[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.]
[Feedback and suggestions on any part of this book are greatly appreciated. Contact information is here.]
What do we do with lazy people on Mars? What do we do with the assholes?
Since this is a serialized book, I receive feedback as people are reading it. And if I had to pick one question that comes up a lot, it is this: "What are you going to do about all of the lazy people who won't work???"
This is an interesting question to me, because the vast, vast majority of people I see working every day are not lazy. For example:
I encounter many people working at Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes, Best Buy, Dick's, Bed Bath and Beyond, BJ's, Costco, etc. (AKA "big box retail"). I never see any of them sitting in chairs browsing the Internet on their phones, or doing much of anything except being on their feet and working. They are checking people out, stocking shelves, answering questions, taking returns, sweeping floors, bringing in shopping carts from the parking lots, etc.
I encounter many people working at grocery stores like Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Kroger, Publix, etc. Ditto. Exactly the same thing. They all have their tasks and they are all working.
I go to all sorts of restaurants, from fast food on up: McDonald's, Chick-Fil-A, Panera, Moe's, Chipotle, Ruby Tuesdays, Fridays, Applebees, Papa John's, Dominoes, etc. Plus all the local restaurants that aren't chains. Everyone is working, and in a busy restaurant at lunch or dinner they are working hard.
I visited 36 factories in the process of filming the NatGeo show called "Factory Floor with Marshall Brain". People in factories are working hard as well. There is no "lazy people" sitting around on any factory floor based on my direct experience.
And so on...
If we take this slice through the working population of the United States, where the slice includes big box retail stores, grocery stores, restaurants and factories, we are talking about a huge swath of working Americans. These four sectors of the economy encompass perhaps 50 million workers in the U.S. (about one third of American workers). There are no "lazy people" to be seen in my experience. Maybe you have a Target in your neighborhood where half of the employees are sitting around idle in chairs browsing Instagram or Tinder on their phones doing nothing? I have never seen it. I don't believe that such a place exists in the American employment landscape.
We really should notice this, and think about it. Why are all of these employees working, and working so well? Especially in light of the fact that the majority of them are making minimum wage or close to it. They are on the job, doing the required work, and they are pleasant to customers. There are two reasons: 1) They are trained as they come on board, and 2) They will be fired if they fall below a certain level of job performance. If you are working at Target or Walmart or McDonald's and you are fired, your options really become quite limited in the current American economy. If you do not wish to be homeless, then a job – any job – is important.
We see this same kind of work ethic in many other places:
I have three teenagers in high school right now. And my fourth kid is at the local community college. Teachers in America certainly are not lazing around. They are working overtime in my experience, usually without compensation for it.
When I go to doctors offices and hospitals, no one is lazing around.
The car repair place was hopping when I was there the other day. No one lazing around.
They don't ever seem to have enough people working at the bank when I go there. No one is lazing around, and they look like they could use more employees based on wait times.
We went to Orlando last week – checking my daughter into her Disney hotel room, there were 15 people checking in customers and the line was 20 minutes long. None of these employees were idle.
All the people at the airport, in TSA, at the rental car places, washing the restrooms, etc. - they all have a ton of work to do.
Even places like the DMV – there is a huge line. None of the people working there are browsing the Internet or sitting idle. They have an unceasing line of people waiting. The DMV could use two, three times more people working at the counters.
I can't think of the last time I saw an employee sitting idle. If you have a job in America, chances are you have lots of work to do and little time to "be lazy".
So why is there this huge concern about "lazy people"? I think it comes from a variety of places:
Walking around any city you are likely to encounter some number of homeless people. Clearly they are not working. But this is a very small slice of the population – the impression that a few homeless people can make on the public far outweighs their actual number. There are thought to be between 500,000 and 600,000 homeless people in the U.S. [ref], out of a U.S. population of 324 million. That is 0.2% of the population. A great many of these homeless people suffer from mental illness.
If you read the news, you know that there are people addicted to opioids, to alcohol, to other drugs. There are about 2 million people addicted to opioids in the U.S. [ref]. There are about 16 million addicted to alcohol [ref]. Let's call it 20 million total. This is 6.2% of the population. Safe to say that if an alcoholic or heroin addict has a job, they probably are not the most fastidious of workers. The rest are disconnected from the workforce.
Anyone who has been to high school has probably experienced the groups of people who go by names like "slackers", "pot heads", etc. In my experience, these people make up a small slice of the school population, but they definitely do exist.
There are some people on welfare who probably qualify as "lazy", but definitely not all. There are lots of working people in America who receive SNAP benefits (food stamps), for example [ref]. As we have seen previously, many people working at places like Walmart also receive food stamps. The "working poor" is a big slice of America – they may receive government benefits, but they are far from "lazy" in the majority of cases [ref], [ref], [ref].
There are definitely some disabled people receiving disability payments from the Social Security Administration who could be working in some capacity, but are being lazy instead [ref], [ref], [ref]. However, it could be that if offered good jobs, or jobs that fit their disabilities, they could be working.
And so on...
So how many people in the U.S. fall into the "lazy" category? Based on the numbers above, let's call it 15%. They may not be working at all, or they have a job where their performance is less-than-stellar. How do we deal with this slice of the population?
Based on the numbers above, half of these people are addicts. In the Mars colony, presumably, we: A) are not shoving addictive opiods on unsuspecting people in the healthcare system [ref], and B) we are controlling alcohol distribution in some way so there is early detection of alcoholics (easy to do based on consumption [ref]), and C) once a person gets trapped in addiction, the Mars health care system has a good and effective response, including treatment options readily available to help addicts recover. So we can eliminate half the problem with effective treatment and prevention of addictions.
Now we are below 10%. But let's call it 10% for the sake of argument: Let's make an assumption that 10% of the human population is "lazy" at some level. These "lazy people" either they will not work, or they have poor performance at work due to complacency, or they lack motivation, or they have poor impulse control, or they never formed a well-developed work-ethic [ref], etc. If we accept that 10% of humans are lazy like this, what is the Mars colony going to do with them?
If we want to reframe the way we characterize laziness, we could say that lazy people fall somewhere on the asshole spectrum. Why are they assholes? Because they are not pulling their weight. They are attempting to get a free ride. They are pushing their work onto the 90% of people who do work. They are not fulfilling their basic obligations to the Mars colony, one of which is to provide food for themselves, housing for themselves, etc.
What do we do with the assholes on Mars?
Since we can reframe lazy people as being somewhere on the asshole spectrum, this opens up a bigger and more important question: What should the Mars Colony do with assholes in general? Assholes seem to be a part of just about any human society, and all societies attempt to control assholes in one way or another. So what is Mars colony going to do with assholes?
It is an important question, because assholes can make life miserable for everyone else in a society if they are not controlled.
Bob Sutton, author of "The No-Asshole Rule", talks about assholes
Think about it this way: If a million people are going to live in a big glass bubble alone on a new planet, with no easy means of escape, the last thing they are going to want to have around is the asshole people who make life miserable for everyone else: the dicks, jerks, criminals, fuckups, racists, religious zealots, terrorists, warmongers, polluters, sociopaths, vandals, arsonists, jihadists, and so on; The people who are combative, violent, litigious, quarrelsome, seething, bent on destruction, etc. Everyone living in the colony has a right to feel safe, and to not be harassed as they walk around living their lives. The way to achieve this is to somehow manage, remove or otherwise disable those who are bent on adding danger and harassment to society. The Mars colony will need a foolproof way to eliminate and rehabilitate assholes.
Imagine living in an American city where we have effectively removed all of the assholes – all of the muggers, burglars, murderers, rapists, pedophiles, stalkers, creeps, gangbangers, thugs, bullies, racists, homophobes, misogynists, drug dealers, drunks, con artists, pickpockets, purse snatchers, boomboxers, homeless people, arsonists, vandals, terrorists, religious fanatics, supremacists, cat callers, prostitutes, spammers, phishers, swindlers, con men, embezzlers, bribery-seekers, corruptors, free-loaders, beggars, paparazzi, drug addicts, public restroom defilers, line cutters, road ragers, kidnappers, etc. It would be like living in a dream. You could walk around on the streets anytime, anywhere, day or night, and feel safe and secure. Your life would never be in danger. You would never have to look over your shoulder and worry about the person walking behind you. No one would be harassing you on the street, accosting you, holding a gun to your head for your purse or wallet. You would not have to worry that a terrorist would walk into your favorite restaurant or nightclub and start shooting.
There is also a second level of assholery. These are the people who make things difficult or miserable in our daily lives. For example:
You are doing your job at the restaurant, and your co-worker is sitting on a sack of potatoes talking on his phone rather than doing his job. Or he comes in drunk. Or he falls asleep in the corner. Or he mistreats the customers. Or he doesn't wash his hands after using the restroom. Or he is lazy/sloppy/dirty/etc.
You are trying to do your job in a retail store, and a customer comes in and messes up all of the folded clothes in a display, or tries to shoplift something, or gets angry because she can't find something and yells at you, etc.
You are trying to do your job at the stadium, and someone has smeared feces all over the walls in the restroom, or pissed in the stairwell, or thrown up in the drinking fountain, or is sitting in a seat he hasn't paid for, etc.
You are a student in a classroom and the teacher is unprepared, or does not care, or is sexually harassing some of the students, or plays favorites, making the grades unfair, etc.
You are out on a date and your partner pressures you relentlessly for sex, yells at you for no reason, touches you when you have asked not to be touched, follows you after you ask him to leave you alone, etc.
You are living your normal life and people cut in line in front of you, stop and stand in the middle of doorways, run red lights, cut you off in traffic, drive below the speed limit in the left hand lane, scream obscenities at you when you make a minor mistake, interrupt and try to evangelize you, unload 50 items from their cart in the express line, cat calls you, and so on.
These people are all assholes too. They make life miserable for everyone else.
People can and do recognize asshole behavior. By flagging and rehabilitating assholes, society is better for everyone.
You can see that there is a spectrum of assholery. At one end of the spectrum are serious crimes like murder and robbery. In most societies these people are dealt with through the police, the courts and the prison system (i.e. felonies). In the middle are things like racism, public displays of rage, begging, speeding, bullying, etc. (i.e. misdemeanors). At the other end are things like cutting in line, open rudeness, littering, people who leave public restrooms in a disgusting state, etc. (i.e. nuisances). They are all assholes – it is just a matter of degree. They make other people miserable with their actions.
So there is a matter of degree when it comes to assholery. Some assholes break major laws: they murder someone, or they try to light a building on fire. And some assholes violate rules and social norms that help people to live their lives in a friendly atmosphere, free of harassment, time wastage and ill will. In all cases, assholes make life miserable for everyone else.
What do we do with assholes as they arise in the Mars colony? Especially the second sort – let's call them the day-to-day asshole.
The lazy people who don't do their jobs, don't care, etc.
The bullies who push other people around, yell obscenities, etc.
The low-level vandals leaving behind litter, messing up public restrooms, not putting things back where they belong, etc.
The fuckups who refuse to follow rules, read signs, etc. They cut in line, drive too fast or too slow, ruin dates, etc.
We need a way to flag these assholes, take them aside and rehabilitate them. We need to eliminate their assholish behavior for the benefit of everyone else.
Here is one possible solution that is easy to imagine. Let's call it Part 1 of the Asshole Elimination Initiative (AEI) on Mars. Everyone in the colony wears a tiny, discreet body camera that records all daily interactions. When someone in the Mars colony behaves like an asshole, any other colonist is able to push a button to flag the incident. The body cameras of all nearby people have recorded the incident from at least two points of view, so there is a complete record of what happened. It is easy to confirm whether or not asshole behavior has occurred.
What if you simply want to walk around town without being harrassed by assholes? Without comments, without stalking, without fear? By flagging and rehabilitating assholes, society is better for everyone.
Felony and misdemeanor assholery can be dealt with in the courts (see Chapter X). For more minor violations: Once an incidence of assholery has been identified, the offender is taken aside for a day or a week of training and rehabilitation. If the asshole is suffering from anger issues, he is enrolled in a anger management class to eliminate the issues. If he is disrespectful of people of the opposite sex, or different races, he is enrolled in a diversity class to help him understand and eliminate these behaviors. And so on.
For most people, getting taken aside for a day would be enough to solve the problem. But some people, it seems, are hard-wired to be assholes. With each incident, these people would be removed from the rest of society and isolated for training and rehabilitation for longer and longer periods of time, with the hope of turning the person around. Eventually, the worst offenders would be completely removed from the rest of society and would live life in isolation, so that no one has to deal with the chronic assholes.
Could such a system get out of hand? There is definitely a kind of person who is offended, seemingly, with every interaction in society. This kind of person would be pressing the “asshole button” constantly, marking everyone else as an asshole. There is an expression that describes this kind of behavior, “If a person you meet treats you like an asshole, report the problem. But if you think everyone you interact with is treating you like an asshole, you are the problem.” Frequent reporters have their own problems, and would be isolated and rehabilitated for over-reporting.
By tagging, isolating and rehabilitating all of the assholes, and eliminating all of their assholish behavior from the Mars colony, life on Mars will be significantly better, and significantly more productive, for everyone.
This is Part 1 of the Asshole Elimination Initiative (AEI) on Mars. Now let's look at Part 2...
Want to get rid of assholes? Eliminate annonymity.
One of the easiest ways to find, and therefore eliminate, a very large portion of the assholes in society is to eliminate anonymity. This will be an easy thing to do in the Mars colony because the technology to eliminate anonymity can be baked in from the beginning.
Every single person on the surface of the planet Mars will be known. It is easy to implement technology so that everyone’s location and activities (including browsing activity, purchases, etc.) are always being tracked. Removing anonymity would do quite a bit to detect and 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. Here are several examples:
At 2:47, the Mars location system can see that Person A and Person B are standing next to each other in a park together, and no one else is nearby. At 2:47, Person A's bio monitor shows that his breathing and heart have stopped. The system immediately dispatches emergency responders. Person A has been strangled. Since Person B was standing right next to Person A at the time of the strangulation, it is obvious who did it. Referring to the body camera footage from both Person A and Person B (see previous section), this is an easily solved murder.
The family of Person C notices that she has missed dinner and did not call. Person C is known to be suffering from Alzheimer's disease. Something is up. It is easy to see Person C's location immediately and recover the missing person.
The family of Person D notices that she has missed dinner and did not call. Person D is a teenage female. It is easy to see Person D's location immediately and recover the missing person. Person E had kidnapped her and tied her up in his basement, and the case is quickly closed.
Upon arriving at Stall 3 in the public restroom of the basketball colesium, Person F notices feces and urine everywhere in the stall. The place is a mess. The Mars location system knows that Person G was the last to use the stall, and his body camera has recorded the incident. Person G is immediately detained for a weekend of public restroom etiquitte re-training.
Person H has recently purchased a AR-15 rifle, 10 magazines and 1,000 rounds of ammunition, along with steel pipe and end caps at the home repair store and a supply of black powder and fuses. He has started browsing sites dealing with terrorism on the Internet, and is checking blueprints of public schools on the Internet. He is also driving by the public schools and walking around on the campuses after dark. It is easy for a big data system to bring all of this information together and deduce possible intent. Person H is brought in for questioning and a psychological evaluation. A terrorism event at a public school is detected and averted. [ref]
Person J's location puts him next to a building at 8:49 and a fire is reported in the building at 8:50. Person J's body camera records him lighting the fire, and Person J also purchased 5 gallons of gasoline yesterday used to light the fire. Person J is arrested for arson.
Person K's location puts him next to a tunnel at 12:17, and 6 hours later the tunnel is reported to be covered in fresh graffiti. Three days earlier Person K purchased 10 cans of spray paint. Person K is arrested for vandalism.
Person L is walking down a street minding his own business, when two people jump out of a dark doorway and begin shouting racists slurs at him, beat him and then run away. The location tracking system immediately knows that Persons M and N were the ones who did it, and they are arrested 4 minutes later by tracking their current locations.
Person O is found passed out from a drug overdose. By checking back in the records, it is easy to detect that Person P sold him the drugs, Person Q supplied Person P with the drugs he sold, Person Q got his supply from Person R, who turns out to be a manufacturer. Using location data, phone records, Internet records and purchasing records, Persons S, T, U, V, W, X, Y and Z are all found to be involved in a drug manufacturing and trafficing ring. Persons P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y and Z are all arrested the same day.
And so on...
It is easy to see the benefit of a system like this: Crime and other asshole behaviors on Mars will be detected immediately, and assholes will be arrested and detained immediately. Early detection of assholes and asshole behaviors will reduce future problems as well. Crime will not be completely eliminated (for example, a boyfriend, age 16, might become enraged when his girlfriend dumps him, and this is the boyfriend's first incident), but early detection and retraining will reduce future problems dramatically.
This is Part 2 of the Asshole Elimination Initiative (AEI) on Mars. Now let's look at Part 3...
The Mars Social Contract
Have you ever thought of how residency in cities works? Specifically, how do cities control who lives there, and how do cities train the people who wish to live in the city? You might be thinking, "Wait, what???", because we all know that nothing like this ever happens in an American city. Cities do not "select" who gets to live there, and cities do not "train" people before allowing them to start living in the city.
Why is that? Why do we allow any random person, no matter how good or how evil, to arrive in any city and simply take up residence? Random selection is exactly how we populate cities on earth today. If someone wants to live in city X, they simply move there. There is no application they have to fill out. No training whatsoever. Anyone in the United States, even if they are not here in the country legally [ref], can come plop down in any city whenever they feel like it. As long as a person has money for rent, he/she suddenly becomes a resident. If the person happens to be a complete asshole, the quality of life in the city has just been diminished for everyone else to some degree.
With the Mars colony, things will obviously be different. No one will be getting to Mars without permission, and everyone on Mars will have gotten there at great expense. So there will be some sort of filter that keeps "anyone" from living on Mars.
But more importantly, people arriving in the Mars colony will undergo a period of intense training, and they will be signing on to a social contract that specifies the nature of the relationship between the colony and its citizens.
Imagine that there is a two-week training program for every new resident of the Mars colony. The training program covers things like:
The nature of the new Mars economy - it's motivations, goals and benefits. What the colonists receive from the economy and what they are expected to contribute in return.
The nature of the Mars task allocation system, how it works, how to set up your individual preferences and settings, etc.
The way food, products, shopping, transportation, clothing, housing, etc. work on Mars
The laws of the Mars colony, and the punishments when laws are broken
The rules of interaction between people in the Mars colony (e.g. the no-asshole rule, no racism, no sexism, no bullying, no laziness on the job, no vandalism, proper queuing behavior, etc.), and the punishments when rules are broken
The rights and responsibilities of Mars colonists
The asshole behaviors that will get you detained and retrained on Mars. Things like racism, sexism, homophbia, religious fanatacism, bullying, laziness, littering, stalking, cat calling, etc. are corrosive to society and are not tolerated.
And so on
The point is to make everything about living in the Mars colony explicit, well-defined and well-known to every Mars colonist. It is like a driver's license: Drivers receive taining, and they have to take a test, before they are allowed to start using the highway system. They are then re-tested periodically (e.g. every 5 years) to make sure that they do not forget the rules of the road. Residents in the Mars colony will receive training so they understand the rules of behavior on Mars.
Once colonists have completed training and passed the test, they then sign onto the social contract of the colony. The contract puts everything in writing. In return for all of the benefits that colonists receive from the Mars colony (food, clothing, housing, health care, police protection, fire protection, water, etc.), and the rights they receive as citizens, they agree to uphold a set of responsibilities on their part (e.g. treating others in the colony respectfully, obeying all laws and rules, working competently, etc.).
This process of training and contract-signing will be of tremendous benefit to everyone in the Mars colony. The relationship between citizen and society will be explicit. In return for receiving the tremendous benefits of the Mars colony's economy and society, everyone living in the colony has to do their part. Everyone needs to contribute by doing work, and doing their work competently. Everyone has to treat everyone else well. Everyone needs to follow all of the laws and rules. And so on. When everyone is working together like this in a society, everyone benefits.
So now we can answer the question: What do we do with the lazy people, and with all of the other forms of assholery in the Mars colony? The important thing to understand is that assholes have broken the agreement between society and citizen, and are making other citizens miserable. The position of the society is: "A resident has broken the contract, and they are making other citizens miserable through their actions. They are not fulfilling their responsibilities as a member of this society. Society is willing to work with them to rehabilitate them, and then they will be re-introduced to the Mars colony, but not until they can demonstrate that they are willing to fulfill their responsibilities to other colonists." For minor offenses, this might involve a day or a week of retraining. But if asshole behavior continues, the offender is removed from society for longer and longer periods until, in essence, the person is banned from the colony. There is no reason to allow one person to make hundreds or thousands of other people miserable with his/her behavior. There is no reason to tolerate assholes. Assholes are flagged, given opportunities to retrain and rehabilitate, and if those efforts are successful that is great. But if they are not successful, eventually repeat offenders are removed from society into some form of isolation from the rest of the colony so that the colony can succeed and prosper. In this way, everyone else in the colony benefits from an asshole-free society.
To reiterate: Imagine living in a Mars colony where we have effectively eliminated all of the muggers, burglars, murderers, rapists, pedophiles, stalkers, creeps, gangbangers, thugs, bullies, racists, homophobes, misogynists, drug dealers, drunks, con artists, pickpockets, purse snatchers, boomboxers, homeless people, arsonists, vandals, terrorists, religious fanatics, cat callers, prostitutes, spammers, phishers, swindlers, con men, embezzlers, bribery-seekers, corruptors, free-loaders, beggars, paparazzi, drug addicts, public restroom defilers, line cutters, road ragers, kidnappers, lazy people, etc. It would be like living in a dream. We could all walk around on the streets anytime, anywhere, day or night, and feel safe and secure. Our lives would never be in danger. We would never have to look over our shoulders and worry about the person walking behind us. No one would be harassing us on the street, accosting us, holding a gun to our head for our purse or wallet. We would not have to worry that a terrorist will walk into our favorite restaurant or nightclub and start shooting. This level of safety, security and personal freedom is the goal of the Mars colony.