence, assault, child abuse, and so on [ref], [ref], [ref], [ref]. Do we allow alcohol on Mars? What about nicotine, either in the form of tobacco or vaping? What about heroin? Cocaine? Meth? Marijuana? There are a lot of people who think yes, and a lot of people who think no. Which is it? How do we decide on the policy chosen for Mars?

  4. Who gets to have children on Mars? On Earth, at least in the United States, it is a free-for-all. Any 16 year old can get herself pregnant, and suddenly she becomes the parent of a new human life. Is that how it will be on Mars? A rational, thoughtful person might think that letting any random, untrained person become the caregiver for a new human life is rather odd, possibly insane. For example, in North Carolina you need to train for 1,500 hours to become a barber - “you must attend a Board-approved school and complete the state of North Carolina's minimum required training hours” [ref]. That’s just to cut someone’s hair. But to become a parent in North Carolina and start taking care of a new human life, there are zero training requirements of any kind. Will it be like that on Mars, or will Mars treat parenthood differently?

  5. Will there be any animals on Mars? Animals for food? Will there be eggs and omelets on Mars, or not? Milk, ice cream and yogurt? Steaks, hamburger and fried chicken? Yes or no? These kinds of foods are ubiquitous on Earth – just about every human culture for all eternity has eaten meat in one form or another. What about meat animals on Mars? Or will Mars allow only 3D printed/cultured meat, that involves no actual animals? Or will there be no meat whatsoever on Mars? What about animals for pets? Will there be dogs and cats on Mars? Will people walk their dogs on Mars, picking up the poop in little plastic bags? Why or why not?
We have looked at only a tiny number of questions, and we can already begin to see the complexity of the issues that can arise. Simply extrapolate out and you realize that there are hundreds of questions we can ask about the governance of the Mars colony. Who will decide all of these questions? How will they be decided? Does Elon Musk decide? The million people who live on Mars? A set of representatives? Some kind of Mission Control group back on Earth? Someone else? We will discuss many questions like these later in the book.

As you think through the hundreds of questions that we could ask about Mars, you will come to realize that there is one big question that affects nearly everything else. This question has to do with the economy on Mars, or more broadly the socio-economic-political system chosen for Mars. If we get the economy wrong for the Mars colony, we should expect to see many of the same horrible problems on Mars that we find on Earth. Problems like:

  • Poverty
  • Hunger
  • Slums and ghettos
  • Inequality and the concentration of wealth
  • Unequal access to fundamentals like food, water, sanitation, housing, clothing, etc.
  • Crime
  • And so on...
This is a recipe for misery.

On the other hand, if we get the economy right, then all of the citizens in the Mars colony will be able to live safe, happy, healthy, fulfilling, prosperous lives.

Why Not Export the American Economic System to Mars?

Why not simply export the “American model” of economics and government to Mars? For many Americans, this might be a natural inclination. One problem with the "American model" is that it leads to quite a few problems [ref]:

  • Looking at the World Happiness Report [ref], the United States is not even in the top 10 (out of 157 countries).
  • Looking at Life Satisfaction in the top 38 most prosperous countries in the world, the United States ranks 15th [ref].
The problem for the system used in the U.S. is that it makes America a top-ten country in the world for inequality (by some measures, the United States ranks #1 amongst developed countries on the inequality scale [ref]). And the problem with inequality is that it is corrosive to society as a whole [ref]. The Social Progress Index [ref] is fascinating because it rates the world's nations on a number of different metrics, and the effects of inequality are clear:
  • The U.S. ranks #41 in terms of child mortality, with 6.5 out of every 1,000 children dying (compared to 2 per 1,000 in Iceland).
  • The U.S. ranks #46 in terms of maternal mortality, with 13.75 out of 100,000 mothers dying. (compared to 2.61 for Finland)
  • The U.S. is #85 in terms of adult literacy, with a rate of 86%. (Switzerland is #1 with 99%)
  • The U.S. ranks #34 in terms of life expectancy at age 60, at 23.09. (People in Japan live 3.3 years longer)
  • The U.S. ranks #78 in homicides, with 3.82 per 100,000 (compared to Japan with 0.29).
  • The U.S. ranks #109 in suicides, with 11.85 per 100,000. The top 10 countries all have rates less than 3.
  • The U.S. ranks #50 in tolerance for minorities.
  • And so on...
You can find other rankings as well. Reporters without Borders, for example, gives the United States a rank of 41 on press freedom [ref]. This is amazing if you think about it, given that “Freedom of the Press” is part of the constitution.

In other words, despite all its wealth, the United States ranks poorly on common measures of societal health. In the Mars colony, wouldn't it be better if the colony excelled on all of these measures? Wouldn't it be great if infant mortality, maternal mortality, homicides and suicides were all zero on Mars? Wouldn't it be great if adult literacy, minority tolerance, life expectancy and press freedom were all maximized on Mars? Wouldn't it be great if the Mars colony, as a society, actively worked to be the best place possible for all of the people living in the colony? Wouldn't it be great if everyone in the Mars colony could feel safe, happy, fulfilled and prosperous? The way to do that is to come up with better systems of governance, education, economics, training, etc. than we currently have in America.

What should the economy of Mars look like, and how will it work for one million colonists living in the Mars colony? We will start exploring this important question in the next chapter...

Chapter 3

Why Do We Need a New Socio-Economic-Political System on Mars?

The big elephant in the room when it comes to questions about the Mars colony is this: What type of socio-economic-political system will we use for these new citizens of Mars?

This question is so obvious, because we all know that the socio-economic-political systems that we find on Earth today can be quite horrible, as described in Chapter 1. Let's look at some simple questions that would be logical to ask about the socio-economic-political system on Mars:

  1. Do we want half of the people in the new Mars colony to be living in abject poverty? This is what we find on Earth today.
  2. Do we want there to be vast slums and ghettos on Mars? This is what we find on Earth today.
  3. Do we want lots of Mars children to be dying of easily preventable causes every year (things like hunger, thirst and cholera)? This is what we find on Earth today.
  4. Do we want half of the new Mars citizenry to be cut off from health services? This is what we find on Earth today.
  5. Do we want hundreds of thousands of new Mars citizens to lack access to basics like clean water, sanitation services, adequate food, etc.? This is what we find on Earth today.
  6. Do we want terrorism to be part of the new Mars colony? This is what we find on Earth today.
  7. Do we want groups of people on Mars to go to war with one another? Do we want the Mars citizenry to build and aim nuclear bombs at each other? This is what we find on Earth today.
  8. Do we want inequality and the concentration of wealth so extreme that two or three people on Mars own more wealth than all of the other citizens of Mars combined? So that the concentration of wealth is accelerating and seems to be unstoppable? This is what we find on Earth today.
These questions seem silly because the answers are so obvious to any rational, thoughtful person. Of course we do not want ANY of these things happening in our shiny new Mars colony. All of these things are ridiculous. Yet this is what we find on Earth today.

Unfortunately, if we take typical socio-economic-political systems we have on Earth today (for example the system from the United States) and transplant them to Mars, we would expect all of Earth's ridiculous problems and inequalities to transfer to Mars as well. Why would we expect anything else?

In order for Mars to turn out differently, we need a new and different socio-sconomic-political system for Mars. If we are going to design a Mars colony and a Mars society from scratch, why not do it right? We need a socio-economic-political system specifically designed to eliminate all of these problems.

What do we want Mars to be like? Let's state our goals. Specifically, here is how we want Mars to be different:

  • Everyone has high quality, healthy food
  • Everyone has clean water and sanitation services
  • Everyone has high quality, safe, secure housing
  • Everyone has high quality health care
  • Everyone has high quality clothing
  • Everyone has high quality education
  • Everyone has high quality transportation
  • Everyone has 24x7 electricity and Internet access
  • Everyone has a computer and a smart phone to access the Internet
  • And so on...
  • And everyone has these things in a way that is sustainable, so that we do not destroy the planet we live on.
This is so obvious... Obviously we want the new Mars colony to work this way. Yet it is also obvious, from direct experience on planet Earth, that we must create a new Socio-Economic-Political System for Mars if we hope to accomplish anything close to this reality for the Mars colony.

If you happen to live in a well-off enclave in one of the developed countries on planet Earth today, it is easy to lose sight of just how bad things can be for most Earthlings. So let's take a look at how things work on Earth today as a way of understanding what we want to avoid on Mars.

The Problems on Earth Today

Have you ever noticed that, for the vast majority of people in the United States, they generally work for some modest wage doing some task that our society needs? 90% of the people in the United States make less than $160,000 per year [ref], with the average being $32,000 per year. These are the “normal people”: the firefighters, school teachers, nurses, cashiers, construction workers, truck drivers, etc. that fuel America's economic engine. America would grind to a halt without these people. We need these people to do their jobs in order for society to function normally. Take away all of the firefighters and police officers and truck drivers in America, and suddenly you have starvation and total anarchy. These people are essential.

But then, for some reason, there is a small number of people who get to make $10 million per year, or $100 million per year, seemingly for doing little or nothing of any real value in the economy. If we eliminated this tiny group people, it is quite likely that no one would notice. In fact, things would actually get better.

The vast majority of people see all of the problems in the American economy and world economy happening, and they know that it is wrong at some level. The fact that nearly half the people on Planet Earth are living in abject poverty is uncomfortable to any thoughtful, rational person. However, it is difficult to articulate the problem. We refer to it with fairly innocuous words like “inequality” and “the concentration of wealth”, but these words really don't do justice to the magnitude of the problem. If you want to begin to gain an understanding of the immensity of the situation, you can watch this video to get started:

You can also use an Internet search to find hundreds of other articles that address the problem. Here are several:

  • [ref] - "How concentrated has wealth become in the globalized modern world? Here’s one answer: Just eight of the richest people on Earth own as much combined wealth as half the human race. That’s a notable change from last year, when it was reckoned to take 62 of the superrich to match the assets of the 3.6 billion people in the poorer half of mankind."
  • [ref] - “In 2015, the median compensation for the 200 highest-paid executives at public companies in the United States was $19.3 million, up from $9.6 million five years earlier.”
  • [ref] - “A huge share of the nation's economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent of us? $31,244.”
  • [ref] - “For the 117 million U.S. adults in the bottom half of the income distribution, growth has been non-existent for a generation while at the top of the ladder it has been extraordinarily strong....To understand how unequal the United States is today, consider the following fact. In 1980, adults in the top 1 percent earned on average 27 times more than bottom 50 percent of adults. Today they earn 81 times more.”
  • See /r/ConcentrationOfWealth on Reddit for many more examples.
And America is just the tip of the iceberg - things get much worse if you look at the planet as a whole. But why? Why have things gotten to this point?

The Problem at Nike

Let me give you a simple example of the problem so that you can easily understand what I am talking about. Think about something mundane in the the U.S. economy, like Nike shoes. They seem simple enough – just some foam, rubber, nylon and leather sewn together – but under the hood there is something seriously wrong. Read an article like this, and you find an extremely uncomfortable fact about the world we live in:

    RM [a Nike worker in Indonesia - a 32-year-old mother who works 55 hours, six days a week and makes just $184 a month (less than $1 per hour)] told Senn that she doesn’t want Nike to leave Indonesia; she wants an end to verbal abuse and a 50% raise, which would allow her to better provide for her family.

    Is $368 a month [the amount RM is requesting, representing far less than even minimum wage in the U.S.] too much to ask from a multinational corporation that posted $27.8 billion in revenue and spent $3 billion on advertising and promotions in fiscal 2014? Nike CEO Mark Parker was paid $14.7 million in compensation last year. That’s $7,656 an hour.

    Wages in Vietnam, a key TPP partner, are even lower than Indonesia. Nike’s largest production center is in Vietnam where 330,000 mostly young women workers with no legal rights earn just 48 to 69 cents an hour, according to the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights (IGLHR).

    According to the IGLHR’s A Race to the Bottom report, Nike symbolizes the destructive impacts of trade deals like the TPP. Those $100-$200 Nike shoes you see in stores carry a declared customs value of $5.27 per pair, according to a sampling of ten shipments of Nike shoes from Vietnam destined for the US market.

    In 2014, Nike contracted 150 factories in 14 countries to produce more than 365 million pairs of shoes, according to IGLHR and Matt Powell, sports industry analyst at the NPD Group. Vietnamese workers made 43 percent of those shoes; Chinese workers made 28 percent; and Indonesians made 25 percent. Not one pair was made in the United States. [ref]

Is this how we want the Mars colony to work? Do we want thousands of people on Mars living in abject poverty, earning $2,200 per year while working 55 hours a week in near-slavery conditions, while a tiny handful of people are making $14 million per year? That sounds utterly ridiculous, doesn't it?

Think about that. The workers in Indonesia are putting in their hours, but they are getting nearly nothing in return for their work. The shoes arrive in the United States with a value of only $5 or $6 a pair. This is the actual cost of production. The additional $95 dollars that is tacked onto the price of a $100 pair of Nike shoes is largely waste and greed. The CEO of Nike gets paid $14.7 million for doing essentially nothing. That is greed. The $3 billion spent on advertising is a complete waste and is entirely unnecessary if you think about it. Anyone can walk into a store, look at the shoes for sale, and buy the pair they like. Advertising does nothing to facilitate the creation of shoes.

Is it fair to say that the CEO of Nike is doing nothing? He is not sewing together any shoes. He is not designing any shoes. He is not designing or making any of the machines that help make shoes. He is not transporting shoes. The thousands of other employees in the company are doing all of the work. If you remove the CEO, it has no consequence. He is easily replaced. As an example of how easily replaceable CEOs are, take Steve Jobs at Apple - one of the most famous CEOs in history. Steve Jobs died on October 5, 2011. He was quickly replaced by Tim Cook, and Apple never missed a beat. Why? Because Apple has over 100,000 employees. The contributions of any one person are insignificant in that context, and therefore any one of these employees is easily replaced.

What consumers need from Nike is for Nike to make the shoes, and then charge $5 for them. The other $95 is, for all practical purposes, waste. Even better, raise the wages of the workers in Indonesia so they can live decent lives (high quality housing, food, clothing, education, health care, etc. like we envision for everyone in the Mars colony). The shoes would still cost just a fraction of $100.

What is the CEO of Nike doing if he is not making shoes? He is making decisions that allow him to extract nearly $15 million from the company (and therefore from consumers, who pay extra for each pair of shoes to fund his salary) per year, and to give similar amounts of money to his other executives and cronies. He is probably enriching himself in other ways, like huge corporate offices, stock grants, limousines, private jets, fancy meals and the finest hotels. And then, on the other side, he is also making the decisions that hurt the poor people who are doing the actual work of making the shoes in Indonesia, China and Vietnam. The poor people in Indonesia are living very nearly as slaves, in poverty, because of the decisions he makes.

This is the reality on Planet Earth today. How can the socio-economic-political system on Mars be better?

The Problem with Healthcare in America

Here is another example, illuminated by this comic:

Comic by ?

This comic is talking about the medical-industrial complex, which in the United States is extracting gigantic, unbelievable amounts of money from consumers for no reason other than the pure greed seen in the comic.

What do we need doctors, hospitals, drug companies and nurses to do? We need them to heal sick people, or (even better) to help prevent people from getting sick in the first place. We do not need the healthcare system to take advantage of the fact that people get sick and are suffering, so that a small group of people can make obscene profits off of that suffering. Unfortunately, there is a group of people standing in the way of every medical procedure, even prescription, every hospital stay, whose only goal and purpose in life is to find ways to extract huge amounts of profit from the health care system for no reason. These are the men in the white shirts in the above comic. This type of person raises the price of the Epipen from $100 to $600 over the course of a few years for absolutely no reason other than to steal $500 from each Epipen purchaser. [ref]

This type of person is embodied in Martin Shkreli [ref], who raised the price of Daraprim from $13.50 per pill to $750.00 per pill for no reason other than to steal money from the patients using that drug. Other examples: [ref]

This kind of theft is epidemic and systemic throughout the health care industry in the United States, to the point where it now appears to be unstoppable [ref].

This is the reality on Planet Earth today. How can the socio-economic-political system on Mars be better?

The Problem with Walmart

Walmart is another example of the problem. If you think about it, Walmart is a completely boring, established technology. There is no need for anyone to get rich off of Walmart. A Walmart store, fundamentally, is just a big building full of shelves, along with a supply chain that keeps the shelves stocked. People have been shopping and working in stores like this for hundreds of years, so there is no magic here.

Yet Walmart extracts a gigantic amount of money from the economy:

  • Corporations like Walmart are typically ruthless with their workers. Corporations pay workers as little as the market will bear. If we take Walmart (America's largest employer) as an example, employees are paid so little that millions of them are on food stamps [ref].
  • While the workers are impoverished, the executives at Walmart receive astronomical sums of money. The CEO of Walmart receives $25.6 million per year, for example, roughly 1,000 times more than the average worker. If we were to go back in time 30 years, the disparity would be 1/100th of that. There are hundreds of other executives at Walmart (vice presidents, directors, etc.) who are being paid similarly astronomical sums. Where does the money for these immense salaries come from? Walmart raises its prices and extracts the money from the pockets of every American who shops at Walmart.
  • Meanwhile, Walmart pays a gigantic amount of money to its shareholders each year. The shareholders, by and large, are doing literally nothing to receive this money. They buy shares of Walmart stock and, in return for doing nothing else, they receive money for free from Walmart. Walmart is paying roughly $6 billion per year in dividends. Again, this $6 billion comes from raising prices and extracting the money from the people who shop at Walmart.
  • And so on.
Then something perverse happens with these large corporations. The executives amass great wealth, and the corporations amass gigantic wealth and resources, and then together they use this wealth and power to work against normal citizens. Corporations and their executives have armies of lawyers and lobbyists. They have superPACs and campaign donations.
  • They pay influential political figures $200,000 for a 30 minute speech in order to buy access.
  • They can run millions of dollars in ads to influence public opinion.
  • They buy the government, and the government stops listening to rank and file employees. America turns into an oligopoly [ref]: "the wealthy few move policy, while the average American has little power."
Because of all the lobbying and corruption fostered by these executives and corporations, the minimum wage stays low. Efforts to unionize are squashed [ref]. Workers are moved from full time to 30 hours per week to avoid health care laws. Contractors are used instead of employees. Competition is stifled – It is difficult to compete with Walmart, because of its size and ubiquity.

Not only that, but the same thing is happening at the product level as well. If Walmart sells a pair of Nike shoes, or an Apple tablet, or a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese, all of these products have the same extractive executives making their millions of dollars and paying their billions in dividends as well, to people who are doing nothing of value when it comes to product production.

And then companies like Nike, Kraft and Apple buy their parts and buildings and equipment from companies with the same thing happening. And so on. A tiny slice of the human population – today we call them “the elites” or “the 1%” – is stealing billions of dollars from everyone else in the country, and there appears to be no way to stop them because they have bought the government and completely corrupted it.

This is the reality on Planet Earth today. How can the socio-economic-political system on Mars be better?

Adding It All Up

What is the effect of all of this wealth extraction and greed on the American economy, and the world economy? For one thing, as we have seen, half of the population on Planet Earth today lives in poverty. Millions of Americans live in poverty.

Here is an incredibly simple example: Imagine you go buy a party-size (1 pound) bag of Lay's classic potato chips at Walmart or Amazon. You immediately begin to see the problem in America today. This one-pound package contains primarily potatoes, along with a little oil and salt in a lightweight plastic bag, and suddenly the price is $4 [ref]. How did that happen? How did the potatoes that cost a dime per pound in the commodity marketplace skyrocket to $4? This price hike comes, in large part...

  • from all of the executives at Lay's and Walmart extracting their huge salaries...
  • plus the shareholders extracting their billions of dollars in dividends...
  • plus the wastage of corporate jets and limousines "needed" by executives...
  • plus the huge advertising budgets...
  • plus, plus, plus...
None of which has anything to do with what you are trying to buy, which is potato chips. The actual production of a pound of potato chips contains just a few seconds of human effort, which you could easily contribute if only you had a way. But you don't, in part because the economy on Earth definitely does not work this way, and also because the executives are extracting their billions of dollars at every step in the production and distribution chain for the potato chips.

Think about it this way. If you buy a product made by XYZ company at Walmart, do you have any interest as a consumer in paying for any of these added expenses?

  • The huge salaries of Walmart's and XYZ's CEOs?
  • The huge salaries of all the other executives at Walmart and XYZ?
  • The immense costs of the private jet fleet at Walmart and XYZ? (Walmart for example has 22 private jets [ref])
  • The immense costs of the lavish hotels, lavish meals, entertainment, limousines, etc. enjoyed by the executives of Walmart and XYZ?
  • The huge dividends paid to the shareholders of Walmart and XYZ? (Walmart pays $6 billion in annual dividends)
  • The giant advertising budgets?
  • The giant lobbying budgets?
  • The corporate parties, golf tournaments, retreats, junkets, etc. for corporate executives?
  • And so on?
No one wants to pay for all of this overhead, because it has nothing to do with the production of the product. And this does not include all of the overhead at the credit card company when you paid for the item, or all of the overhead at the bank you used when you paid the credit card bill at the end of the month, and so on.

What difference does it make? What if all of this overhead and extraction for executives and advertising and parties and jets and lobbying and dividends is just the way it is? It matters because the extraction is happening throughout the economy at every different level. The extraction of wealth happens at so many points in the economy that is adds up to gigantic overhead that must be supported by everyone else on the planet. It is theft, plain and simple, and it is happening throughout the economy for no reason. This theft is also increasing. Executive salaries rise inexorably. Walmart's dividend has increased every year for 43 straight years. And so on.

The whole process is insidious, and is hurting nearly everyone on Planet Earth. All of the wealth being siphoned off by the top 1%, “the elites” as they are now called, the oligarchs, the plutocrats, represents a gigantic amount of money, and gives the executive-class a huge amount of power/control over every aspect of the world's governments. Again, it is very helpful to watch this video to understand the enormity of the problem:

If you live inside the American economy today, you have no way to escape from these executives, who are extracting their billions of dollars.

  • If you are buying a product at Walmart, it automatically means that the executives at Walmart extract their billions, and the executives at the product manufacturers extract their billions, and the executives at the parts suppliers for the manufacturers extract their billions. Then the credit card company and the bank take their tolls as well.
  • Want to fly to New York for a vacation? The executives at the airline extract their billions, and so do the executives at Boeing, and the executives at the fuel company, and the executives at the company that made your luggage, and the executives at the different clothing companies that make the clothes inside your luggage, and so on.
  • If you use your car to drive anywhere, the executives at the car company have extracted their billions, and spent thousands of dollars per vehicle on advertising. The executives at the fuel company (Exxon, Shell, BP...) have extracted their billions when you bought gas. The executives at the car insurance company extract their billions with each insurance payment. The executives at the bank extract their billions through your car loan. And so on.
  • Want to use your smart phone to make a call? The executives at Apple or Samsung extracted their billions. And the executives at Verizon or AT&T extracted their billions, etc.
  • If you get sick and need to go to the hospital, it is the same situation. The executives at the hospital extract their billions, as do the executives at the drug companies, and the executives at the medical equipment companies, and the executives at the insurance companies....
It is a huge, ridiculous economic load that the executives force all of us to bear whenever we participate in the economy in any way. And then, once the executives extract all of this wealth, they buy the government so that even more wealth can be extracted at the expense of everyone else in the nation.

Verizon is an interesting case and provides an example of just how bad it gets [ref]:

    "Verizon did a $5 billion stock buyback last year to boost its stock price, on top of an already generous dividend. If that money had instead been divided among 180,000 workers, it would have come to $28,000 per person — showing that there’s plenty of profit to be shared across the company."

Tim Cook's situation at Apple is another interesting case [ref]:

    "Mr. Cook’s total 2016 compensation dropped to $8.75 million for the year... but the number is somewhat misleading because of the big restricted stock grant he received in 2011. Last August, 1.26 million shares vested and were valued at about $135 million. Mr. Cook has an additional 3.5 million shares that haven’t vested and are worth about $413 million based on Friday’s stock price. About 560,000 shares will vest each year between now and 2021, and the 700,000 remaining shares will vest in 2021."
The absurdity of this situation is indescribable.

Why has this process, wherein the executive class is extracting billions of dollars from consumers at every turn, become so out-of-control? The executives extract this money because the government and legal system allow it. The socio-economic-political system on planet Earth today is designed to allow and promote this extraction of wealth. The government has stopped caring about “normal people” and only listens to the executives today. There are a dozen steps that could be taken to stop the process of wealth extraction by the executives in the United States, but none of those steps will ever be enacted. Since the executives now own the government, the system will continue to allow the executives to extract their billions with impunity. Simply look at Trump's cabinet [ref]: "The 17 people who US president-elect Donald Trump has selected for his cabinet or for posts with cabinet rank have well over $9.5 billion in combined wealth, with several positions still unfilled." And Trump himself is a billionaire. Is this group of people going to do anything to slow the flow of money to the executives? Of course not. If anything, they will work to accelerate it.

The Alternative

How will Mars be different? How will Mars be better than what we see on Earth today? How will we achieve these goals for everyone on Mars?

  • Everyone has high quality, healthy food
  • Everyone has clean water and sanitation services
  • Everyone has high quality, safe, secure housing
  • Everyone has high quality health care
  • Everyone has high quality clothing
  • Everyone has high quality education
  • Everyone has high quality transportation
  • Everyone has 24x7 electricity and Internet access
  • Everyone has a computer and a smart phone to access the Internet
  • And so on...
  • And everyone has these things in a way that is sustainable, so that we do not destroy the planet we live on.
Most importantly, how will we eliminate the insidious concentration of wealth, and the accompanying poverty it creates for everyone else, so that everyone on Mars is prosperous?

One goal of the economic system in the new Mars colony must be to eliminate the elites, and their extractive and impoverishing techniques. Another goal is to treat everyone in the Mars colony equitably, perhaps for the first time in human history. No longer are there people living in near-slavery conditions making the shoes, while the executives at the shoe company take home tens of millions of dollars and pay shareholders billions of dollars. Everyone in the Mars colony contributes a little bit of their human time, and everyone shares in the rewards of the economic system on Mars.

Now let's take a look at how the new socio-economic-political system on Mars can work to accomplish these goals...

Chapter 4

Imagining a New and Much Better Socio-Economic-Political System for the Mars Colony

Think about the number of people on planet Earth today who do not have enough food to eat. Think about the number of people on Earth who are suffering from malnutrition because of the poor quality of their food. Think about the number of people who are receiving charitable food supplements from various NGOs and government agencies. Billions of people on Earth are affected by hunger – the problem of hunger and malnutrition is quite widespread. These billions of people are hungry and malnourished because the socio-economic-political systems on Earth today have utterly failed them.

Even in the United States (the richest and most powerful country on Earth today, and a highly-developed nation with a robust economy) the situation is extreme:

  • 47,000,000 people need emergency money from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), also known as “food stamps”, in order to feed themselves [ref].
  • 20% of the children in the United States are fed by SNAP [ref].
  • There are also 30 million children in the U.S. free and reduced lunch program [ref].
  • And another 15 million children in the free breakfast program [ref].
  • And don’t forget the WIC program [ref].
  • And the 60,000+ food pantries, food banks, soup kitchens, etc. across the United States providing free food to hungry Americans [ref].
  • And free government food programs like TEFAP and CSFP [ref]....
This is just in the United States, and it is crazy if you think about it. The richest nation on Earth has a socio-economic-political system that by default, in its natural/normal state, leaves tens of millions of people (and a fifth of all children) begging for food. They cannot provide food for themselves. To any rational, thoughtful person, such a situation is insane.

This article on food banks in America [ref] points out:

  • “Nationwide, 25% of military families – 620,000 households – need help putting food on the table, according to a study by Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks.”
  • "The people who come here are hard workers. They are employed. They are the school bus drivers, the lab techs in doctors offices, receptionists, the janitors who clean the floor of your children's school”
  • "Walmart's low-wage workers cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $6.2 billion in public assistance including food stamps, Medicaid and subsidized housing... It found that a single Walmart Supercenter cost taxpayers between $904,542 and $1.75 million per year, or between $3,015 and $5,815 on average for each of 300 workers." [ref]
How is it possible that, in the richest country in the world, the socio-economic-political system leaves tens of millions of adults and children facing hunger and food insecurity? Why isn’t the socio-economic-political system designed so that everyone automatically has access to all of the high-quality food they need to live their lives?

Across the world, hundreds of millions of people suffer from hunger and malnutrition [ref]. Why would human beings put in place socio-economic-political systems that harm so many people?

And this is just food. We have not started to consider other essentials like housing, health care, safety, education, water, sanitation, etc. yet. Just food – an essential of human life – is all by itself a giant problem on Earth. Even in the richest country on Earth, food is a huge problem.

So now we think about the Mars colony. If we simply export the socio-economic-political systems found on Earth to Mars, we can safely assume that all of this hunger, poverty and starvation will be exported to Mars as well. In order to solve the problem, Mars needs a new socio-economic-political system. Here are the stated goals of this new system:

  • Everyone has high quality, healthy food
  • Everyone has clean water and sanitation services
  • Everyone has high quality, safe, secure housing
  • Everyone has high quality health care
  • Everyone has high quality clothing
  • Everyone has high quality education
  • Everyone has high quality transportation
  • Everyone has 24x7 electricity and Internet access
  • Everyone has a computer and a smart phone to access the Internet
  • And so on...
  • And everyone has these things in a way that is sustainable, so that we do not destroy the planet we live on.
How can we create a new socio-economic-political system that accomplishes all of this for every citizen of the Mars colony? Let’s start with food, because on this list food is the most essential thing. A day without food is a big problem for any human being. A week without food creates a crisis situation, especially for children. A month without food and most people die. Any real economy needs to solve the food problem once and for all.

What if we can design and implement a new socio-economic-political system for Mars that guarantees that every Mars citizen has plenty of high-quality food, and in addition eliminates all of these risk factors when it comes to food:

  • There is no threat of “losing your income” or “losing your job” and therefore being cut off from your supply of food through lack of money.
  • There is no threat from any recession or depression bringing the economy down and cutting millions of people off from the food supply.
  • There is no threat of inflation raising food prices so that people are unable to afford food.
  • There is no threat from robots stealing people’s jobs and therefore cutting them off from their access to food. In fact, robots will be welcomed rather than feared in any new socio-economic-political system.
And if we can design a new socio-economic-political system for Mars that guarantees that every Mars citizen has access to a free-flowing stream of high quality food, why not bring that system to Earth today?

Imagining a new socio-economic-political system for Mars

To make the new socio-economic-political system that we will be designing for Mars more concrete and more relevant, let’s imagine real groups of people living on Earth today who need a new system:

  • There are 1.5 million American military veterans who “are at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks, and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing” [ref].
  • There are the millions of shoe and garment workers in places like Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam. They make the clothes that people in the United Sates wear. As described in the Nike section of Chapter 3, these workers are working in deplorable conditions, 50 to 60 hours a week, for something like $1 or $2 per hour [ref].
  • There are millions of migrant farm workers in the United States living below the poverty line and often in deplorable conditions [ref] [ref].
  • There are millions of young millennials in the U.S. either stuck in minimum wage dead-end jobs, or with no jobs at all [ref].
The current socio-economic-political system used in the United States is leaving all of these millions of people in a terrible place economically. These millions of people are all willing to work. But when they do work, the socio-economic-political system that they are working under screws them. Therefore, these people have nothing to lose. Just about any new socio-economic-political system we can create would be better than the one that they are currently experiencing and living under.

How can we design a new socio-economic-political system that takes a million of these people, sends them to Mars, and guarantees a high-quality, nutritious food supply for every single one of them?

I would like to introduce you to a new way of thinking about food production for the Mars colony. We will fully develop this idea over the course of several chapters. What I would ask is that you approach it with an open mind.

Growing Potatoes on Mars Like Mark Watney

If you have read the book "The Martian" by Andy Weir [ref], or seen the movie [ref], you know that Mark Watney is the book's main character. And Mark is faced with a terrible situation. He is left for dead on the Planet Mars, but he is actually quite alive. Thus begins his survival story, and one of his big problems is food.

Mark has a supply of packaged meals meant to last a crew of six for a maximum of 60 days on the surface of Mars. This gives him 300 days of nutrition. He plans to ration this supply, limiting himself to 1,500 calories a day, so now he has a 400-day supply of food. But to last long enough for a rescue mission to reach him, he needs much more food than this.

His plan is to grow potatoes in his habitat module. To do this, he brings in many loads of dirt from the Martian surface and covers the floor of the habitat module with it. He then adds water to the dirt, along with poop of his own and the crew (left behind in a dehydrated state in the habitat's toilet). He plants his first crop starting with 12 seed potatoes (which NASA has sent on the mission so that the crew could have some semblance of a "real Thanksgiving dinner" on Mars). Mark Watney cuts up and plants these seed potatoes to generate a first crop, and then cuts up and plants this first crop to create a second crop that he can eat. He plans to repeat this process to extend his food supply for hundreds of days.

The point is that the colonists in a million-person Mars colony can grow food in Martian soil as long as they bring along some fertilizer and a starter sample of soil bacteria from Earth to turn sterile Mars soil into plant-supporting garden soil. [Various hydroponic or aquaponic systems are another possibility, but let's stick with traditional soil agriculture for this discussion.]

So as a thought experiment, let's try to get an idea of how much effort will be necessary for Mars colonists to grow their own food. To simplify things, and in honor of Mark Watney, let's initially assume that Mars colonists will get all of their calories from a single crop: potatoes. Yes, I know this is not practical in reality for several reasons like nutritional deficits and boredom with a single food. But for an initial pass on the thought experiment, a mono-crop is perfect because it provides for simplification in thinking. Let's figure out how much effort is required to grow enough potatoes to feed one million Mars colonists for a year.

If a human adult were to satisfy all of his/her caloric needs from potatoes, he/she would need something like 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day depending on things like gender, weight, muscularity and the amount of physical activity. Let's assume that each Mars colonist needs 3,000 calories a day to be on the safe side. One ounce of fresh potato has approximately 25 calories, so a single human being would therefore need something like 7.5 pounds of potatoes a day to supply 3,000 calories. That's about 2,750 pounds of potatoes per person per (Earth) year.

To grow that many potatoes, how much farmland does the Mars colony need? On Earth, you need 2,000 pounds of seed potatoes to plant an acre, and then you get between 25,000 and 35,000 pounds of potatoes as a crop [ref]. If we assume average yield is 30,000 pounds per acre, and keep in mind that we need to reserve 2,000 pounds for the next crop's seed, it means than we need approximately a tenth of an acre of land to grow enough potatoes to feed one Mars colonist for a year, assuming that we can grow one crop per year.

Each person in the Mars colony is going to participate in the farming process, so each colonist will volunteer the time to grow his/her supply of potatoes for the year. Each person in the Mars colony will volunteer the time needed to plant, cultivate and harvest the potatoes needed to supply his or her caloric needs for the year. This means that, each year, each Mars colonist will be tending a tenth of an acre of potato plants for about four months of calendar time. Much of that calendar time will in fact be spent waiting while the plants grow, so only about six weeks of actual work (240 hours) will be required of a colonist to produce a year's worth of calories to sustain the colonist.

A tenth of an acre is 4,356 square feet, or a plot of dirt 66 by 66 feet. Go look at a tennis court and double it. That is roughly the amount of space we are talking about. A tennis court measures 78 by 36 feet, so two tennis courts is 5,616 square feet for comparison.

Let's assume that the Mars colonists will do everything by hand, like Mark Watney does in the book "The Martian". Each person will therefore spend two weeks to cut up and plant 200 pounds of seed potatoes. Each person will spend two weeks during the growing cycle to cultivate the crop. For example, as the plants grow a colonist will need to move dirt to cover the growing potatoes like Mark Watney does. And each person will then spend two weeks harvesting and bagging the 3,000 pounds of potatoes that the plot yields (200 pounds of which will become seed potatoes for the next crop). In other words, a person will be bagging about 40 pounds of potatoes per hour (assuming 80 hours in two weeks). There are roughly three medium sized potatoes per pound, so that works out to about two potatoes per minute that are harvested and bagged.

What's the point of all of this analysis and thinking? If we assume that we use the human time of the Mars colonists themselves to grow the food for the Mars colony, then each Mars colonist will need to invest six weeks, or 240 hours, out of each year growing his or her food supply in potatoes. This example assumes that all of the farming is done purely with human effort (we have not yet added tractors, harvesters, etc. to the mix - we are growing the potatoes on Mars purely with human effort right now, like Mark Watney does in the book).

Think about what we have accomplished here. 240 hours divided across a year is 240 / 52 = less than 5 hours per week, on average, for a Mars colonist to produce his or her complete food supply. 5 hours per week is a remarkably small amount of work – and remember that we have used zero agricultural automation to achieve this result.

So imagine if we approach a million impoverished, hungry people on Earth and we say to them the following:

    ”Here is the proposition: Come with us to the Mars colony and work within the Mars colony’s new socio-economic-political system. In this system, we ask each colonist to contribute an average of 5 hours per week of your time, and in return you will receive 3,000 calories per day of food, 365 days a year.”
How do you think that impoverished, hungry people on Earth might respond to this proposal?

I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, "who in the world would want to eat nothing but potatoes every day for the rest of his/her life?" The answer is, "no one." The point of the example is to show how easy it is for the Mars colony to produce all of the calories it needs using nothing but a little human time from each colonist. If each person on Mars invests 240 hours of his/her time during the year (approximately 5 hours per week), each colonist can supply all of his/her caloric needs 365 days a year.

Creating a Wide Variety of High-Quality, Healthy Food on Mars

No one wants to eat just potatoes for a year, as described in the previous section. We all know that. It would be boring, and it would lead to a diet lacking in a number of important nutrients (most notably protein) needed for a healthy, balanced diet. So how do we create a wide variety of foods on Mars so that everyone has a high-quality, healthy diet?

If you look at a page like this [ref], you can compare potatoes to other crops like corn and wheat. Corn can create something like 15 million calories per acre [ref]. A human needs 3,000 * 365 = 1.1 million calories per year. So an acre of corn feeds 14 people per year. Corn supplies more calories per acre than potatoes. With wheat it would take four times more land than potatoes to supply all of the colony’s caloric needs. With soybeans it would take about twice as much land compared to potatoes. With broccoli it would take five times more land. And so on.

What we can see is that all of these different foods will have different "costs", in terms of the amount of human effort and the amount of land needed to grow them. A calorie of broccoli, for example, is more "expensive" than a calorie of potatoes because it takes a lot more land to grow a calorie of broccoli. The point is that the colonists will have to work a bit more, as a group, to create all of the calories they need when they start growing a wide variety of foods.

So let's assume that some of the colonists grow potatoes, some grow wheat, some grow soybeans, some grow vegetables like tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce and spinach, some tend fruit orchards and berry bushes, and so on. Everyone is still contributing their time, and if everyone slightly increases the amount of time they volunteer to account for the fact that some calories take more work time per calorie than others to grow, then the colony has a complete variety of foodstuffs. The one million people living in the Mars colony each invest ten weeks out of each year (400 hours per year) to produce all of the food the colony needs in this scenario. 400 hours / 52 weeks = 8 hours per week.

Delivering the High-Quality, Healthy Food to the Mars Colonists

How will all of this home-grown food be delivered to the one million Mars colonists? If we look at cruise ships as an example, the answer is simple: food that the Mars colonists grow is prepared in restaurants – commercial kitchens – and served to the customers. On a cruise ship, there are a variety of places to get food including large buffets, smaller restaurants, sandwich and snack shops, etc. This is the most efficient way to deliver high-quality food to people in terms of human time and materials. It also yields a huge variety of high quality meals for the people who are eating.

Anyone who has ever been on a cruise ship knows that the food is fantastic, it is virtually unlimited, and the food excellence is a big part of the cruise experience. If you have ever been to the buffet restaurant at a nice hotel, it is the same kind of thing – the food they serve is out of this world. The point is that the people staying on a cruise ship or staying in a hotel are not preparing meals on their own in their rooms. Instead, they go to common areas for eating – buffets, restaurants, snack shops – and they eat wonderful food there prepared by professionals [ref].

So think about food service in the Mars colony. The colony is essentially a cruise ship that sits in one place on Mars. The one million colonists help grow their food, and then they help prepare their food, and then they are able to go to a wide variety of eating establishments all over the colony whenever they get hungry. There can be a wide variety of restaurants, buffets, shops, etc. delivering every kind of food a person can imagine, all prepared by professionals.

So imagine that today you are living in a huge, festering, stinking slum in India, Africa, Brazil, China, etc. You may not know where your next meal will come from, and whatever it is, your meal will be terrible and not enough. And you have no options, nor any way to improve things. You are stuck in this disgusting slum for life most likely. Approximately one billion people are living in these slums on Earth today [ref]. The socio-economic-political system that has created the slums is serving a wretched existence to hundreds of millions of human beings each day. Imagine existing in a slum like this, and we say to you:

    “Hey, let us introduce you to a new socio-economic-political system, where you contribute a little bit of time to the system each week, and in return your every meal will me cruise ship quality, served to you in a restaurant, 365 days a year.”
What do you imagine that the response to that proposal might be from your typical slum dweller?

Handling Specialization and Work Assignments in the Mars Colony Food Production System

As you have been reading along, you may have noticed something. The people who are cooking the food and serving the food in the cruise-ship-quality restaurants of the Mars colony should not also need to be growing the food they need to eat. So we have introduced the first element of specialization into our Mars colony. How do we handle it? All one million people in the colony need to eat, and they will all be contributing time to the production of the colony’s food, but not everyone will be actually growing their own food individually. There will be some specialization of tasks.

The easiest and most equitable system to manage the distribution of tasks to the colonists would be to handle it in this way. There are a set number of tasks that need to be done every day to handle food production for the Mars colony. The set of tasks might look like this:

  • The colony needs a certain number of people planting potatoes today.
  • The colony needs a certain number of people cultivating potatoes today.
  • The colony needs a certain number of people harvesting potatoes today.
  • The colony needs a certain number of people transporting harvested potatoes to the restaurants today.
  • The colony needs a certain number of people peeling potatoes today.
  • The colony needs a certain number of people cooking potatoes today (in myriad forms – mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, potatoes au gratin, French fried potatoes, potato chips, potato/broccoli medley, etc. - in all of the different restaurants)
  • The colony needs a certain number of people planting wheat today.
  • The colony needs a certain number of people cultivating wheat today.
  • The colony needs a certain number of people harvesting wheat today.
  • The colony needs a certain number of people threshing/winnowing wheat today.
  • The colony needs a certain number of people grinding wheat into flour today.
  • The colony needs a certain number of people transporting flour to the restaurants today.
  • The colony needs a certain number of people cooking flour today (in myriad forms – bread, rolls, biscuits, tortillas, pasta, pancakes, cakes, cupcakes, cookies, crackers, cereals, etc. - in all of the different restaurants)
  • And so on...
It will be easy to write software that can look at the entire food production equation for the Mars colony – the amount of time it will take to grow all of the different foods, the amount of each of the different foods that people are consuming (e.g the colonists are likely to consume far fewer ounces of brussel sprouts each day, on average, than they do wheat), the amount of time needed to prepare and serve all of the different meals [ref], [ref], [ref], [ref], the amount of time needed to clean up, etc. Let's imagine that, on average, this totals up to 600 million hours of human effort that are required each year to completely handle all of the growing, cooking and serving of all of the food for the Mars colony each year. This means that each person in the Mars colony will contribute 600 hours per year of their time to food production. This is roughly 1.65 hours of a colonist's time each day. The software divvies this work up amongst the one million people who can do the work.

Who does what? There are several ways that the colony might distribute the workload for food production across the population:

  • Software can assign tasks to people in a random rotation. One day a person is planting potatoes for 1.65 hours on field #1,436. Another day a person is cooking gourmet French fries for 1.65 hours in the "American Bistro" restaurant. Another day a person is winnowing wheat for 1.65 hours in winnowing area #12. And so on. It is going to take time for a person to travel out to field #1,436, so the software accounts for that time. Because of the travel time, the software might ask a person to work 8 hours one day, and then do nothing for the next few days to even out the load.
  • Or people could sign up for 600 hours of tasks they prefer to be doing or enjoy doing for the year. They could also sign up for how they prefer their time to be allocated. One person might want to work 1.65 hours every day. Another person might want to work for 12 hours one day a week and have the rest of the week off. And so on. The software does not really care. If just gives everyone what they want.
It is likely that there would need to be a mix. If we allow people to freely sign up for tasks, there are certain tasks that no one may ever sign up to do. For example, people may be less likely to sign up for "washing dishes" than "baking bread". Everyone could help out with these less-wanted tasks by random assignment. Perhaps, out of every year, each Mars colonist needs to spend one hour cheerfully cleaning dishes in a restaurant in order to get that task done for the colony. No one really wants to wash dishes, say, so we ask everyone to wash dishes for one or two hours per year. It really would not be that big of a deal.

So we have shown how the one million people living in the Mars colony can grow, cook and serve all of the food that everyone needs. And this food is utterly fantastic, cruise ship quality food in essentially unlimited quantities for every Mars colonist. We have done this simply by assigning all of the tasks needed to grow, cook and serve the food to all of the Mars colonists using a piece of software that equitably delegates the tasks. The amount of work required of each colonist is completely manageable (and we have not even considered farm automation like tractors yet). In addition, we have eliminated all of the terrible problems we typically see in the socio-economic-political systems found on Earth today:

  • Everyone in the Mars colony gets all of the high quality food they need, 365 days a year, served to them in cruise-ship-quality restaurants.
  • There is no threat of “losing your income” or “losing your job” and therefore being cut off from your supply of food through lack of money.
  • There is no threat from any recession or depression bringing the economy down and cutting millions of people off from the food supply.
  • There is no threat of inflation raising food prices so that people are unable to afford food.
  • There is no threat from robots stealing people’s jobs and therefore cutting them off from their access to food. In fact, robots are welcomed rather than feared in this new socio-economic-political system, because robots reduce the effort needed from the one million colonists.
  • The food production system on Mars is not wasting billions of dollars on huge executive salaries, huge executive perks, private jet fleets for executives, enormous lobbying budgets, enormous advertising budgets, enormous dividends, and so on, as described in Chapter 3. The members of the Mars colony simply grow the food, cook the food, and enjoy the food by contributing a little bit of their time each week.
  • There is no inequality whatsoever. Everyone in the Mars colony contributes a little bit of their time to the food system, the colony's software equitably allocates all of the tasks, and everyone receives an essentially unlimited quantity of cruise ship quality food served in high quality restaurants.
Imagine offering a food system like this to the roughly one billion people on Earth today locked in disgusting slums [ref], or the tens of millions of Americans using SNAP (food stamps) because they cannot themselves afford the food they need to survive. Imagine if we said to these people:
    ”Here is the proposition: Come with us to the Mars colony and contribute a little bit of your time within the Mars colony’s new socio-economic-political system. In this system, we ask each colonist to contribute a few hours per week of your time, and in return you will receive 3,000 calories of fantastic cruise-ship-quality food per day, served to you in restaurants 365 days a year.”
People would jump at the chance to exist within a socio-economic-political system like this, because it is fantastic in every way compared to slums and food stamps.

You may have a question: "Why are we growing everything by hand? Why don't we use all of the farm equipment we have on Earth to drastically reduce the amount of time it takes to grow food in the Mars colony?" These are great questions, and farm equipment would be fantastic – all the colony needs to do is set up a small factory to make the equipment. Let's explore this option in the next chapter. The addition of farm automation like tractors and harvesters has a gigantic benefit – it drastically reduces the number of hours per year that Mars colonists will need to spend producing all of the food that the colony needs...

Chapter 5

Thought Experiment: What Happens When We Add a Massive Amount of Farm Automation to the Mars Colony?

Let’s quickly recap what we discovered in the previous chapter. We took one million people from Earth and transported them to the new Mars colony. The first necessity that we have started to take care of is the food production system for the colony. Right now this system is producing cruise-ship-quality meals, served in restaurants, for all one million colonists. In other words, every one of the Mars colonists is experiencing the kind of food excellence they would receive if they were passengers on a top notch cruise vacation. The only thing that each colonist needs to do to receive this food is to contribute a few hours of time into the system each week. We have seen that, from the perspective of the one million colonists, there are huge economic advantages to this system:

  • The food that the colonists are eating is of the highest quality, and served in virtually unlimited amounts, 365 days a year.
  • Each colonist gets to partake in the bounty of this system simply by contributing a few hours of his or her time each week.
  • There is no “economic crisis” that will cut any colonist off from this food system – it is not possible for there to be a “recession”, or a “depression”, or “inflation”, or “downsizing”, or “layoffs”, or “job loss” that can cause impoverishment for colonists and suddenly makes food inaccessible to them. The contribution of a few hours of time each week is all that is necessary for any colonist to receive the best food possible.
If you think this through, and especially if you think it through from the perspective of the billions of humans beings living in abject poverty around the globe today, you realize that what has happened here is nothing short of a miracle. We have started to imagine a new economic system for Mars that is utterly fantastic compared to the economic systems found on Earth today. The food for the Mars colony is readily available in virtually unlimited quantities, the food the colonists eat is of the highest quality possible, and the supply of food is completely secure for every Mars colonist.

When you go back and look at Chapter 4, however, there is one peculiarity about the whole thing that you may have found odd. All of the food – the grains, the fruits, the vegetables, the tubers and everything else, are all grown “by hand” in Chapter 4, just like Mark Watney grew his potatoes in the book “The Martian”. Even with that handicap, we found that each colonists needs to invest only about 600 hours per year, or roughly 12 hours per week, to be part of the fantastic food system on Mars. But still, why do all the work “by hand”?

The reason for this peculiarity in Chapter 4 is so that we can conduct a new thought experiment in this chapter, which is this: What happens if we now introduce a tremendous amount of new automation into the Mars colony? This is an extremely important question. Why? Because on Earth the introduction of automation can be quite disruptive. Any new automation eliminates jobs, and when people lose their jobs on Earth, it can be catastrophic.

The Catastrophe That Will Occur When 1.6 Million Truck Divers in America Lose Their Jobs

Think about a real example that is about to happen In the United States (and other developed countries) in the very near future. In the United States, there are approximately 1.6 million people who drive 18-wheeler trucks. And, generally speaking, these 1.6 million truck-driving jobs are “good jobs”. These jobs pay well, relatively speaking, and they often offer health insurance as a benefit: “The median annual wage for a trucker that works for a private fleet, such as a truck driver employed by Walmart, is $73,000, according to ATA. The Labor Department pegs the median annual salary for all truck drivers at around $40,000.” [ref]

What will certainly happen though, over the next decade or two, is that these 1.6 million “good jobs” will be lost as the truck drivers are replaced with self-driving, automated trucks. These 1,600,000 people will go from making good money to being utterly unemployed, with nowhere to go in the economy to replace their lost jobs. What are 1.6 million unemployed truck drivers going to do? Go stock shelves at Walmart or sling coffee at Starbucks for half the pay? No... because any Millennial will tell you that all of these jobs are taken already. The 1,600,000 truck drivers who lose their good jobs are going to be in a terrible situation: No income, and nowhere to turn in the economy to find a job to replace the lost income. This is how the economy works today in America, and it is terrible for each person who experiences it.

The point is that the robots and automation that are coming into today's U.S. economy are horrible for the people who inevitably lose their jobs. These newly unemployed people will have few options, and they will sink toward poverty. This process is known by such euphemisms as “the hollowing out of the middle class” and “technological unemployment”. It has disastrous ramifications for most of the people who are cast aside by new automation.

So think about this terrible situation with “technological unemployment” that is accelerating in America today and making lives miserable for millions of Americans. And let's compare it to what happens in the economy of the Mars colony when we introduce automation.

In Stark Contrast, The Huge Advantages of Automation on Mars

What happens on Mars when we introduce agricultural automation in the form of tractors, cultivators, harvesters and so on? In the new Mars economy we are imagining, instead of being a catastrophe, the new automation is a cause for joy and celebration. Let’s understand where all the joy comes from.

Take potatoes as a simple example. In Chapter 4, the Mars colonists produce the potatoes for the colony completely “by hand”. People dig the soil with a shovel or scoop, cut up seed potatoes with a knife, and then plant the pieces in the soil one at a time. While the crop is growing, the colonists use hoes or rakes both to kill any weeds that sprout, and also to mound the dirt up around the potato plants as they grow. Then the colonists harvest the potatoes by hand, digging them out of the ground and putting them in bins or bags. There is no machinery involved at all, and it takes about 6 weeks (240 hours) of time for a human to do all these tasks on a tenth of an acre of land. This six weeks of time yields 3,000 pounds of potatoes, 200 pounds of which becomes seed for the next crop. A Mars colonist can grow enough calories for a year with just 6 weeks (240 hours) of time invested on a tenth of an acre of land. Extrapolating, it works out to 2,400 hours of human time to grow one acre of potatoes.

Now let's add a bunch of farm automation to the process to radically reduce the amount of human time in the potato growing process:

  • We use a tractor to plow the soil, and an implement to plant the seed potatoes.
  • We use a tractor with a cultivator to take care of the weeds and mound up the soil around the potato plants.
  • We use a tractor and an implement to dig the potatoes out of the ground, and another implement to scoop the potatoes out of the field.
  • We use an automatic machine to wash and bag the potatoes.
Here is how potato farming works on modern farms today. The first video shows planting at a rate of up to 150 acres per day per planter. The second video talks about harvesting 450 acres a day with several harvesters:

Even in 1932, with the relatively primitive machines available then, the amount of human time needed to plant and harvest an acre of potatoes had fallen to about 77 hours per acre [ref]. By 1953 it was down to 63 hours of human time per acre [ref]. That's 60 years ago.

So let's run with this number: it takes 60 hours of human time to grow an acre of potatoes with basic farm machinery like tractors and cultivators. That compares to 2,400 hours of time it takes to grow an acre of potatoes like Mark Watney did in “The Martian” (which is to say completely by hand with a shovel and a hoe). This is a 40X improvement in human productivity.

2,400 hours down to 60 hours per acre for potato production is AMAZING. There is no question about it. And this 40X improvement in productivity is achieved simply by adding tractors and implements to the potato farming process. We have not added any advanced technology like robots to the mix – just simple mechanical stuff like tractors from 1953.

We are going to see these same kind of improvements for just about every crop grown by the Mars colony. For things like wheat, corn and soybeans, the improvements will be even better. It takes just a few hours of human time to plant and harvest an acre of wheat with modern farm equipment [ref]. It is easy to understand why. A large tractor can plow and harrow a wheat field in less than an hour. A seed drill can plant the field in less than an hour (and no-till seeding is even more efficient). A large combine harvester can cut, thresh and winnow an acre of wheat very quickly. It might take only 3 hours of human time to grow an acre of wheat using modern farm machinery.

But let's stick with the mere 40X improvement in productivity seen for mechanized potato production. In Chapter 4, where we were growing all of the food “by hand” for the Mars colony, it was taking 400 hours of human time per colonist per year for the Mars colony to grow its wide variety of foods. Now, by adding tractors and implements, we cut that time by a factor of 40. So that 400 hours drops to 10 hours of human time per colonist per year to grow all of the food. 10 hours per person per year for food production: It is crazy, but this is the reality of farm productivity with automation.

Now think about this amazing reduction of human time for food production, from 400 hours per colonist per year down to 10 hours:

  • Are any of the Mars colonists upset because they are “displaced from their jobs” by the addition of farm machinery? No, absolutely not. Instead, they are overjoyed by the reduction in time required of each Mars colonist. Instead of spending 400 hours per year in the fields growing food, each Mars colonist spends only 10 hours per year. That's an average of only 11 minutes per week! It is crazy to thing about it this way, but it is true.
  • Did any of the Mars colonists “lose their jobs” or “become unemployed” by the addition of this farm machinery, and therefore get cut off from income so they can no longer buy food? Of course not. Everyone gets all of the high quality food they need on Mars, 365 days a year, but it now takes far less time for each Mars colonist to produce the food. Just 11 minutes per colonist per week.
  • Is there any sort of social disruption or problems created by improving the efficiency of food production by a factor of 40? Not at all. Everyone is overjoyed by the increase in efficiency, and everyone shares in the benefits of it. Everyone in the colony benefits.
This is a gigantic advantage of the new socio-economic-political system proposed for Mars compared to the system seen in America today. Everyone on Mars benefits from efficiency improvements. There is no such thing as “technological unemployment” or “the concentration of wealth” for the Mars colonists with this new socio-economic-political system.

Where Do All of the Tractors Come From on Mars?

"Wait a minute," you might be thinking, "Where do these tractors and harvesters come from on Mars?" Doing all of the farming “by hand” on Mars makes sense, because all of the Mars colonists have hands. They can dig and plant crops by hand with little or no equipment beyond a shovel or a hoe.

But tractors take some investment. Tractors come from tractor factories, so where do they come from for the Mars colony?

The Mars colony will need to create small factories to produce tractors and other farm implements on Mars. There are plenty of raw materials on Mars to make things like iron and aluminum needed for the tractors, just as there are on Earth [ref]. The colony will need to mine and refine these raw materials as well. Then a small factory can produce the tractors.

In other words, the Mars colony will need to develop its own industrial capacity in order to take advantage of farm mechanization.

How many tractors does the Mars colony need? This is a very interesting question for two reasons:

  • We probably won't really have “seasons” in the Mars colony, because all of the farming will be happening in a climate-controlled environment, for example under glass or underground. Therefore the same amount of land can grow perhaps three crops per year compared to soil farming outdoors on Earth (where winter makes agriculture impossible for half of the year in places like Kansas and Idaho).
  • Farming is likely to happen under artificial lighting in many cases on Mars, and that will speed things up as well.
Let's ignore all of this for the time being, because it is difficult to know exactly how farming will work on Mars. Let's assume instead that we are growing potatoes “normally” on Earth, outdoors under sunlight in soil. This means we get one crop of potatoes per year and it takes about 4 months to produce it. Under these assumptions, we would need about 100,000 acres of land to grow a mono-crop of potatoes that can feed the entire Mars colony for a year. If we instead assume a wide variety of crops, it might take 500,000 acres of land total to grow the crops for one million people.

Under these assumptions, we can further assume that a tractor can handle 500 acres in a growing season [ref]. This means that the Mars colony needs only 1,000 tractors to get the job done for the whole colony. Let's further assume that 500 potato harvesters can cover the same amount of ground and make quick work of the potatoes in the ground once they are ready to harvest. Modern farm machinery can do a lot of work with just one machine. For example, large wheat harvesters on Earth can each harvest 3,000 acres of wheat in a growing season [ref]. It would only take 100 of these machines to harvest enough wheat to feed the whole colony.

Does it take a lot of human time to produce a tractor? Not really. For example, a modern factory on Earth can produce a complete automobile with less than 40 hours of human time [ref].

    "When Harbour adds up all the man-hours it takes to build a car or truck, including stamping, assembly, engine and transmission manufacture, Hyundai was seventh of seven majors, at 35.1 hours per vehicle in North America. Ford Motor Company was sixth, at 33.88 hours, a 3.7-percent improvement over last year, Nissan was fifth, at an estimated 32.96 hours, or 8.8 percent more time than the previous year, and GM was fourth, at 32.29 hours, a 0.2-percent improvement. Honda was third, at 31.33 hours, a 2.3-percent improvement."
Even if the small factories on Mars are much less efficient than automobile factories on Earth today, and taking into account the human time needed to mine, refine and move the raw materials like iron and aluminum, and build the factories, it would take less than one man-year of human time to produce one tractor. Since the Mars colony only needs 1,000 tractors total, and a tractor lasts much more than one year, it is a tiny investment in human time to make a tractor compared to the thousands of man-years of manual farming time needed to grow crops by hand. So let's work through this quickly and see what has happened:
  • In Chapter 4, we assumed that everyone would eat nothing but potatoes, because this makes it easy to think about the total food production needs on Mars. We found that it would take approximately 240 hours of human time per person per year to produce the potatoes.
  • Then we broadened our view to a wide variety of foods (including grains, fruits, vegetables, etc.), many of which take more time than potatoes to produce. We added time for each colonist to account for the addition of variety, so the total is 400 hours of human time per year per Mars colonist to produce all of the food the colony needs for a year.
  • Then we added time per colonist per year to account for the cooking and serving of foods in restaurants, along with washing dishes, etc.
  • Therefore, each Mars colonist needs to put in a total of 600 hours of human time per year to grow and prepare all of the food the colony needs, if all of the food is grown “by hand”.
Now we add farm machinery to the mix. The farm machinery reduces the amount of human time needed to grow food by a factor of 40. So 400 hours of human time per person per year to grow a wide variety of foods becomes 10 hours of human time per colonist per year, on average. Now it takes a member of the Mars colony only 210 hours per person per year to produce, cook and serve all of the food needed by the colony.

Now we need add to this number all of the time needed for producing the farm machinery. If we assume that it takes 2,000 hours of human time to produce and maintain a piece of farm equipment like a harvester or a tractor (including the time to produce raw materials like steel and aluminum), and we need 350*100 of these pieces of machinery to handle all of the food production, (100 different types of machinery, and then 350 copies of each machine, to handle all of the different kinds of food the Mars colony will produce), that works out to 2,000 * 350 * 100 = 70,000,000 hours of human time to produce farm machinery. However, we don't need to produce all of the machines in one year. If we assume a machine lasts 7 years, then each person in the colony, on average, only needs to devote just 10 hours per person per year to the production of farm machinery.

So the total cost of food production plus equipment production now totals only 220 hours per colonist per year. This is approximately 4 hours per week. Compared to 600 hours per year, this is a big improvement. And if you think about it, having everyone contribute four hours per week to produce all of the food that everyone in the colony needs (and this is food in huge variety, all prepared professionally and served in restaurants at the level of cruise-ship-quality), is an incredibly small amount of work that each Mars colonist needs to contribute.

Think about it this way. Let's assume that a Mars colonist eats 4 meals a day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, plus various snacks during the day that we will call another meal). There are 365 days in a year, so that is 365 * 4 = 1,456 meals per year. 220 / 1,456 = 9 minutes of human time per meal. A Mars colonist invests 9 minutes of human time and gets a cruise-ship-quality meal served in a restaurant. 36 minutes per day is what a Mars colonist contributes to get a day's worth of food.

Let's say we go to the hundreds of millions of people living on Earth in disgusting slums today, or the tens of millions of people using food stamps in America today, or the 65 million refugees wandering around on Earth looking for a place to live, or the billions of people living in poverty planet-wide, and we say to them:

    "Hey, we have a new economic system for you. If you will contribute 9 minutes of your time, we will give you a free cruise-ship-quality meal served in a restaurant. This is 36 minutes per day of your time contributed to get a whole day's worth of meals, served in restaurants, amounting to 3,000 calories per day (basically an unlimited quantity of food per day for most people)."
Do you think that people on Earth living in abject poverty might go for a system like this? Of course they would. This system is a miracle. It has incredible advantages over the economic systems found on Earth today for the vast majority of human beings on Earth.

What Happens to the Task Assignments for the Mars Colonists?

As mentioned in Chapter 4, there is a piece of software for the Mars colony that knows all of the tasks required to produce all of the food for the Mars colony every day.

  • It knows how much total food the colony consumes per day
  • It knows what types of foods the colony is eating
  • It knows how much food is getting thrown away
  • It knows when during the day everyone prefers to eat
  • It knows what upcoming events might change food habits (for example, more cranberry sauce gets consumed around Thanksgiving)
It is easy for the software to understand, manage and allocate all of the tasks needed to grow and prepare the food each day for the one million colonists who provide the human time needed by the colony.

With the addition of farm machinery, we can see that this software simply has a new set of tasks to manage. In order to produce farm tractors, for example:

  • The colony needs a certain number of people mining iron ore today
  • The colony needs a certain number of people turning iron ore into steel today
  • The colony needs a certain number of people making electric motors for the tractors today
  • The colony needs a certain number of people working on the battery assembly line today
  • The colony needs a certain number of people working on the tractor assembly line today
  • The colony needs a certain number of people repairing tractors today.
  • And so on...
If the Mars colony chooses to use tractors to help grow the food, then the colony needs to allocate people as needed to manufacture the tractors, to drive the tractors, etc. The colony also needs people to recharge the tractor batteries, to provide regular scheduled maintenance on the tractors to keep them running smoothly, to fix the tractors when they break down, etc.

If you think about all of this from a human perspective, you are going to realize that certain people in the colony are going to have certain preferences about the kinds of tasks they would prefer to do. Not to be stereotypical, but it is easy to imagine that a certain type of man might really enjoy servicing and maintaining tractor motors, while a certain type of woman might enjoy making cupcakes and frilly desserts. With training and practice and experience, these two people get better at their jobs, so the man can intuitively diagnose and repair an electric motor in 10 minutes, and the woman can make the best cupcakes the restaurant has ever served.

The point is that there is a certain advantage to be gained by the colony if there is some degree of specialization in the workforce. There is also an advantage to letting each person in the colony trend toward the types of roles that he or she has an affinity and preference for. If the cupcake woman hates getting her hands dirty, and hates chipping her nails when she handles nuts and bolts, and cannot lift a big electric motor easily because she is not strong enough, she probably is not going to want to work in a tractor factory. And by the same token, if the motor man thinks cupcakes are idiotic, and he has diabetes, and he really enjoys working with mechanical objects, then it would be silly to put him on the wedding cake detail in a bakery.

The software will be able to take into account and manage all of these preferences to a great degree. There are certain tasks that will be very popular, so the software can dole these out a little bit to each person who wants to try. Then there will be certain tasks that no one ever wants to do, and the software can parcel these out a little bit to everyone so that everyone gets to share the load. The software can also take into account training time for different tasks, travel times, whether certain tasks require certification of some sort (e.g. if the Mars colony were to have airplanes, no one gets to be a pilot without certification), etc. People in the colony can enter all of their interests, preferences and aspirations in, and the software will figure all of the task assignments out in a way that is equitable to everyone in the colony.

Adding Even More Robotics and Automation to the Mars Colony

Consider all of the new robotics and automation that are about to descend upon the restaurant industry in the United States. We are about to see an amazing transformation in restaurants:

  • Robotic cooks and chefs [ref], [ref]
  • Robotic food preparation machinery [ref], [ref], [ref]
  • Robotic dish washers [ref]
  • Robotic waitresses [ref]
  • Robotic bartenders [ref]
  • etc.
That 220 hours of time per colonist per year contains 200 hours of human time to staff the restaurants [ref], [ref], [ref], [ref]. The 220 hours will soon fall to 30 or 40 hours per year for each Mars colonist because the restaurants will all be automated too. A Mars colonist might soon have to contribute just half an hour per week to food production. It's crazy to think about it, but this is exactly where things are heading in terms of robots and automation. If you extrapolate a bit, it is easy to see that eventually a Mars colonist will need to contribute zero hours to food production, because robots will do everything. This is a couple of decades off, but it is a simple extrapolation and it is exactly where humanity is heading.

Do you see what has happened here? We have created an economy where every citizen in the economy is ecstatic when a new piece of automation comes along to make food production easier. Everyone in the colony is happy about adding farm machinery, because everyone benefits. Everyone in the colony benefits from improved productivity:

  • Number of hours of human time needed from each Mars colonist to produce, cook and serve all of the food for the Mars colony when it is all done by hand, before any farm machinery: 600 hours per colonist per year.
  • Number of hours of human time from each Mars colonist needed to produce, cook and serve all of the food for the Mars colony using farm machinery, including the time needed to produce the farm machinery: 220 hours per colonist per year.
  • Number of hours of human time from each Mars colonist needed to produce, cook and serve all of the food for the Mars colony once we add robots to do all of the cooking, serving and clean up: 30 to 40 hours per colonist per year.
  • Number of hours of human time from each Mars colonist needed to produce, cook and serve all of the food for the Mars colony once robots do everything in the food production process: 0 hours per colonist per year.
On Earth, under the existing economic systems found on Earth today, every new piece of automation displaces millions of people from their jobs (e.g. Truck drivers, as discussed previously) and causes an economic catastrophe. On Mars, any new piece of automation or any new robot means that all of the Mars colonists have less and less work to do, and everyone is overjoyed.

Notice that no one is worried about “losing their job” when the new farm machinery comes on line on Mars. No one loses their income and becomes homeless because of job elimination due to farm automation. Everyone is simply required to do less work each year to get the job of food production done for the colony. A group of engineers in the Mars colony will get creative, and eventually they produce robots that can run all of the restaurants for the Mars colony with little or no human input or supervision. That also is fantastic.

Also notice that if a new ship full of people from Earth lands on Mars, it is not a big deal. We can add these new arrivals to the Mars colony easily. They will need food, yes, but they also can provide the little bit of human time necessary to produce that food. The amount of human time required per colonist per year depends on the level of automation. As new people arrive, we have more people to grow food, and everything works out.

Understanding the Advantages of the Economic System on Mars

You can see that the economic model for the Mars colony, where people contribute their human time in return for their share of the total food production on Mars, is a fantastic thing for every Mars colonist. To reiterate the advantages mentioned in Chapter 4:

  • Everyone in the Mars colony gets all of the high quality food they need, 365 days a year, served to them in cruise-ship-quality restaurants.
  • There is no threat of “losing your income” or “losing your job” and therefore being cut off from your supply of food through lack of money.
  • There is no threat from any recession or depression bringing the economy down and cutting millions of people off from the food supply.
  • There is no threat of inflation raising food prices so that people are unable to afford food.
  • There is no threat from robots stealing people’s jobs and therefore cutting them off from their access to food. In fact, robots are welcomed rather than feared in this new socio-economic-political system, because robots reduce the effort needed from the one million colonists.
  • The food production system on Mars is not wasting billions of dollars on huge executive salaries, huge executive perks, private jet fleets for executives, enormous lobbying budgets, enormous advertising budgets, enormous dividends, and so on, as described in Chapter 3. The members of the Mars colony simply grow the food, cook the food, and enjoy the food by contributing a little bit of their time each week.
  • There is no inequality. Everyone in the Mars colony contributes a little bit of their time to the food system, the colony's software equitably allocates all of the tasks, and everyone receives an essentially unlimited quantity of cruise-ship-quality food served in high quality restaurants.
With the food problem solved, let's take a look at how the Mars colony will produce its clothing...

Chapter 6

How Will the Mars Colony Produce its Clothing?

After reading through the previous discussion on food in Chapters 4 and 5, we can see that the new economy proposed for the Mars colony has major advantages over the economies found on Earth today. Mars colonists simply invest a small amount of human time per person per year on food production. In return for this investment of 220 hours per year (about 36 minutes per day, or 4 hours per week), every Mars colonist receives cruise-ship-quality food served in restaurants in virtually unlimited quantities 365 days a year. In this sense, the economy proposed for the Mars colony is a miracle, especially if you are one of the billions of people on Earth today living in poverty (imagine going from "living in poverty" to "I am eating cruise-ship-quality food in restaurants in return for just a few hours of my time per week").

As more and more automation comes on line, everyone in the colony will have less and less work to do on food production. For example, once the colony has robots to cook and serve the food, the time requirement for food production will fall toward 30 or 40 hours per person per year.

Now we can take these ideas, and we can turn to the Mars colony's clothing.

Let's establish something important about clothing from the start – clothing seems to be an vitally important part of human nature. As far as we know, just about every human culture in every part of the world for the last several thousand years has used clothing in one form or another [ref]. When we look across Earth today, just about everyone wears clothes in some form or fashion. As best as we can tell, clothing is ingrained in human psychology [ref].

So we might start by asking: What would be the most economically efficient way to produce the clothing for the Mars colony? For this, think back to how a high school or college gym used to work several decades ago:

  1. Upon arriving at the gym, a person would grab a clean T-shirt of the appropriate size, a pair of shorts and a towel from hampers near the entrance. Shirts and shorts came in standard sizes like small, medium, large and extra-large, and the way you knew the size of the shirt or shorts you picked up is because the size was emblazoned on the front of the shirt in large, obvious letters.

  2. You would exercise, get all sweaty, and when you left the gym you would drop your sweaty clothes and your wet towel in another hamper near the exit of the locker room. The clothing would all be washed together in a central laundry facility.
Every time you came to the gym, you had fresh, clean gym clothes to wear, and you never had to do any laundry.

In the Mars colony, it could potentially work the same way. Presumably the Mars colony will be under a big glass bubble or underground, and therefore completely climate-controlled. Everyone could wear shorts and T-shirts all the time. And these shorts and T-shirts could all be completely standardized. Colonists could also use towels and sheets that are all the same. Everything could be made from cotton that is grown for the colony in the same way the food is grown. When clothing gets dirty, they all go to a central laundry facility where everything gets washed and dried with maximum efficiency [ref], [ref].

One advantage of this system is that no one would ever need to think about clothing or laundry, and no one would need to worry about “fashion” or “style”. Another advantage is that this system would be maximally efficient in the use of human time and resources. The efficiency of clothing produced using modern farm and factory techniques is astonishing. If everyone were wearing the same thing, then the efficiency would be spectacular.

How efficient? Today on Earth nearly every part of clothing production has been mechanized [ref], [ref]. It takes about 4 hours of human time to grow an acre of cotton using modern machinery. An acre yields 750 pounds of cotton, or enough to make about 1,800 T-shirts. The acts of ginning, cleaning, spinning and weaving the cotton are completely automated today, meaning that the amount of human time that goes into making a single T-shirt is extremely low – just a minute or so [ref], [ref]. If we estimate that a member of the Mars colony had to contribute 20 hours per person per year to help make all of the standardized T-shirts, shorts, underwear, socks, towels and sheets needed by the Mars colony (along with producing all of the machinery that makes this efficiency possible), we would be overestimating. There is so much automation in the production of clothing that the total human time required per simple garment is minimal, even when we factor in the time to make all of the time-saving machines.

It is easy to imagine a Mars colony where everyone is wearing identical, undyed cotton T-shirts and shorts, all laundered in a central facility, and to understand the efficiency of this arrangement. People would not need a closet full of clothing, most of which sits idle 99% of the time. They would need what they are wearing today, and perhaps what they will be wearing tomorrow. They could leave dirty laundry outside the door, and robots could come by and pick it up each night, delivering a fresh set of clothes at the same time. Households would not need washers and dryers that sit idle almost all of the time. Instead, all of the identical clothing is washed in a central facility, and no one in the Mars colony has to waste their individual time on laundry.

But would everyone in the Mars colony be willing to live this way, wearing identical, simple clothing? Walking down the street of any modern city on Earth today and looking at what the people are wearing tells us otherwise. Human beings seem to enjoy expressing their individuality through clothing. People want different colors, different styles, different fabrics, different fits:

  • Some people like tight-fitting black clothing made of stretchy fabrics.
  • Some like blue jeans made of thick cotton that fits loosely, and a loose-fitting cotton T-shirt.
  • Some like short skirts that are hot pink, while some prefer long dresses in sedate earth tones.
  • Some people prefer the lumberjack look, while others wear business suits.
  • And so on...
Many human beings enjoy participating in the experience of shopping and fashion, and want to wear the newest styles. A spiky high heel shoe is completely impractical, and may sit idle in the closet 364 out of 365 days in a year. But that does not prevent stylish women on Earth today from wanting to buy and wear spiky high heels, even if the cost of spiky high heels from the “right” designer is 100 times greater than the cost of a pair of canvas sneakers at Walmart. Direct experience tells us that this seems to be human nature. Hundreds of millions of women behave this way.

The way to address all of this clothing variability is to embrace it in the Mars colony. People do like to express their individuality through clothing, so the Mars colony can make the production of every kind of clothing possible, in every color, style and fabric imaginable. This will increase the amount of human time involved, yes. But this is fine, because each colonist can choose the amount of time he/she individually wants to devote to clothing production, as we will see. Also keep in mind that we will soon be able to use modern robotic techniques, so that the amount of human time will fall nearly to zero for many types of clothing [ref].

Where do new designs and new apparel fashions come from on Mars?

Where do new designs and new apparel fashions come from? On Earth, if you think about it, the number of designers we are able to experience and the number of clothing outlets is highly limited. One way that the Mars colony can radically improve in the area of innovation is to open up the design process to anyone who wants to contribute. It is a big difference compared to how it is done on Earth today.

Imagine that a teenager on Earth today wants to create her own line of clothing and make it available to the general public. It would be nearly impossible for her to do it today on Earth because of:

  • the amount of time and money needed to start a new business
  • the amount of time and money needed to line up production facilities and manufacture the clothes.
  • the amount of time and money needed to store inventory, and manage the supply and distribution chains
  • etc.
It takes a huge amount of capital to make all of this happen. Then getting retailers to accept the line and sell the clothes is a whole separate problem. And along the way there are also likely to be a number of ethical conundrums that arise. For example, many of the clothes that people in the United States wear today are sewn together by impoverished people in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc., and these people are making tiny amounts of money in near-slavery conditions in return for their human time [ref], [ref]. No thoughtful human being with a conscience can condone the brutality of modern clothing production on Earth today, yet this system is nearly universal.

On Mars, things can be radically better in every way when it comes to the creation of clothing and new clothing fashions. Let's imagine that a person in the Mars colony would like to wear a new style of skirt that has never been seen before. She draws up sketches of it, and sews together a prototype. After a few tweaks and modifications, she loves it, and so do her friends. They want copies of the skirt too. This design goes into the design library for the Mars colony. Now anyone who wants a copy of this skirt can request it, and it can be made to order. When the skirt arrives, it contains a label that credits the designer who contributed it to the design library, acknowledging her contribution.

A person who creates popular designs will become famous among the fashionable members of the Mars colony. Mars colonists will eagerly await new designs from the designer. People will create blogs/videos/magazines about the new designs they like, and the new designers as they appear on the scene. Fans will organize fashion shows where people can see the new designs on models. They will organize classes and write tutorials so that people unfamiliar with the design process can learn how to design their own clothes and submit them into the system. How do we know this? Because all of it happens on Earth today. People have energy around fashion.

The result would be a gigantic catalog of different clothing styles and fashions from which anyone in the Mars colony can choose their apparel.

What about Shoes?

Shoes are an important part of fashion. How will they be made for the Mars colony?

The important thing to understand is that shoes are simply manufactured objects, like just about anything else that consumers buy in the marketplace. A manufactured object is a combination of machine time and human time that assemble the object. This video shows the processes and steps that go into making an Adidas running shoe:

An Adidas running shoe has just a few minutes of human time involved, even when you count the time to build all of the machines that you see in the video.

What about something more complex like a hiking boot?

The amount of human time per shoe is finite, and small. Pieces of fabric are cut and sewn together, and then the sole of the shoe is glued on.

Prefer something more upscale? What about a Louis Vitton loafer?

There is a bit more human time involved with these shoes - maybe up to a half hour per pair.

What about high heel shoes? There is nothing magical about them:

Every pair of shoes is nothing more than bits of leather and/or fabric sewn together and combined with the sole using machines and a little bit of human time.

Understanding the "Cost" of Clothing on Mars

How much does a piece of clothing "cost"? Its "cost" is determined by the amount of human time needed to produce it, and this human time can be contributed to the system by the person who wants to wear the piece of clothing. As a simple example, let's say that a person wants a new T-shirt. The "cost" of the shirt includes:

  • The human time needed to grow the cotton for the shirt. We saw earlier that it takes just 8 or 10 seconds of human time to grow the cotton that goes into the shirt.
  • The human time needed to spin and weave the cotton into fabric, again just a few seconds because the process is so automated today.
  • The human time to cut and sew the fabric together. [ref], [ref]. This is perhaps a minute per shirt in a modern factory (with human operators, not robots). Once robots start doing this work, the amount of human time falls [ref].

What about more complicated clothing? If you watch this video on blue jeans [ref], [ref], you can see that jeans are a complex piece of clothing:

One pair of jeans contains 15 to 20 different cloth panels, hand sewn buttons, a zipper, studs, and complex seams. It might take 30 minutes of human time, all in, to produce a pair of designer blue jeans. A shirt is far simpler, as is a skirt or a blouse. So imagine a person at the very highest end of the fashion scale who wishes to have a new piece of clothing every day. This is 365 pieces of new clothing a year. If each item of clothing requires 15 minutes (on average) of human time to make, it means that the person's clothing habit is requiring 91 hours per year of human time. This works out to about two hours per week. This is the worst case scenario one can imagine when it comes to clothing, and it is only 91 hours per year of human time.

Where do these hours of human time for clothing production come from? The person who wants the clothing contributes the hours to the system. There are many, many people who will be happy with owning a few pairs of shorts and T-shirts. They will only need to contribute a few hours of their time per year to meet their clothing needs. Someone who wants a lot of clothing will simply contribute more hours to the system.

The logic here is simple. If a person wants to have an item of clothing that requires 15 minutes of human time to produce, then the person contributes 15 minutes of human time into the system. The person might contribute the time toward directly making the piece of clothing, or the contributed time could be done in another sector (like food preparation), while someone else who has specialized makes the item of clothing.

The software system described in Chapters 4 and 5 keeps track of all of the tasks in the Mars colony that need to be done, and portions them out to the Mars colonists in an efficient and organized way. At this point there are a number of different areas for the Mars colonists to work:

  • Growing different kinds of food (fruits, vegetables, grains, tubers, etc.)
  • Transporting food to restaurants
  • Cooking food in restaurants
  • Serving food in restaurants
  • Clean up in restaurants
  • Working in small factories to produce agricultural equipment
  • Growing cotton for clothing
  • Producing different artificial fibers for clothing (polyester, nylon, rayon, spandex, etc.)
  • Spinning fibers into thread
  • Weaving thread into cloth
  • Cutting fabric for garments
  • Sewing garments together
  • Sewing shoes together
  • Working in small factories to produce garment machinery (looms, sewing machines, cutters, etc.)
All of these tasks (even the simplest ones) will require different amounts of training. For example, driving a tractor, operating a sewing machine, assembling a part for a harvester, operating a power loom, cooking a steak or a cake properly, etc. are all tasks that will require some amount of training and certification. The system can take these training times into account as well, and cross-train people in a variety of tasks based on their preferences.

You can see that the economic model for the Mars colony, where people contribute their human time in return for the clothing they desire on Mars, is a fantastic thing for every Mars colonist. To reiterate the advantages mentioned in Chapter 5:

  • Everyone in the Mars colony gets all of the high quality clothing they need. They can choose their clothing from a huge catalog of designs.
  • There is no threat of “losing your income” or “losing your job” and therefore being cut off from your supply of clothing through lack of money.
  • There is no threat from any recession or depression bringing the economy down and cutting millions of people off from the clothing supply.
  • There is no threat of inflation raising clothing prices so that people are unable to afford clothing.
  • There is no threat from robots stealing people’s jobs and therefore cutting them off from their access to clothing. In fact, robots are welcomed rather than feared in this new socio-economic system, because robots reduce the effort needed from the one million colonists.
  • The clothing production system on Mars is not wasting billions of dollars on huge executive salaries, huge executive perks, private jet fleets for executives, enormous lobbying budgets, enormous advertising budgets, enormous dividends, and so on, as described in Chapter 3. The members of the Mars colony simply make their clothing by contributing a little bit of their time each week.
  • There is no inequality. Everyone in the Mars colony contributes a little bit of their time to the system, the colony's software equitably allocates all of the tasks, and everyone receives the clothing they desire.
The other thing to notice is the very small amount of time needed to make clothing. Just two hours a week will be enough for a person to have a new item of clothing every day. The average person will want/need much less than that. Let's assume that the whole million-person colony will be investing 50 million hours per year in clothing production.

Now that we have covered the necessities of food and clothing, let's move to another essential: housing...

Chapter 7

How Will Housing Work for the Mars Colony?

Where are the one million people in Elon Musk's new Mars colony going to live? What will their housing look like out of the thousands of options possible [ref]? It is a hugely important question for the colony because housing is the "most expensive" thing that most normal people do on Earth.

On Earth today, housing has become a major problem. We have already seen that, on Earth, about a billion people are forced to live in slums:

This article from McKinsey [ref] reports:

    "Decent, affordable housing is fundamental to the health and well-being of people and to the smooth functioning of economies. Yet around the world, in developing and advanced economies alike, cities are struggling to meet that need. If current trends in urbanization and income growth persist, by 2025 the number of urban households that live in substandard housing—or are so financially stretched by housing costs that they forego other essentials, such as healthcare—could grow to 440 million, from 330 million. This could mean that the global affordable housing gap would affect one in three urban dwellers, about 1.6 billion people."
In the United States, the cost of housing has risen substantially over the last few decades. In 1950, an average house cost about 2X the average household income. Today it is more like 4X, and in urban areas it can be much worse. Rents are rising too, to the point where living in a city as a "normal person" is becoming difficult. As this article [ref] points out:
    "Now, America faces a rather dire housing predicament: buying and renting are both unaffordable. Or, as WSJ put it last month, "households are stuck between homes they can’t qualify for and rents they can’t afford."

    We’ve seen evidence of this across the country with perhaps the most telling statistic coming courtesy of The National Low Income Housing Coalition who recently noted that in no state can a minimum wage worker afford a one bedroom apartment.

    In this context, Bloomberg is out with a list of 13 cities where single-family rents have risen by double-digits in just the last 12 months. Note that in Iowa, rents have risen more than 20% over the past year alone."

The entire housing equation is growing extremely uncomfortable across planet Earth.

On Mars, the expectation is that every Mars colonists will have roomy, safe, high-quality housing. Housing, perhaps more than anything else, will define the "quality of life" for the Mars colonists. We have to solve the housing problem if the Mars colony is going to work.

In terms of thought experiments, several questions that immediately come to mind with housing include:

  • How much housing does a human being need to be comfortable at home? How much personal “home” space does a human need to be happy?
  • Might different types of people want/need more or less space to feel comfortable? For example, what if introverted people need a different amount of space than extroverted people? Or does it all even out, and everyone is pretty much the same?
  • Does anyone on Mars deserve more space than anyone else gets? Why?
  • How much choice do humans need when it comes to housing in order to feel satisfied? If we offer a single housing option to every Mars resident, a one-size-fits-all kind of approach, will members of the Mars colony be happy with this? Or do we need to offer a hundred housing options, with many variables on each option, so people have myriad possibilities to choose from when it comes to housing? “And for your restroom fixtures Mrs. Jones, do you prefer chrome, gold plated, brushed nickle, white, black, or something more colorful?”
  • What kind of density is appropriate for the Mars colony?
  • How will the housing be constructed?
  • How much will housing cost?
  • Where will the housing be located?
The first questions are interesting because they all have to do with human psychology. What really are the needs of a human being when it comes to housing? This article [ref] suggests:
    "Still, there is some research suggesting that putting people in tightly-packed living situations can affect their well-being. Housing crowding in adults has been linked to social withdrawal, stress, and aggression. Recent research also suggests there might be a trickle-down effect for children raised in these spaces who, theoretically, might find it difficult to find a quiet, private space to read and complete their schoolwork.

    Analysis of U.S. data by two Syracuse University professors found that kids who spent high school in crowded households — defined in the study as a home with more family members than rooms — were less likely to graduate high school and complete college by age 25. The study controlled for socioeconomic factors, suggesting that the lack of space had an isolated effect. “Household crowding during one’s high school years is an engine of cumulative inequality over the life course,” wrote the study’s authors.

This video shows that a lot can be done to improve the quality of life in higher-density structures (This is in Singapore, one of the highest-density environments on Earth):

The "Where will the housing be located?" question is fascinating to think about. Housing a million people on Mars could represent a huge amount of land, depending on how the colony constructs its dwellings. And we do not know right now exactly how people in the colony will be protected from the natural Mars environment. Will the city be built under a big glass bubble? Will it be built underground? Will it be built with individual, unprotected dwellings out on the surface of Mars? If you would like to explore different possibilities, these videos can help get a sense of the thinking involved:

  • This first video discusses the idea of putting the city of Houston under a one-mile-diameter (1.6 km) dome:

  • This video discusses the idea of putting a city underground:

  • These two videos show what different individual dwellings on the surface of Mars might be like:

For the sake of this discussion, let's assume that the Mars colony will use a dome configuration on the Martian surface. The dome encases the Mars colony and provides an Earth-like atmosphere and temperature. In other words, everyone will be living under the dome, which will have a climate-control system that provides San Diego summer-like weather 24x7. All farming, housing and living can therefore be done "in the open" under the protection of the dome. Mars colonists can walk around in shorts and T-shirts all the time if they wish, because the temperature will always be 72 degrees F (22 degrees C).

How Much Will This Protective Dome "Cost"?

Let's imagine that the Mars dome can be designed so that its entire construction and maintenance is done by robots. In addition, let's assume that the dome is constructed from materials that are easily found and mined on the Martian surface, and that robotic factories can easily construct the dome's panels. If this is the case, then the time investment from the Mars colonists will be minimal. Each colonist might need to contribute 10 to 20 hours per year helping to construct and maintain the robots. Once constructed, the robots will do everything else to handle the dome.

What if the Mars colonists need to help construct the dome? They will certainly have some amount of automation to help, but what we do not know is what the human level of effort will be. So let's try some numbers:

  • If we assume that the dome is built from 10-foot by 10-foot (3-meter by 3-meter) panels, and it takes one hour for a human to bolt one panel in place, then it will take approximately 436 hours for a human to put a dome over each acre of land. (one acre = 4,047 square meters or 0.4047 hectares)
  • If we assume that the dome is built from 10-foot by 10-foot (3-meter by 3-meter) panels, and it takes 15 minutes for a human to bolt one panel in place, then it will take approximately 109 hours for a human to put a dome over each acre of land.
  • If we assume that the dome is built from 10-foot by 10-foot (3-meter by 3-meter) panels, and it takes one hour for four humans to bolt one panel in place, then it will take approximately 1,744 hours of human time to put a dome over each acre of land.
Why does this matter? It matters because it affects the density of housing we might choose to construct. If robots build the dome with minimal human intervention needed, then the dome is essentially free and its "cost" becomes irrelevant. On the other hand, if it takes 1,744 hours of human time to create an acre of dome, this is essentially a solid year of human effort per acre. We might choose to make the housing much denser to reduce the amount of dome that needs to be built.

Now let's look at different housing densities that could be used on Mars....

How Should the Housing on Mars Be Configured?

How much housing does a human being need to feel comfortable, safe and psychologically balanced? What different kinds of housing density do people use on Earth? How do different housing densities look and feel? We explore all of these questions in this section.

15 square feet per person

How minimal can housing get for a human being? To answer this question, we can look at the bunking arrangement found on submarines in the U.S. Navy [ref], [ref]. In a submarine, space is tight because space is expensive. Therefore, a sailor on a submarine gets a berth, or small bed, along with a very small amount of storage space for personal effects. The total space allotted to a sailor is approximately 15 square feet, and these bunks are stacked three high in a narrow hallway. When you consider the hallway space needed to access the bunks, three people can sleep in an area occupying about 30 square feet of floor space, or 10 square feet of floor space per person. You can see how dense submarine quarters can get in this video:

If you look at how astronauts and cosmonauts sleep on the International Space Station, the accommodations are similar in size, and there is also a communal restroom and kitchen area that everyone shares.

A capsule hotel is the same idea in terms of space, but far more "luxurious" when compared to a submarine berth:

What if we use this kind of dense berthing concept for everyone in the Mars colony? This means that one million people on Mars can be packed incredibly tightly. One million people can be housed in a surprisingly small space if everyone is sleeping in a capsule hotel room as seen in the previous video. The Mars colony could build a single 20 story building that is 1,000 feet by 1,000 feet square (300 meters by 300 meters) and that would do it. A building this size would include plenty of space for hallways, communal restrooms, stairs, elevators, ventilation, etc. It's crazy to think about it, but people in stacked berths or capsule hotels take up remarkably little space.

If we were to hot bunk people, so that a person only gets a berth for 12 hours of the day, we could cut housing space in half again. Hot berthing is common on submarines.

As a Mars colonist, would you like to sleep in a tiny stacked berth for the rest of your life? Probably not. While this submarine-like berthing arrangement is extremely efficient and might work in principle – each person in the Mars colony now has a place to sleep and to store a few personal items – it is unlikely that many people would like to live this way for years at a time. Cramming people together this closely, with so little privacy, is also likely to cause Mars colonists to go stir crazy [ref]. People would probably prefer to have some private space to stretch out, move around in, and get away from other people. Couples and families might also prefer a little more privacy so they can spend time alone together.

70 square feet per person

Therefore let's consider a model more like a college dormitory. This is the model used at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica, probably the most remote base to be found on planet Earth today. Each person here gets a private 10 foot by 7 foot room, with communal bathrooms at the end of the hall. Each room comes with a raised bed (allowing storage underneath), a desk and chair with a lamp and Internet connection, and a small dresser/closet [ref].

About 30 people at the Antarctic base share each communal restroom area (one for each wing of the building), and they also share restroom cleaning duties by taking turns on the restroom cleaning crew. This arrangement would probably offer significant psychological benefits for the inhabitants compared to stacked berths. A single person would get one room like this. A couple would get the space of two adjoining rooms, connected together. A family of four would get four adjoining rooms, and so on.

NASA has a program called HI-SEAS (Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) that tries to model a small number of people living in a simulated Mars habitat. The habitat is described like this [ref]:

    "The dome is 36 feet in diameter, with a volume of 13,570 cubic feet that allow for two floors. The kitchen, dining area, bathroom, lab, exercise area, and common spaces are on a 993-square-foot ground floor. The crew bedrooms make up 424-square-feet of the top floor; and a 160-square-foot workshop, converted from a steel shipping container, is attached to the outside of the dome.
The 424 square feet of bedroom space is shared by six crew members, working our to 71 square feet per crew member. This is exactly the same space per person seen at the Antarctic base.

100 square feet per person

While communal restrooms may work in a college setting and in barracks, and they maximize efficiency, there is a notable movement away from this style of housing in the United States and the developed world. It is likely that every hotel room you have stayed at in America has a private restroom, for example. Therefore we could consider the cruise ship model to house the one million Mars colonists. In a typical cruise ship cabin, each room includes a small restroom and shower, a desk, a single large bed or two smaller beds, and a sofa or seating area with a TV. Each couple gets approximately 200 square feet (100 square feet per person).

Things like private restrooms are interesting to think about from a psychological standpoint. They are extremely inefficient in terms of space and cost because a private restroom is unused 95% of the time. It is far more efficient and inexpensive to use communal restrooms. However, people seem to overwhelmingly prefer private restrooms. From a psychological standpoint, therefore, private restrooms and showers in each room are likely to be preferable for the Mars colony.

Even with private rooms and private restrooms as seen on a cruise ship, it only takes ten or so buildings measuring 1,000 x 1,000 feet by 20 stories to easily house a million residents in the Mars colony.

625 square feet per person

Do we need to consider more space? For example, the average single-family home in America today measures approximately 2,500 square feet [ref]. If we assume that four people are sharing a home like this, this is six times bigger again than a cabin on a cruise ship (4 people would share two cabins on a cruise ship, and the cabins consume 200 square feet each, or 100 square feet per person. A 2,500 square foot house is six times bigger, or 625 square feet per person). A home like this typically has a living room, dining room, family room, kitchen, four bedrooms and an equal number of bathrooms. This seems quite luxurious, especially when compared to stacked berths at an average of 15 square feet per person. But even so, if put into apartment-style structures, all of this housing could be done with just 60 or so buildings.

Imagine this: One million people move to Mars and each one of them gets 625 square feet of living space along with a private restroom. We build 64 buildings measuring 1,000 feet by 1,000 feet (300 x 300 meters) by 20 stories high. We arrange these buildings in an 8 by 8 grid with 500 feet (150 meters) of spacing between the buildings. One million people could fit into an area of land that is about 2 miles by 2 miles, or 4 square miles at this density. This is 250,000 people per square mile – an extremely high density for human habitation.

Single-family detached dwellings

What about single-family detached dwellings? In other words, what if we model Mars housing off the American suburban housing model? There is an fascinating community known as “The Villages” in Florida [ref] that we can use as a template. 150,000 residents live in detached homes on small suburban lots, with the housing surrounding a community center, community square, shopping and golf course. From the air, The Villages looks like this (scroll around and zoom in/out to get the big picture):

The density in "The Villages" can be as high as about 3 houses/lots per 10,000 square feet, or 3,400 square feet of land consumed per home. We can bump the lot size up to 4,000 square feet to account for the street space. Assume that for a million people we need 250,000 of these houses. This is 1 billion square feet of suburban dwellings. This arrangement would have a footprint of approximately 6 miles by 6 miles (10 km x 10 km) of domed space to house a million people.

If we were to double the lot size, then the Mars colony needs something approaching 2 billion square feet of land. This is square area measuring approximately 10 by 10 miles (16x16 km), or 100 square miles (64,000 acres or 26,000 hectares) of domed space.

Also note that the two different styles of housing (berths vs. suburban style) represent two completely different transportation situations. Getting from one side to the other of a 100 square mile suburban city is much different than taking the elevator to a different floor and then walking a few hundred feet in a single building filled with one million stacked berths.

On the other hand, a city of 250,000 individual, detached houses might be significantly better, psychologically, than a million stacked berths in a single building. The only way to find out for sure would be to build different styles of experimental cities here on Earth, with different styles of housing, and understand how people really function in them (see Chapter X for more details on experimental cities on Earth). Given that there are currently 65 million refugees looking for places to call home, along with untold millions more people living in appalling slums, these experimental cities would be easy to fill no matter what form the housing takes.

180,000 square feet per person

Do we ever need Mars mansions? Should a small number of people on Mars get to live in 66,000 square foot homes like Bill Gates does on Earth [ref], while others are relegated to stacked berths with 15 square feet per person? Or what about the Biltmore mansion in North Carolina, which is "the largest privately owned house in the United States, at 178,926 square feet." [ref]. Should anyone in the Mars colony get a home this large?

Conversely, what if we gave every resident on Mars 66,000 square feet of living space? [ref] After all, if one person deserves it, why not everyone? Perhaps, psychologically, we would all feel much happier and more fulfilled if we each had our own 66,000 square foot domicile to roam around in, with its 24 restrooms and 6 kitchens. This seems ridiculous, doesn't it? It feels ridiculous for a single person to need 24 restrooms – it seems like a huge waste of resources and productivity.

And it seems like there is certainly a point of diminishing returns:

  • Is a person living in a 66,0000 square foot house twice as happy as a person living in a 33,000 square foot house? Probably not. Nor is a person living in a 10,000 square foot house twice as happy as a person living in a 5,000 square foot house.
  • But it is probably the case that a person living in a cabin on a cruise ship, with 100 square feet of space per person and a private restroom for each couple, is twice as happy (maybe 10 times as happy) as a person hot bunking in stacked berths with a tiny restroom shared by 40 people, as seen on a submarine.

How do we find the sweet spot? How would we decide how much space people need to be happy, and how much space the colony on Mars can afford to give them? This comes down to things like the availability of raw materials, productivity of the Mars colony, fairness, human psychology (as determined by experiments in experimental cities on Earth), etc.

We do not normally think about society or housing here on Earth in these ways. Housing is an immense hodgepodge on Earth, and it has no rhyme or reason. There is no "fairness" at all when it comes to housing on Earth, and the options people have to choose from are often dismal. If you happen to be born into a wealthy family in America, you get fantastic housing. If you happen to be born into a poor family living in a slum in India, your housing is a tiny, unsafe, ramshackle, disease-ridden catastrophe, and it is unlikely that you will ever escape. The Mars colony gives us the opportunity to evaluate what “adequate housing” should actually mean for human beings, and what each human actually needs to be psychologically comfortable.

Once we do the experiments and understand what adequate housing will look like for long-term living in the Mars colony, we can start applying this knowledge on Earth today to make life far better for billions of people. Just like the Mars colonists, each of the seven billion people on planet Earth should receive safe, spacious, comfortable housing too.

In Chapter 8 we will look at what it will take to build all of this housing on Mars...

Chapter 8

Coming Soon!

This is a serialized book
with a new chapter each week!
Please mark your calendar and
come back on May 1, 2017
for the next chapter installment!

You may also enjoy this in-depth interview, "Marshall Brain on Singularity 1on1: We're approaching humanity’s make or break period":

See Also

About the Author
Robotic Nation
Robots in 2015
Robotic Freedom
Robotic Nation FAQ
Robotic Nation Evidence
Basic Income
Discard your body
Manna - the book
Science on the Brain
Careful Parents
Star Wars
How God Works

How to make a million dollars

LATimes Editorial
Geek of the week

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