Imagining Elon Musk's Million-Person Mars Colony

The greatest thought experiment of all time

Chapter 19

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

  • Preface
  • 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 - How Will the Mars Colonists Construct Their Housing?
  • Chapter 9 - How do we provide other services like water, sanitation, police force, fire department, health care, etc. for the Mars Colony?
  • Chapter 10 - What might a typical "work week" look like on Mars? Who gets a free ride on Mars? Who will do the undesirable jobs on Mars?
  • Chapter 11 - What do we do with lazy people on Mars? What do we do with the assholes?
  • Chapter 12 - How would insurance work on Mars? Yes, insurance...
  • Chapter 13 - How will we make chips on Mars? Pharmaceuticals? Medical devices? "Stuff"? Will Mars be an actual backup plan for humanity?
  • Chapter 14 - What Will the Transportation System on Mars Look Like for Mars Colonists?
  • Chapter 15 - What will the political system look like? How will it be organized?
  • Chapter 16 - Building Experimental Cities on Earth Today to Find the Optimal Configuration for the Mars Colony
  • Chapter 17 - How can we apply the Mars colony's principles to the billions of refugees and impoverished people on planet Earth today?
  • Chapter 18 - How will entertainment work on Mars? What types of entertainment will be available for Mars colonists?
  • Chapter 19 - How will children work on Mars? Who gets to have children? What is the colony's stance toward children?
  • Chapter 20 - Starting the process of building experimental Mars colonies on Earth – Mars Colony Simulation 1000A
  • Chapter 21 - Can the economic system proposed for the Mars colony significantly improve the Welfare situation in the United States?
  • Chapter 22 - How much land will the Mars colony need?
  • Chapter 23 - Thought Experiment: What If Everyone Makes the Same Wage?
  • Chapter 24 - How Will Innovation Work on Mars?
  • Chapter 25 - Will there be advertising on Mars?
  • Chapter 26 - What should be the ultimate goal of the Mars colony?
  • Interviews with Marshall Brain on the Mars Colony:
  • See also:

[Feedback and suggestions on any part of this book are greatly appreciated. Contact information is here.]

Chapter 19

How will children work on Mars? Who gets to have children? What is the colony's stance toward children?

The million-person Mars colony proposed by Elon Musk represents a blank sheet of paper, and it is therefore fertile ground for thought experiments. The Mars colony allows us to consider completely new ways of organizing a society, an economy, a government, and our way of life.

One area where this ground is most fertile is in the area of children. The reason for this fertility around children is because human beings have been having children in the same way for tens of thousands of years. And human beings have babies pretty much the same way all mammals have been having babies for tens of millions of years. Which goes like this:

  1. A man and a woman have sex.
  2. About 5% of the time in the case of humans [ref], sex results in a viable pregnancy (assuming no contraceptives).
  3. The pregnancy results in a new baby – a new human life.
  4. Parents deal with the child once it arrives as best they can.
It's that simple. At least in the United States, any fertile woman:
  • can have a baby as soon as she becomes fertile at age 13 or so.
  • can have a baby with anyone she likes.
  • can have a baby without any restrictions (she does not have to file an application, receive any training, gain permission, submit to a psychological evaluation, or anything like that).
  • can have a baby whether she is married to the father or not.
  • can have as many babies as she likes, with as many partners as she prefers.
  • can have a baby regardless of whether she is financially able to support the baby.
  • can have a baby regardless of any criminal record for her or the father.
  • can have a baby regardless of educational attainment (e.g. no IQ test or high school diploma is required).
  • can raise her children with a remarkable amount of freedom. If a woman in the United States wants to feed her children nothing but junk food, allow her children to become obese, never give her children vaccinations, home school her children and teach them to worship the sun god 14 times a day, dress her children in plastic grocery bags, and never take her children outside her property... that is pretty much her prerogative as long as the she does not do anything overt that gets her on the radar of child protective services.

This whole package represents a stunning amount of freedom of action, given that there is a complete, new human life involved. If we think about this level of freedom around children objectively, it seems strange, possibly insane.

Let's compare this level of freedom around children to something else that is common in a modern society: car ownership...

  • Can anyone own a car? No. You have to accumulate enough money to buy and insure a car. You have to actually obtain insurance. To get insurance you have to be a certain age. Insurance for new drivers is expensive. And so on.
  • Can anyone rent a car? No. You generally have to be 21 or even 25 years old, you have to have a driver's license, you have to have insurance, you have to have a credit card, and there may be a background check.
  • Can anyone drive a car? No. In the state of North Carolina anyway, you have to take a 50+ hour driver education class (both book learning and on-the-road training with an instructor), get a learner's permit, keep a driving journal and log an additional 60 hours of driving time with an older adult in the car with you at all times, wait until age 16 to get a license (which then does not allow you to carry passengers or drive after dark for a period of time), take a written test, take a driving test, get your eyesight checked, pay for the license, and then have active insurance.
  • Once you have a license, can you "do whatever you want" on the road? No, of course not. You have to obey the speed limit, obey traffic signals and signs, never run into anyone else, never drink (or use other drugs) and drive, be somewhat courteous to other cars in traffic, have your license/registration/insurance with you at all times, and so on.
  • In addition, while on the road you are under constant, open surveillance at all times by city police, county sheriff, state highway patrol, undercover cops, airplanes, roadside cameras, possibly red light cameras and speeding cameras. If you violate any of the rules, you can get pulled over at any time for any reason, ticketed, and potentially lose your license or even go to jail depending on the severity of the infraction.
The point is, there is a fair amount of responsibility that goes with driving a car, and society handles this responsibility with a certain amount of rigor.

In contrast, society does nothing like this around children and child raising. No training or licensing is required. No insurance is required. There is no constant surveillance of any kind.

When it comes to conceiving and raising a new human life, society seems to be utterly, completely hands-off. Many new mothers on Earth, especially teenage mothers, are entirely unprepared for the level and intensity of responsibility required by babies or children. The first years of a new child's life can be remarkably important to a child's healthy development and future success, and letting a person with little or no training or experience be in charge of this responsibility seems remarkably unethical in many cases.

As an example, hundreds of thousands of teenagers in the United States have babies every year [ref]. Thousands of teens age 13 and 14 have babies every year in the U.S., and the number can be much greater in other countries. The idea that any fertile teenager can have a baby any time she feels like it, with no training, practice or preparation of any kind, and then become (to a very great degree) the sole authority over a new human life for 18 years, seems bizarre.

So in thinking about Elon Musk's new Mars colony, we might ask some questions, simply to encourage open thinking about how children will be handled in the colony. Possible questions include:

  1. Should any woman be allowed to have a baby any time she feels like it?
  2. Should there be any age restrictions on having a baby?
  3. Should there be an application process for having a child?
  4. Should a woman be able to have any number of children?
  5. Should there be any training or licensing requirements for new mothers, similar to getting a driver's license?
  6. Should anyone be able to raise a child any way they like, especially ages 0 to 5?
  7. Should there be close scrutiny of families, similar to the number and variety of police officers monitoring drivers? Should there be in-home inspections, health monitoring, etc.?
  8. Should parents be able to teach a child anything they like, even if it is demonstrably untrue or unhealthy? Should parents be able to teach their children racism? Should parents be able to teach their children that the world is only 6,000 years old? Etc. [ref]
  9. Should parents have to be married to have a child? (This opens up a whole new aspect of questioning about how relationships and marriage should work on Mars)
  10. Should single parenting be allowed, even if we know that single parenting is worse for children? [ref], [ref]
  11. Should breastfeeding be required, given the amount of research showing that breastfeeding is better for children? [ref]
  12. Should parents be primarily responsible for raising children, or is this a task better left for trained professionals?
  13. When a child is born, who should be financially responsible for feeding, clothing, housing, etc. the child? (in the U.S., all costs of child raising besides education fall on the parents, unless the parents are unable to support the child, and then "society" can be on the hook to help the family in the form of welfare: SNAP, Medicaid, housing, etc. [ref])
  14. Should parents have to demonstrate financial ability to handle a new child?
  15. When a family has a child, should the mother and/or father get any paid time off? If so, how much?
  16. How should children be educated, and when should education start and end?
  17. When should a child start working in the colony?
  18. When should a child officially become an adult? Age 16? 18? 21? 25? Other?
  19. What is the Mars colony's stance on population growth overall? Is the colony trying to maintain its population around one million people? Is it trying to grow? Is it trying to double in size in order to split and duplicate itself (e.g. creating other duplicate colonies on Mars to reduce risk if one colony collapses or experiences a catastrophe)?
Obviously there are many questions we can ask about children and child raising on Mars. And by extension, we could ask all of these same questions about children on planet Earth today. Should humanity be applying more rules and restrictions around children on Earth today? If so, what restrictions might we apply, and how would we enforce them? China was fairly successful with its one-child policy over the course of several decades – restrictions definitely are possible based on this example if we want to install/enforce them.

Here is a salient question that demonstrates the point. The UN predicts that the population of Africa and Asia will explode in the coming decades if current trends continue [ref], as shown in this graph:


Population growth projections on the 5 continents [ref]

Population growth in Africa is heading toward an explosion of epic proportions. This is happening for several overlapping reasons: a) the child mortality rate has shrunk significantly in Africa, b) adults in Africa are also living longer, c) women tend to have a statistically high fertility rate in Africa (7.6 children per woman in Niger, for example), and d) the population of Africa statistically skews young, so the number of adults in their child-bearing years is extremely high in Africa. French President Emmanuel Macron made this point recently:

    "The challenge of Africa is completely different, it is much deeper. It is civilizational today. Failing states, complex democratic transitions, the demographic transition." He later said, "One of the essential challenges of Africa ... is that in some countries today seven or eight children [are] born to each woman." [ref]
These statements were condemned to a great degree. But Macron raises a legitimate question: Is the kind of population explosion shown in the graph for Africa and Asia a good idea, or destructive? And if it is destructive, should rational action be taken?

In this chapter, let's look at several of the questions to gain a perspective on child policies in the Mars colony...

Should any woman be allowed to have a baby? Should there be any age restrictions on having a baby? Should there be an application process for having a child?

Here are several examples to put a finer point on the idea of letting any woman have a baby whenever she feels like it:

  • Let's say a woman is an alcoholic, or merely a regular alcohol consumer, and she gets pregnant, and she continues drinking. Now she creates a new human life that has fetal alcohol syndrome, with all of the problems that FAS entails. Fun statistic: About 4.7% of North American women who are pregnant are alcoholics [ref].
  • Let's say a woman is hooked on heroin, and she gets pregnant. This is not uncommon, given that there is a huge opioid epidemic raging in the United States right now. Now her baby is born with a heroin addiction and often birth defects, and all of the problems this entails.
  • Let's say a woman is a smoker, and she gets pregnant. Her baby is affected by the nicotine and other chemicals in cigarette smoke: "Nicotine also has been shown to have significant deleterious effects on brain development, including alterations in brain metabolism and neurotransmitter systems and abnormal brain development." [ref] Her baby is impaired for life because of the deleterious effects of nicotine on the developing baby's brain. Fun fact: "In most states, the rate of women who smoked while pregnant averaged around 10 percent—in California, it was close to 2 percent, while about 27 percent of pregnant women in West Virginia smoked." [ref]
  • Let's say that the woman has been infected by the Zika virus, and she gets pregnant, or she gets infected during pregnancy. Now there is a good chance of a baby being born with microcephaly and other serious birth defects.
  • Let's say a woman is malnourished, and she gets pregnant. She might be malnourished because of poverty, or because she is dieting, or because she is eating junk food rather than nutritious food, or because of religious practices. The effects of malnourishment on a developing fetus can be devastating: "Without enough nutrients, a baby is at higher risk of neural tube defects, brain damage, premature birth, underdevelopment of organs, death and more. If a child becomes malnourished in the womb, the damage can be permanent." [ref]
  • Let's say a women is not getting the proper vitamins while she is pregnant. For example, if she does not get enough folate (a B vitamin), her child has a much higher risk of Spina Bifida.
  • Let's say a woman is exposed to teratogens, and she gets pregnant. Chances are her baby will be damaged by these chemicals [ref], [ref]. Nicotine, alcohol and heroin are all teratogens, and there are many others.
  • And so on...

If we take the above list to heart, common sense dictates that we should prevent alcohol-consuming, cigarette-smoking, heroin-addicted, zika-infected, teratogen-exposed and malnourished women from getting pregnant. All of these problems cause permanent, often devastating, damage to children developing in the womb. This kind of prevention is the very least we would do as a society, because all of these problems create the potential for serious birth defects and abnormalities in the baby, and no baby deserves this. Why would we give women the freedom to sentence another human being to permanent birth defects?

In a new society like the Mars colony, where there is a written social contract and a serious effort to eliminate assholes (see Chapter 11), at the very least, women would need to apply to have a baby. The application process can make sure that alcohol, cigarettes, heroin, zika, teratogens, malnutrition and other potential problems have all been taken out of the equation. No baby deserves to be exposed to the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome, for example, and it is hard to imagine something much more assholish than a woman giving a baby FAS.

The same application process would also check for the potential of genetic disorders. Down syndrome falls into this category, and is already routinely checked: "An estimated 92 percent of all women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose to terminate their pregnancies" [ref]. The story of Ethan Chandra has been in the news recently, because of his rare genetic condition called Heterotaxy syndrome and the extraordinary number and complexity of surgeries that have resulted from this disorder [ref]. An application process could prevent a wide range of genetic diseases affecting children.

The application process would also trigger a round of training and care prior to the woman becoming pregnant. Many people have no clear idea of what they are getting themselves into when they decide to have a child. For that matter, many people never make any sort of rational decision about parenthood – they simply find themselves pregnant one day, and then deal with it. The thought of "accidental", unplanned babies being born seems impossible to imagine in a modern society, because there are so many things that babies entail and require. Yet, about half of all U.S. babies are accidental/unplanned [ref]. Why are accidental/unplanned pregnancies problematic, and why should training be required prior to getting pregnant?

  • There are all of the problems mentioned above with alcohol, cigarettes, etc.
  • There is the cost of having a child in the United States. It is now estimated to cost $175,000 for a low-income family, and $233,000 for a middle income family, to raise one child from birth to age 17 [ref]. This is an average of $10,300 to $13,700 per year, excludes any college costs, and assumes public education is approximately free (in other words, zero tuition costs).
  • There are the problems that can arise after having a child. For example, 20% of women experience postpartum depression after giving birth [ref] and 15% can experience postpartum anxiety [ref]. These can be serious, debilitating conditions that last for months or years. Every new mother should be aware of the possibility, and understand the treatment options.
  • There are child care costs that come if both parents need to work.
  • There are negative consequences for children living in single-parent households. [ref], [ref]
  • There are a great many responsibilities that go with properly raising a child, many of which may be unknown to new parents who have no preparation/training/experience.
  • There are a number of vectors for accidental death of babies and children, and new parents should be trained so they are aware of them. [ref]
  • And so on...

Should training and testing be required for parents?

Parents and parental habits have a huge impact on their developing children. Several examples:

  • Two-parent households are better for children than single-parent households [ref], [ref]

  • Bottle-fed children are worse off than breast-fed children [ref]

  • Poverty is a terrible environment for raising children and probably causes permanent brain damage [ref], [ref], [ref]

  • Even something as simple as the vocabulary and word frequency of a parent impacts a child
Vocabulary? Word frequency? It turns out that engaged parents speak many more words to their children, talk more with their children, explain more things to their children, etc., and these little differences have a big impact on the educational development of young children. For example:
    By age three, it is believed that children growing up in poor neighborhoods or from lower-income families may hear up to 30 million fewer words than their more privileged counterparts.... The two factors that most explain the income-related gaps in school readiness are parenting styles and home learning environments. [ref]
When a child is very young, its brain has far more plasticity, and a plastic brain responds to stimulation. This, for example, is how young children (e.g. around age two) acquire language so easily (even though language acquisition can be very difficult for adults). Stimulate a young child by talking to them, reading to them, playing with them, giving colorful toys to them, engaging with them, etc., and children soak it up. Stimulated children do better in every way compared to children whose parents do not engage in these ways.

Parents would come to understand these important differences through training. What if the baby grows up with no books, no toys, no parental engagement, and little mental or interpersonal or visual stimulation? It creates a huge disadvantage for the child, and the child may never recover in later years because the period of plasticity closes.

What happens if the parent is living in a toxic culture, and therefore a child will be raised in a toxic culture?

There are myriad different human cultures on Earth. Some of these cultures are great, some of them less so. Even in the United States these cultural differences are obvious. The rural south is different from the urban north. A wealthy suburb is different compared to a poor inner-city neighborhood. A liberal enclave in California is very different from a staunchly conservative enclave in Texas. A small town in Appalachia with a big opioid problem is very different when compared to Silicon Valley.

Should a person living in a toxic culture be allowed to have a child if it is known that the culture will negatively impact the child?

Here is a rather disturbing video from HBO in Europe that documents a toxic culture:


Paradise Hotel, an HBO Documentary

The video opens with an explanation of the context:

    Speaker 1: My name is Dimcho Nenchev, construction engineer of block 20. Back at the time we were designing the blocks to last 100 years. Now I see that things are not that rosy, at least a first sight. And I am very disappointed with the exploitation of the building.

    Narration: The story of the Hotel Paradise begins with a decree of the Bulgarian communist party in 1978. A social experiment aims to demolish traditional Roma ghettos, giving their inhabitants the opportunity to live in modern panel blocks of flats together with the rest of the law-abiding citizens of Bulgaria. The concrete building in the Bulgarian town of Yambol is the last citadel of the idea of panel integration of the Roma til nowadays. This is the story of over 1,500 Roma who participated in the Great Communist Leap 25 years later. This is the story of their Paradise, of the temptation to break it into pieces, of the sin to follow your way and of the happiness to survive in order to bring back the dream of Paradise, of the Paradise lost.

    Speaker 2: When we first entered the block 22 years ago, it smelled so nice in Hotel Paradise that you could fall asleep while walking – such a nice smell! Sure the Bulgarian will pass by and say: "Gypsy Business!" Of course he will. I'm not angry at him for saying that. It's true, Gypsy business it is.

When built, this apartment complex was luxurious and modern. It had all of the modern ammenities – bedrooms, kitchens, bathrooms, carpet and parquet floors, electricity, heat, plumbing, etc. Then it was destroyed by the inhabitants and their culture. The video raises several obvious questions:
  • Why are most of the doors and windows missing? In this culture, the windows, wiring, fixtures and plumbing were removed and sold so that residents could have the money. The same thing happened with the doors, or they were burned like firewood for heat.
  • Why is there trash and garbage everywhere on the ground? As you watch the video, you realize that in this culture, you simply throw anything you no longer need – trash, food waste, excrement, dirty water – off the balcony onto the ground.
  • Why are people going to the bathroom wherever they happen to be? With all of the toilets and plumbing destroyed due to the culture, this is how the culture handles the need to urinate and defecate. Here is another example.
  • And so on.
Clearly the culture seen in this apartment complex is toxic and appalling. It is deeply at odds with the modern world and the rule of law.

So now the people in this culture have children. The children are raised in the culture and carry it on for the next generation. And in this way the Roma culture has survived through hundreds of years, widely reviled by those who encounter it. It is not like people are ignoring the problem - this apartment complex represents a gigantic investment in an attempt to break the cycle. This gigantic investment did not help at all, however. Culture is resilient in many cases, and passed from parent to child.

Every child is a blank slate. Each child is, to a very great degree, a product of its upbringing. If one of the newborn children in Paradise Hotel were taken at birth and given to adoptive parents in a different culture, it would break the cycle for this one child. This one child would reflect the culture in which it is raised, not the culture into which it was born. This is true of all children – they are sponges absorbing their surrounding language, customs, morals, habits, etc. If a child grows up in a culture where everyone poops on the floor and then throws it off the balcony, where theft is a way of life, where everyone lacks education (and therefore the child receives no education), and so on, this child grows into an adult who has a very high probability of perpetuating this culture.

The same cultural pattern is true to some degree of individual families. Each family is a cultural microcosm inside the larger societal culture. If one family has green skin, and the parents despise everyone who does not have green skin, the children are likely to grow up with that same racial bias. If a family is deeply religious, children grow up with that religious mindset. Children who grow up in Muslim families and Muslim countries, for example, tend to become Muslims [ref]. This is how human beings and human cultures work.

The obvious question: should the people in the video be able to have children and perpetuate their culture through their children?

Another question, this one rhetorical: Does culture matter? The answer, of course, is obvious, and it is demonstrated in the video. A great culture is extremely beneficial for children, adults and the society as a whole. A bad culture brings the opposite. In the book "Why Nations Fail", the authors describe this situation:

    The city of Nogales is cut in half by a fence. If you stand by it and look north, you’ll see Nogales, Arizona, located in Santa Cruz County. The income of the average household there is about $30,000 a year. Most teenagers are in school, and the majority of the adults are high school graduates. Despite all the arguments people make about how deficient the U.S. health care system is, the population is relatively healthy, with high life expectancy by global standards. Many of the residents are above age sixty-five and have access to Medicare. It’s just one of the many services the government provides that most take for granted, such as electricity, telephones, a sewage system, public health, a road network linking them to other cities in the area and to the rest of the United States, and, last but not least, law and order. The people of Nogales, Arizona, can go about their daily activities without fear for life or safety and not constantly afraid of theft, expropriation, or other things that might jeopardize their investments in their businesses and houses. Equally important, the residents of Nogales, Arizona, take it for granted that, with all its inefficiency and occasional corruption, the government is their agent. They can vote to replace their mayor, congressmen, and senators; they vote in the presidential elections that determine who will lead their country. Democracy is second nature to them.

    Life south of the fence, just a few feet away, is rather different. While the residents of Nogales, Sonora, live in a relatively prosperous part of Mexico, the income of the average household there is about one-third that in Nogales, Arizona. Most adults in Nogales, Sonora, do not have a high school degree, and many teenagers are not in school. Mothers have to worry about high rates of infant mortality. Poor public health conditions mean it’s no surprise that the residents of Nogales, Sonora, do not live as long as their northern neighbors. They also don’t have access to many public amenities. Roads are in bad condition south of the fence. Law and order is in worse condition. Crime is high, and opening a business is a risky activity. Not only do you risk robbery, but getting all the permissions and greasing all the palms just to open is no easy endeavor. Residents of Nogales, Sonora, live with politicians’ corruption and ineptitude every day. [ref]

Two different cultures, two very different outcomes, even though the two cultures are right next to each other. And let's keep in mind that the U.S. side of Nogales is quite sub-optimal. An average household income of $30,000 is about half of of what it should be if compared to nationwide averages, and the nationwide average household income in the U.S. is half of what it needs to be (see the preface and chapter 3 for more info).

What does this all have to do with the Mars colony?

  • First, the fascinating thing about the Mars colony is that it will have no culture initially. It is just a bubble. With no people, there is no culture. The Mars colony is a blank sheet of paper. As soon as we drop people into the bubble, a culture will arise, like it or not. This culture may be vibrant or toxic, prosperous or poor, happy or angry or violent. Culture can be a delicate thing as seen above. Do it right and things can be great. Do it wrong and it can be a disaster.

    Let's say we fill the Mars colony with Americans. Then the Mars colony will tend to have an American flavor, and that flavor will perpetuate over generations. If we fill the colony with Japanese, then the colony will have a Japanese flavor that is very different from the American flavor. What if we fill the Mars colony with people from the Roma culture portrayed in the video above? Then it is quite likely the Mars colony would collapse. It would be so dysfunctional, given the evidence in the video, that it would simply collapse. What if we fill the Mars colony with Nigerians, with their cultural tendency toward 7 or 8 children per family and a remarkably low education level created by deep poverty [ref]?

    And also keep in mind that the idea of "a generic American" is a fabrication. A person raised in the Silicon Valley culture of America [ref] can be very different from a person raised in a Baltimore ghetto [ref] or in Appalachia [ref], [ref].

  • Second, if we bring multiple groups of people to Mars (for example, we bring equal-size groups of Americans, Japanese, Roma and Nigerians to Mars), and we do nothing special about integrating the groups together, then the human cultural tendency would be for the four groups to break into four tribes, and who knows what kind of function or dysfunction occurs after that.

  • The people who have children will tend to perpetuate the culture they carry with them, and the culture of their tribe, unless special efforts are applied to change this trajectory. People can be also be reprogrammed to a degree - it happens all the time in boot camp [ref].
Given these three points, who on Mars should be allowed to have children, and what training should those parents be required to receive?

Should parents be allowed to raise children, or should child rearing be left to professionals?

Should untrained individual parents, single or married, be trusted with the responsibility of raising children? Given all the things that can go wrong and harm the child long-term, is this a good idea? This seems unwise, given the discussions above, despite the fact that this is the status quo in the United States.

Would it be better if parents received extensive training before getting pregnant, so that parents can make an informed decision about parenthood, and then apply best practices when raising their children? It seems quite likely that this would be the better approach.

What is a best practice? Let's imagine that we know, with complete or near-complete certainty, that various things that happen to a child during its life can be beneficial for the child, and various other things can be quite detrimental to the child. For example, we know with 100% certainty that alcohol during pregnancy is bad. What if we know with certainty that striking a child has little or no benefit, and generally does emotional damage? What if we know the same about screaming at a child? What if we know that reading to a young child for an hour a day has a great and long-lasting benefit, while not reading has serious negative consequences? As a rational society, would we require all parents to adhere to best practices?

If well-trained parents are better than untrained parents, then would it be even better to go one step further? What if all children are raised by professionals whose sole job is child rearing, and who would apply best practices patiently 24x7? What if these professionals are eventually (and inevitably) robots?

That last question may seem like a bridge too far, until you realize that humans in every modern country do this automatically to some degree. Children in the United States generally go to public schools where they are educated/raised by professional educators approximately 8 hours a day. The vast majority of children in the United States live this way. It is normal. Then these children spend 8 hours or so sleeping. Time with parents is 8 hours max.

What if we simply increase the number of hours that Mars children spend with professionals, so that educational best practices and parenting best practices are applied by these professionals for a majority of the time? What if the parents have only an hour or two of time to spend with their children on a typical day? We could make an argument that this might be better. With parental engagement reduced to a one or two hour window each day, the quality of parental engagement might increase significantly, while any chance for damage to the child might be greatly reduced [ref]. It might also lead to a much more uniform and beneficial Martian culture for everyone, since an optimal culture could be trained into the children.

What might be the Mars Colony's Approach for Children?

Let's begin by going back to the basic premise of this book: That there are one million people living in a colony on the planet Mars. These people are there as a backup plan for humanity. If something were to go wrong on planet Earth, like an asteroid strike that wipes out all life on the planet, then the Mars colony is an independent instantiation of the human species that will survive the catastrophe and keep the species alive.

In this context, and assuming that humans continue to be mortal, and assuming that there is nothing abnormally dangerous about living in the Mars colony to raise the fatality rate significantly, and assuming that there is no further immigration from Earth... then the Mars colony must have children at least at replacement rate. Children are not an option - the colony must be producing children at some minimum rate in order to survive. In other words, every pair of humans needs to have approximately 2.1 children [ref]. If the replacement rate is not maintained, then the Mars colony is going to shrink as people age out and die, and the colony as a whole will eventually die out.

Next we need to decide if the Mars colony wants to grow or not. There are two ways the colony might grow:

  1. Growth to increase the size of the colony
  2. Growth to clone the colony
In case #2, the logic is simple: If it is a good idea to have an independent colony on Mars as a backup plan for humanity, then it might be an even better idea to have multiple independent colonies on Mars in case the first colony collapses for some reason. If this is the logic, then the Mars colony might want everyone to have 4.2 children instead of 2.1. Once the number of colonists doubles, and they are all trained, and the logistics are worked out, half of the colony's residents can go off and start a new colony on the other side of Mars. Now there are two one-million-person colonies on Mars. This process might repeat several times, until there are 8 or 16 colonies on Mars to provide good redundancy.

In either case – whether every couple is having 2.1 or 4.2 children or something in the middle – the Mars colony needs everyone in the colony reproducing, or the colony will shrink and eventually die out.

The next question is this: who is going to "pay for" all of these children? Currently it is the parents who do most of the paying. In the United States, education is provided by society, but everything else – food, clothing, housing, medical care, child care, toys, entertainment, etc – is expected to be covered by the parents. And as we have seen earlier in this chapter, the cost of children is $10,000+ per child per year. If the colony must have children in order to continue, who should be paying all of these costs? It might make sense for "the colony", as opposed to "the individual parents", to be providing all of the food, clothing, housing, medical care, education, etc. for young children. In this way, having children is a net neutral for the parents. If parents suddenly have to take on a dozen or two more hours of work to provide for the material needs of their children, that might act as a source of discouragement.

How much time off should a new mother get? Infant care is basically a 24x7 activity, especially when things like breastfeeding are factored in [ref]. It makes sense for the mother to provide all of this care, assuming she is trained and competent. One year of maternity leave would be appropriate in this context, since children are usually weaned and switched over to solid foods by 12 months [ref]. The task allocation system would allocate the mother's normal tasks to other colonists to free up her time for child care during this year. The colony might also provide a babysitting budget to new mothers to keep them from losing their minds. Anyone who has participated in 24x7 child care understands that occasional time away from the baby can be a lifesaver.

Here is an interesting way to think about children: if we think of a child like we do any other product, then children are some of the most expensive products that a society produces. Each child requires tens of thousands of hours in care, education, guidance, etc. (not to mention all of the food, clothing, housing, medicine, etc. a child needs - all of which takes human time to produce as well). There are not too many other products that contain tens of thousands of hours of human time. Taking this analogy a step further, it is possible for a child to grow up with poor product quality. Imagine a child growing up with zero education, or with a very poor/backwards education. Imagine a child growing up with no moral compass, no work ethic, no empathy, no respect for the laws and rules of society. The colony needs children to grow up in safe, healthy, educated, ethical families. The colony needs to produce high-quality children.

With these thoughts in mind, we can answer several questions about how the Mars colony might deal with children in the colony:

  1. Will parents in the Mars colony need to apply before getting pregnant? Yes, of course, for a variety of reasons. The colony will want to make sure that the mother and father meet the minimum age requirements, the minimum education requirements, are free of any alcohol/drug/smoking issues, do not have a history of violence, have a good work history, have the proper mindset about parenting and children (i.e. that the parents have the psychological ability to raise a child in a healthy and safe environment [ref] and are psychologically ready and equipped to have children), and so on. The application process will then begin the training process.
  2. Will parents in the Mars colony need to go through a training program? Yes, obviously. Letting a completely untrained person take over the care, education, feeding, nurturing, etc. of a new human life would be ridiculous. New parents will be trained in all parenting best practices, in first aid, in emergency procedures, in child education and nurturing, etc. Following training there is likely to be an apprenticeship to gain practical experience (for example through the babysitting program), and then a test.
  3. Will there be a maximum number of children per parent in the Mars colony? Yes, and also a minimum. As mentioned above, the Mars colony is going to have a growth policy. Even if the growth policy for the colony is zero, then every pair of colonists needs to have 2.1 children. If a pair of colonists does not want to have children, or cannot have children, then other parents in the colony will be able to have more children.
  4. Will there be observation of the parents? Yes, of course. When people drive their cars, they are constantly under observation by city police, county sheriff, state highway patrol, unmarked cars, undercover cops, traffic cameras, etc. This observation is so prevalent, and so in-your-face, because dangerous drivers can injure and kill other people. The same philosophy applies to parents - dangerous parents (parents who neglect their children, abuse their children, do not follow best practices, etc.) pose a clear and present danger to their children's well being. The colony needs parents to be producing high-quality children, not damaged goods. The colony needs to know that best practices are being followed, that proper ethical training is being provided, and so on. The colony does not want to expose any child to a dangerous, neglectful, unethical, incompetent or abusive environment.

What will the culture of the Mars colony be like? How will the children be raised in the Mars colony to best unify and perpetuate this culture? Is there an optimal human culture, and how do we determine its complexion? Who will get to have children in this culture and how will they be trained? The Mars colony is a great place for dozens of thought questions like these. One good way to get at the answers is to build actual test cities, as discussed in Chapter 16 and as we will discuss in the next chapter...

> > > Go to Chapter 20

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • 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 - How Will the Mars Colonists Construct Their Housing?
  • Chapter 9 - How do we provide other services like water, sanitation, police force, fire department, health care, etc. for the Mars Colony?
  • Chapter 10 - What might a typical "work week" look like on Mars? Who gets a free ride on Mars? Who will do the undesirable jobs on Mars?
  • Chapter 11 - What do we do with lazy people on Mars? What do we do with the assholes?
  • Chapter 12 - How would insurance work on Mars? Yes, insurance...
  • Chapter 13 - How will we make chips on Mars? Pharmaceuticals? Medical devices? "Stuff"? Will Mars be an actual backup plan for humanity?
  • Chapter 14 - What Will the Transportation System on Mars Look Like for Mars Colonists?
  • Chapter 15 - What will the political system look like? How will it be organized?
  • Chapter 16 - Building Experimental Cities on Earth Today to Find the Optimal Configuration for the Mars Colony
  • Chapter 17 - How can we apply the Mars colony's principles to the billions of refugees and impoverished people on planet Earth today?
  • Chapter 18 - How will entertainment work on Mars? What types of entertainment will be available for Mars colonists?
  • Chapter 19 - How will children work on Mars? Who gets to have children? What is the colony's stance toward children?
  • Chapter 20 - Starting the process of building experimental Mars colonies on Earth – Mars Colony Simulation 1000A
  • Chapter 21 - Can the economic system proposed for the Mars colony significantly improve the Welfare situation in the United States?
  • Chapter 22 - How much land will the Mars colony need?
  • Chapter 23 - Thought Experiment: What If Everyone Makes the Same Wage?
  • Chapter 24 - How Will Innovation Work on Mars?
  • Chapter 25 - Will there be advertising on Mars?
  • Chapter 26 - What should be the ultimate goal of the Mars colony?
  • Interviews with Marshall Brain on the Mars Colony:
  • See also:

[Feedback and suggestions on any part of this book are greatly appreciated. Contact information is here.]



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

On the coming Singularity and Artificial Intelligence:

A Conversation with Marshall Brain from MIRI on Vimeo.

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

Reviews
Salon
Wired
LiveScience
LATimes Editorial
Geek of the week

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