Opinion – The Financial Flaws in Elon Musk’s Mars Colonization Plans


Elon Musk’s Space X needs to land humans on Mars by 2026. That issues as a result of Musk’s imaginative and prescient of people as a multi-planet species with a lowered danger of extinction from a disaster on Earth is wise. Spreading your dangers is rational if survival is your aim. Musk is a visionary, and he does know that colonizing the Pink Planet will probably require a fleet of reusable spaceships, an enormous funding of capital which will by no means be recouped, courageous pioneers keen to die within the journey, and finally a resident inhabitants that appears like Mars is dwelling. Nevertheless, what Musk doesn’t know is how his settlers will earn cash on Mars that may be spent again on Earth.

Musk’s current tweets present that he understands the daunting hen and egg downside of creating an extraterrestrial colony. Profitable colonization on Earth has at all times benefited from precursors in some type. Earlier than the Fashionable Period, that means previous to 1500 AD, it at all times relied on the existence of life being already current. For the reason that Fashionable Period, it nearly at all times relied on the existence of pre-existing human habitation. The Polynesians who would develop into the Māori may colonize uninhabited New Zealand/Aotearoa as a result of plant and animal life had been already there in abundance and the British may colonize New Zealand/Aotearoa as a result of the Māori had been already there to commerce with. Neither the Māori nor the British needed to remedy the hen and egg downside. 

Settlers on Mars should carry every little thing however the minerals they mine with them. The entire labor, capital and know-how mandatory to determine an financial system to provide every little thing they’ll want – together with environment to breathe – should be hauled there 80 million miles from Earth. Ample numbers of individuals and enormous quantities of fabric should arrive at roughly on the identical time. Musk has promised to spend both all of his wealth besides firm inventory or one-half of his cash to that finish. Whether or not that may be sufficient is unclear nevertheless it acknowledges that daunting downside.

A minimally self-sustaining colony may imply a breeding inhabitants of fifty individuals dwelling in a campus of underground tunnels, which sounds impressively claustrophobic on a number of ranges. Musk, nonetheless, has talked a couple of metropolis of 1 million dwelling on the floor below glass domes – a state of affairs that has been dramatized within the ebook and TV collection The Expanse. That will surely be extra nice, however scaling up the inhabitants with housing much less more likely to induce affective issues nonetheless doesn’t remedy two associated issues of financial viability.

Financial change between colonists on Mars is simple to image, both as barter or mediated by scrip supplied by Musk’s firm retailer. Nevertheless, in the event that they use forex from Earth they’re more likely to uncover that there isn’t any correspondence between what it should purchase on Mars and again on Earth. That’s the shadow of the issue more likely to cripple commerce between the 2 worlds: they can’t share a forex.  That’s as a result of communication can be less expensive than transportation over interplanetary distances.  As soon as the primary direct digital manufacturing equipment is ready up, any commodity or capital good reducible to digital data, which is to say nearly every little thing within the many years to come back, can be inexpensive to transmit for manufacturing on arrival than to haul between planets. 

Cash performs many duties however a very powerful is fixing the issue of figuring out the double coincidence of needs that causes friction in barter.  Cash solves that downside on Earth however that may be not possible between worlds as a result of there’s nothing materials – no basket of bodily commodities – on which to find out its widespread worth. Not solely have people by no means confronted an entire hen and egg downside of colonization however they’ve by no means engaged in commerce solely on the idea of communicated data. Arbitrary forex values imposed by an organization retailer or colonial authorities on Mars could possibly be solely non permanent options as a result of efforts to flee their clutches would trigger the kind of financial inefficiencies uncovered by casual markets. Nor would cryptocurrency repair the issue as a result of the costs for electrical energy to provide them can be unrelated on Mars and Earth.  Interplanetary commerce must be carried out by bartering data for data.

Take into account how that may constrain the choice to to migrate to the Pink Planet. Exploring and excessive sports activities would entice scientists and athletes, small numbers of whom develop into settlers. However why would the superrich in search of a bolt gap from future disaster selected Mars Metropolis or Muskopolis over someplace distant on Earth the place respiratory the environment is at the least free? The tremendous wealthy will probably be discouraged from emigrating by the issue of transferring wealth forwards and backwards between worlds. The absence of a standard forex would desiccate their liquidity. They are typically extremely attuned to monetary exit choices to evade taxation. Mars would probably appear like a lure. The formidable and artistic would acknowledge that emigrating would deprive them of each instantaneous and private contact with a lot bigger communities of the comparably proficient. Mars isn’t just 80 million miles away from Earth, it’s also three hours and 22 minutes away in radio sign delay time. Relative isolation would put them at a aggressive drawback in promoting their work and can be burdened by the transaction price of figuring out its worth within the absence of a standard forex. 

Now take into account how all of that may make Mars an financial basket case.  Fashionable historical past exhibits that settler colonies had been profitable solely after they developed a worthwhile export commodity or proved helpful for provisioning army and industrial transport: beaver pelts quite than religiosity for Massachusetts and a location between Holland and the Dutch East Indies quite than spectacular surroundings for Cape City. Mars will lack a bodily commodity price exporting. Mars may export data merchandise however at at a profound drawback as a result of it will be buying and selling with a vastly bigger inhabitants of data product producers again on Earth. Furthermore, Mars would don’t have any locational worth aside from as vacation spot as a result of there isn’t any motive for a spaceship to cease there on the way in which from Earth to wherever else.   

The scientific and engineering challenges of creating an extraterrestrial human settlement are daunting sufficient however fixing the attendant financial issues could also be much more tough. Because the historic experiences of Canada and Australia present, colonies on Earth typically struggled to draw and maintain settlers and their descendants. Mars might want to provide greater than the promise of climbing Olympus Mons or the philosophical satisfaction of serving in a species extinction backup plan to make it economically viable. Elon Musk doesn’t know what it’s.

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