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

  • 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 - Coming October 1!
  • 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 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

How Will the Mars Colony Build Its Housing?

In the Chapters 4, 5 and 6 we have looked at how the people living in the Mars colony can work together to produce food and clothing. The essence of it is quite simple: in order to produce a crop of potatoes or to make a pair of blue jeans, a certain amount of human time is required. As long as a person on Mars is willing to input the human time to meet his or her personal needs for food and clothing, then the whole system produces an abundance of food and clothing from very little effort on the colonist's part.

The even better news is that with automation and machinery, we can radically reduce the amount of human time needed. So if it takes X hours of human time to produce a crop of potatoes “by hand” (without tractors and such), then we can reduce that to X/40 hours of human time by adding in tractors and potato harvesters to do much of the work. In the process of adding in the automation, we have to account for the human time that goes into making the tractors and the harvesters. On balance, the amount of human time needed to make a tractor is far smaller than the amount of human time the tractor saves in the field, so it is a huge win to make the tractors. The tractors greatly reduce the amount of human time needed to do the same task. To put it another way, the farm equipment makes humans far more productive.

This all works, and the amount of time that each Mars colonist will need to contribute to meet his or her food and clothing needs is surprisingly small. To grow, harvest, cook and serve all of the food needed by the Mars colony, each colonist will need to do only about 4 hours per week of work (with this 4 hours of effort creating cruise-ship-quality food served in restaurants for everyone in the colony). This number includes the time needed to manufacture the tractors and harvesters. And this number will be declining as more robots and machines come on line to, for example, take on the cooking and cleaning jobs in a restaurants.

For clothing, a typical Mars colonist might need to contribute one hour a week or less. This number will vary depending on how many clothes (and how fancy) each individual Mars colonist desires. A person who wants to wear shorts and a T-shirt every day might spend only 15 hours a year on clothing. A person who wants new clothing every single day might spend 100 hours per year.

But what about something big, like a house? It is widely acknowledged that a house is the largest, most expensive object that a typical American owns. What happens when a person wants to have a place to live on Mars? It is an interesting question for two reasons:

  • First, we don't really know what a house on Mars might look like. Will it be buried underground? Will it be covered in radiation shielding on the surface? Will it be protected under an immense glass dome that arches over an entire district or city? Will the housing be a stand-alone dwelling or a flat in a skyscraper or something else?
  • Second, a house tends to be a big, complicated thing no matter what form it takes. It is not like a pair of jeans, which take 15 minutes of human time. We all understand that a house takes hundreds of hours of human time, some of it fairly specialized.
So how do we get a handle on this? In order to make this a manageable thought experiment, let's assume that a “house” on Mars will be a stand-alone single-family dwelling of the kind we would find today in a typical American suburb. The house is 2,600 square feet with four bedrooms and four bathrooms (650 square feet per person). It is being built on a 5,000 square foot lot (which includes space for street and sidewalk). The lot is located in a “glassed in” area of the Mars colony, with a large number of other houses on the Martian surface. In other words, it looks like a typical American suburb under a big glass dome.

Why choose the “normal suburban home” option for the housing in this thought experiment? Because it is fathomable and based in reality. The housing in a video like this one is completely speculative and virtually impossible to estimate (although it does point to the day when housing is made by robots):

See also this recent article about casting very strong bricks on Mars [ref] and then combine it with this video about robotic construction:

Because the housing area is “glassed in”, the air around the houses is at normal Earth pressure (1 Earth atmosphere) and temperature (72 degrees F, 22 degrees C). Therefore, the people living in these houses can walk around in the yard or on the street in shorts and a T-shirt, just like they would if they lived on planet Earth.

What is it like to construct a house on Earth today?

How do we build a house like this? If we wanted to, we could go back in time and do it completely manually. If you go see the reenactments in colonial Williamsburg, you realize that it is possible for a person to build a house with just three things: wood, iron and glass. A fancy house might also include plaster and paint, but those were not really necessities in Williamsburg. People in Williamsburg in the 1700s would fell trees in a forest, cut these trees up into beams, boards and shingles with a saw or wedge, and nail things together either with wooden pegs or iron nails made by the blacksmith. The glass is for the windows.

In America today, home construction is a bit more complex, but not by much. Instead of wooden shingles, today we would use asphalt shingles because they are less expensive, last longer and take less time to install. Instead of wooden siding, we might use cement board or vinyl. Instead of floorboards, there is plywood or oriented strand board (OSB) that is cheaper, stronger and easier to install. The frame of a modern house is still wood in most cases, it is still nailed together, and the basic construction process of a modern house is nearly identical to that of a Williamsburg house. Which is to say that carpenters start by erecting the frame of the house. Then they put on the roof and the siding. Then they add windows and doors. And so on.

So what are the steps, and how long does it take, to put up a normal stick-built house in America today [ref]? A house today is built by subcontractors, with each subcontractor specializing in some area of home construction. If we assume that each subcontractor deploys a 6-person team for each step of the home-building process, using a standard 8-hour day and 5-day week, here are some reasonable time estimates for building a typical 2,600 square foot stick-built house in America today:

  • Foundation work – getting the site ready, putting up the forms, pouring the concrete for a slab or putting up cinder blocks for a foundation: 6-man crew, 2 weeks
  • Framing – nailing wood together to make the frame of the house, including plywood floors, plywood sheathing on the exterior walls and plywood roof sheathing: 6-man crew, 3 weeks.
  • Roofing: 6-man crew, two days.
  • Siding for the exterior, plus trim for the eaves, fascia boards, etc.: 6-man crew, one week (we assume vinyl siding, so no exterior paint necessary)
  • Windows and exterior doors: 6-man crew, two days

At this point the house is now “dried in”. If it rains, nothing inside the house will get wet (not a big concern in a “glassed in” Mars city, but it is a big deal on Earth). Work on the interior commences:

  • Electricians wire the house and main circuit panel: 6-man crew, 1 day
  • Plumbers do all of the rough plumbing and water heater: 6-man crew, 1 day
  • HVAC crew installs furnace and ductwork: 6-man crew, 1 day
  • Insulation: 6-man crew, 2 days
  • Dry wall and tape: 6-man crew, 3 days
  • Trim and molding, interior doors: 6-man crew, 2 days
  • Interior Paint: 6-man crew, 3 days
  • Finish electrical: light fixtures, switches, etc.: 6-man crew, 1 day
  • Finish plumbing: sinks, toilets, showers, etc., 6-man crew, 1 day
  • Flooring: carpets and linoleum: 6-man crew, 2 days
  • Kitchen: 6-man crew, 2 days
  • Final inspection and touchup: 2 days
All together this is 10 weeks of time, with 6 people working during those 10 weeks. 40 hours/week * 10 weeks * 6 people = 2,400 hours. In other words, it takes about one hour of time to produce a square foot of house. If we add an additional 200 hours for unforeseen minor problems and touchups, it is exactly one hour per square foot.

A few quick notes before we move on:

  1. When you watch a house being built on Earth, it usually takes longer than 10 weeks. Why? For one thing, there is a good bit of waiting. Concrete takes a week or two to set. Drywall mud and paint take time to dry. When it rains for a week during framing, construction can stall for a week. Inspections by the building inspector can be delayed. Things like that. For another thing, a subcontractor may not deploy a 6-man crew. A single electrician might spend a week wiring a house, instead of a 6-man crew doing it in a day. Because of these effects, construction might expand to take six months of calendar time to build a house, but it still contains 10 weeks of human time by a 6-man crew.
  2. Occasionally you will see a stunt in public – say at a state fair or at a local community college – where a bunch of tradespeople hyper-organize themselves and erect an entire house at top speed, in just a day or two. These houses similarly contain the same amount of time, but it has all been compressed on the calendar instead of expanded.
  3. A lot of these construction tasks can be done by any competent human with a little supervision. If you have ever been a volunteer who worked on a house for Habitat for Humanity, or if you have ever been to a barn raising, you have seen this fact in action.
So now we have seen the process and time requirements of constructing one stick-built house in America today. The thing is, this is the least efficient, most expensive way possible to build a house. The lumber, for example, is purchased from a local retail establishment, put on a truck and then unloaded in a big pile onto the dirt at the site. The lumber is then cut by hand, generating a lot of waste, and nailed together outdoors in the most time-consuming way possible. The whole process is really kind of ridiculous.

A much more efficient way to build a house is in a factory, where the wood arrives in bulk on a train from the sawmill and is loaded into racks for easy handling. The shingles arrive in huge boxcars or containers directly from the factory, etc. Then everything is assembled using automated jigs that reduce the necessary time by a factor of of 3 or 4 [ref]. This factory approach has also eliminated most of the specialists, because the factory is an assembly line. It takes no skill for a person to load a piece of wood into a jig, for example. The construction process no longer needs “electricians” or “plumbers” or “carpenters”, because all of the tasks needed to build the house have been modularized and simplified into discrete pieces. Now it does not take 2,600 hours to build the house – it takes much less time because everything is easier and a lot of it is automated. Let's call it 1,000 hours to be generous to build a 2,600 square foot house in a factory setting and ship it to its final location.

Also note that we are about to see a big surge in construction robots. There is nothing particularly complex about painting a wall or nailing on roof shingles. The thing that has been holding back construction robots is good general-purpose vision capabilities for robots. Once these vision systems become available in a decade or two, the amount of human time in a house will go way down again, even if it is stick-built.

Also note that, in China, they have applied manufacturing efficiencies to steel skyscrapers for hotel rooms and apartments, as seen in this amazing video. A 30-story building goes up in 15 days with this approach.

So at this point we know how much human time it takes to assemble a house in a factory setting and install it onsite: about 1,000 hours. Now we need to ask, “Where did all of the supplies come from?” Someone had to make all of the shingles, windows, lumber, nails, plywood, siding, etc. that went into the house. All of these things require some amount of human time as well to make them. How do we account for this human time? Almost all of these things today are made in remarkably automated factories. If you go to a sawmill, a plywood factory, an asphalt shingle factory, etc, it takes very few people to make these products using modern techniques, and the amount of automation is increasing all the time. [ref], [ref], [ref], [ref], [ref]. For the sake of estimating, we can assume that the amount of human time in all of the components is the same as the amount of human time needed to build the house itself. So it takes 1,000 hours of human time to build the house, and 1,000 hours more to make all of the components that go into the house, for a total of 2,000 hours.

Now we have to account for the dome that is protecting all of the houses we are building. Someone will need to make the glass, and the aluminum (or whatever material makes sense on Mars) frame that holds the glass in place, and the gaskets that seal the glass to the the frame, and so on. And then all of these components will need to be assembled into a dome and tested, and then filled with atmosphere, which is conditioned to keep it at the right temperature, pressure and humidity. It is easy to imagine that highly repetitive work like this dome assembly process will be done mostly by robots, especially since the Mars colony may need a hundred square miles of glass like this for the housing if it were all to be done with single-family houses as described (see Chapter 7). Because of these dome-building robots, it is likely that very little human time will be required. For the sake of this conversation, however, let's be generous and assume that it takes 1,000 hours of human time per house (8,000 hours per acre) to make and maintain the glass dome that protects the houses, and then fill it with atmosphere, along with other normal "suburban" stuff like putting in the streets, sidewalks and utilities.

Altogether, it has now taken 3,000 hours of human time to build this house: 1,000 hours for the house construction itself, 1,000 hours to manufacture the components and materials that go into the house (lumber, shingles, wire, etc.), and 1,000 hours for the dome/atmosphere/infrastucture that protects the house on the Martian surface. The house can hold 4 people, so each person gets 650 square feet of floor space and a private restroom in the house. Therefore it has taken 750 hours of human time per person to build the house.

The interesting thing is, this house will last awhile. Let's say it lasts just 15 years. We don't normally think this way in America – once a house gets built, we may keep it there for 50 years, or even a century, until it is thoroughly outdated and well worn. Let's imagine that, in the interest of progress and modernity, a house in the Mars colony stays up just 15 years. Then we tear it down, recycle it, and build a shiny brand new house in its place. 750 hours / 15 years is just 50 hours of human time per year.

Yes, this is correct. Constructing 650 square feet of space, in the form of completely normal, high quality suburban American housing for each Mars colonist, including all of the human time for constructing the house itself, all of the human time for making the components, and all of the human time for constructing and maintaining a dome system on Mars, even with the stipulation that the house will last only 15 years... takes only about 50 hours of human time per year.

What this means is that, on average, a person in the Mars colony is only needing to spend an hour per week on housing.

How can housing on Mars "cost" only 1 hour per week?

The calculation we performed in the previous section seems crazy if you think about it. How can the average "cost" of housing be just one hour of human time per week, when houses in America are so expensive (The average American home costs about $250,000, or about $100 per square foot [ref])?

  • One thing that makes housing expensive in much of America is the location, and therefore the price of the land. On Mars, presumably, the land is free. We have to do work to “glass in” the land to make it habitable, but we have already accounted for that cost.
  • Another thing that makes housing expensive in America is that stick-built housing is the most expensive housing possible.
  • Another thing that makes housing expensive in America is the rather large mark-ups, profit margins, executive salaries and other wealth-concentrating activities imposed on every part of the home construction process on Earth (see Chapter 3 for details).
  • Also note that a 30-year mortgage can double the cost of a home depending on the interest rate you are able to get – another wealth-concentrating activity.
  • We also waste a huge amount of time/money on "maintenance" (new paint, new roof, new furnace, new water heater, new fixtures, new kitchen, new... ) on older homes, and the cost of this maintenance really adds up over the years. Meanwhile the base house and its style continue to decay. It makes a lot more sense to target everything in the house for a 15-year life span, recycle it after 15 years and put a shiny, brand new house in its place. Maintenance work is always more "expensive" than new construction, especially when new construction can be automated.
All of this overhead is completely washed out in the system we are proposing for Mars, where Mars colonists contribute the human time needed to produce things without any overhead.

How is this possible?

Even so, housing in America still seems incredibly expensive – much more expensive than one hour a week on average. To understand what is happening, think about it this way. You can buy modular and manufactured housing in the United States today (2017) for approximately $40 per square foot or less (installed) [ref]. Therefore a 2,600 square foot home can cost somewhere around $104,000:

  • Divided by 15 years, this is approximately $7,000 per house per year.
  • Divided by 4 people, this is $1,733 per person per year.
  • Divided by 52 weeks, this is $33.33 per person per week.
$33 per week, or $135 per month, sounds incredibly inexpensive. Even at minimum wage of $8/hour, that is only about four hours per week for housing. And at the United States' average wage, it is less than two hours of work per week. We are coming in line with the estimate we have come up with for the amount of time required to provide housing for the Mars colony (which we are estimating at 1 hour per week, which includes the cost of the dome on Mars, and which assumes the home will only last 15 years before being recycled). It seems crazy, but this is the reality of the situation. If you are willing to live in small cities in the Midwest or rust belt of the United States, it is possible to find housing at these kinds of price points.

Can you see what has happened? While it is possible to approach this kind of efficiency in America, we rarely achieve it because of all the headwinds built in to the American economic system:

  • The huge overhead imposed by executives and their desire to concentrate wealth in every transaction that takes place in the economy (see Chapter 3)
  • The overhead of mortgage interest, which can double the cost of housing (more wealth being concentrated)
  • The inflated prices and restrictions on land use, which again concentrates wealth
  • The cost of maintenance, which is a big deal with so much older housing
  • The fact that we use stick-built construction, which is the most inefficient construction process possible
  • Not to mention the fact that wage stagnation makes home ownership impossible for a large percentage of Americans, meaning they rent, which further concentrates wealth
The entire system in America has been rigged in a most uncomfortable way, and it affects everyone. World-wide the same kind of processes are at work, meaning that almost a billion of us now live in disgusting slums.

Let's come back to this point about the midwest and rust belt of America. Look at prices in an area like Muskegon County, MI:


Zillow's view of Muskegon county, MI on April 30, 2017

The problem with living in a small city in America can be a lack of access to good jobs. But on Mars we have eliminated this worry.

Is Suburban-style Housing Right for Mars?

In this chapter we have used suburban-style detached homes as a style of housing we might see on Mars. We have done this in the interest of providing realistic estimates of time, not necessarily because the Mars colony would ever use this style of housing in reality. Suburban-style housing creates several problems on Earth that are important to recognize:

  1. Suburban-style housing takes a lot of land. To put it another way, it is low-density. In a Mars context, low-density housing means that it requires a lot of dome per resident (or a lot of cave underground).
  2. This low density means that transportation becomes a lot more expensive. If the Mars colony has hundreds of thousands of homes sprawling over 100 or 200 square miles of land, the transportation problem is much more expensive to solve (both in time and resources) compared to, say, very dense housing taking only 5 or 10 square miles.
  3. Similarly, as noted in this article [ref], sprawl has many other infrastructure costs, and the infrastructure must then be maintained. The sewer system, for example, must spread over 100 square miles. So must the police force, and garbage collection, etc.
Low-density housing is more expensive to build and maintain than high-density housing. People may still want and need 650 square feet or living space per person, but locating that space in high-density 20-story buildings can have many advantages for the colony compared to sprawl.

On the other hand, if some Mars colonists are willing to contribute the extra hours required to maintain the sprawl, that may best be a decision left to them.

You might have the following thought:

    “OK, I get it – on average I need to work approximately one hour per week to provide for my housing on Mars. This gives me 650 square feet of space, plenty of space, a private restroom, etc. But this housing for me, all in, requires 750 hours of time to produce, and I need a place to stay right now. I cannot afford to wait 15 years at an average of one hour a week to get my housing. I need a place to stay right now. How do I solve this problem?”

The Mars colony has a number of ways to address this. One way is to start in a smaller place. If your first housing is only 100 square feet per person (cruise-ship style housing, as described in Chapter 7) in a high-density area, and it is taking approximately 1 hour per square foot to construct, that is 100 hours. This is just a few weeks of human time. You can have your “starter housing” constructed very quickly with just a few weeks of effort. Then you can work on subsequent, larger housing once you have a place to stay, if you so desire. Or you might be completely happy in cruise-ship-style housing for awhile, and then you are not required to put in any additional time in terms of housing. There is more discussion of this topic in Chapter X. Also discussed in Chapter X: If you want to move out of your cruise-ship-style housing into a new home, what happens to your old dwelling?

The point is that colonists will land on Mars and they will likely need some kind of temporary housing to get started – a hotel, in other words. Then they can contribute the human time needed construct their housing, making it as elaborate as they choose.

The good news is that everyone in the Mars colony will be able to live in quite luxurious accommodations (especially when compared to a slum, ghetto, refugee camp, etc.) simply by contributing the human time needed to create the housing. For a huge number of people on Earth today – people living in terrible conditions in slums, ghettos, homeless shelters and refugee camps – this kind of access to housing would be a miracle. Even for about half of Americans it would be a miracle.

We can see that the economic model for the Mars colony, where people contribute their human time in return for the housing they desire on Mars, is a fantastic thing for every Mars colonist. To reiterate the advantages mentioned in Chapters 5 and 6:

  • Everyone in the Mars colony gets access to the high quality housing they need. They can choose their housing from a huge catalog of possibilities.
  • There is no threat of “losing your income” or “losing your job” and therefore being cut off from your housing through lack of money. Your ability to contribute your time to your housing is sufficient.
  • There is no threat from any recession or depression bringing the economy down and cutting millions of people off from the housing they need. No foreclosures, etc.
  • There is no threat of inflation raising housing prices so that people are unable to afford housing. The amount of time needed to construct housing will be going down, not up, as more and more automation becomes available in the construction process.
  • There is no threat from robots stealing people’s jobs and therefore cutting them off from their access to housing. In fact, robots are welcomed rather than feared in this new economic system, because robots reduce the human effort and time needed from the one million colonists.
  • The housing 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 housing by contributing their time to the process.
  • 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 housing they desire.
Another thing to notice is the relatively small amount of time needed to construct housing. Just one hour a week on average will be enough for a person to have 650 square feet of housing. The average person might want/need much less than that.

And finally, housing on Mars can be quite diverse, as it is on Earth [ref]. There can be hundreds of styles to choose from, with advantages and disadvantages to each.

Now that we have covered the necessities of food, clothing and housing for the Mars colonists, let's move to other essentials that we find in modern cities today...

Chapter 9

How do we provide other services like water, sanitation, police force, fire department, health care, etc. for the Mars Colony?

Let's pause for a moment here and notice something important. If we review the last several chapters, we have discussed how the Mars colony can produce three important, essential human needs: food, clothing and housing. We have done that by turning human time contributed by the Mars colonists into products. We have also seen that if we combine machines and automation with human effort, it improves human productivity dramatically. People have to contribute much less human time to get the same result.

So in the case of food, the Mars colonists could easily grow food completely “by hand”, without using any machines. But if the Mars colonists spend a relatively small amount of time producing machines like tractors and harvesters, the amount of human time required to produce food is dramatically reduced – To the point where a Mars colonist only has to spend about four hours per week on food production in the Mars colony. In return, all of the food the Mars colony needs is produced in huge abundance, in huge variety, and served in high-quality restaurants (see chapters 4 and 5 for details). Computer software can easily manage all of the tasks needed to produce food (and the machines needed for food production). Everyone contributes their human time to the system at a rate of about four hours per week, and everyone eats great food every day, like they would at a banquet on a cruise ship.

In addition, as new automated devices are created in the future – robotic chefs and robotic dish washers, for example – the number of hours each colonist has to contribute for food production will fall. Food production gets easier and easier as robots take over more and more tasks, so the amount of human time per colonist required to grow and serve all of the food goes down. This same automation process applies to clothing and housing too. Over time, less and less time is required by the Mars colony to produce these three essentials. Another way to say this is that everyone in the Mars colony benefits when new automation and machinery gets added to the system. Automation and robots means that everyone in the colony has less work to do.

Imagine if a system like this could be brought to life on planet Earth today (this possibility is explored in more detail in Chapter X). You, as an individual human being, would contribute your human time each week to this new system, and in return you would get fabulous food served to you every day, along with a wide variety of fashionable clothes, and a very nice place to live. The system uses your contribution to produce food, clothing and housing. You get to participate in your share of the bounty from this system in return for your contribution to the system.

Providing other essentials that the Mars Colony needs

Food, clothing and housing are certainly important essentials for any human being. And we can see that the Mars colonists can easily provide these essentials for themselves as described in the preceding chapters. But there are many other things that the Mars colony must provide in order to meet the needs of the one million citizens of the colony. The Mars colony is essentially a large city of a size comparable to San Francisco in the United States. The United States is a highly developed country, and one thing that distinguishes a developed country from an undeveloped country is that it is civilized. A city in a developed country is safe – this is one hallmark of civilization. There are also services like a water system to provide fresh, clean running water, a sewer system to carry away and treat waste, reliable electricity and Internet systems available to everyone in the city, a strong education system for the citizens, etc. Without these services, the quality of life declines significantly for everyone in the Mars colony.

Let's state clearly that the Mars colony will supply the Mars colonists with all of their basic needs as seen in the most developed cities on Earth today. The first question we would ask then is: What are the basic human needs in the modern world? Here is a list that can act as a starting point:

  • oxygen and atmosphere (at proper pressure, temperature, humidity, purity, etc.)
  • water
  • sanitation
  • food
  • clothing
  • housing
  • furniture (tables, chairs, sofas, recliners, beds, mattresses, etc.)
  • accessories (soap, toilet paper, sheets, towels, lamps, etc)
  • electronics (TVs, cell phones, laptops, cameras, video games, etc.)
  • health care
  • energy
  • Internet
  • transportation
  • recreation
  • education
  • safety
Humans also need certain protections in order to be able to live safe, happy, healthy lives:
  • no murder
  • no theft
  • no assault
  • no gangs
  • no oppression
  • no terrorism
  • no harassment
  • no pollution
  • no time wasting distractions (like long lines, ads, etc.).
  • Etc.
At the same time, there is a set of responsibilities that each member of the Mars colony must uphold in return for taking part in the bounty:
  • To contribute willingly, happily and competently to the creation of food, water, housing, clothing, etc. that everyone in the Mars colony needs (more on this topic in Chapter 10)
  • To follow all the laws and rules of the colony
  • To contribute to the safety of everyone by being safe and not impinging on the safety of others
  • To not murder
  • To not steal
  • To not assault
  • To not harass
  • To not oppress
  • To not join gangs
  • To not pollute
  • To not be a jerk or an asshole
  • Etc.
So far, things are looking good. In the previous chapters we have taken the time to understand the requirements for producing three of the big “essentials” of human existence: Food, clothing and housing. And, so far, the time requirements look completely reasonable:
  • From Chapters 4 and 5, we know that we will need roughly 220 million hours of human time per year to produce the food for the one million residents of the Mars colony. This works out to about four hours per week per Mars colonist.
  • From Chapter 6, We know that we will need something like 50 million hours of human time per year to produce the clothing for one million residents. This number could be made dramatically smaller if everyone were willing to wear identical cotton T-shirts and shorts every day, but let's assume that everyone will be wearing a variety of stylish, brightly colored, new clothes and shoes. This works out to about one hour per Mars colonist per week on average. People who want to wear a lot of new clothes will contribute more of their human time, people who are happy to wear shorts and a T-shirt every day will contribute less.
  • From Chapters 7 and 8, similarly, we will potentially need an average of 50 million hours of human time per year to provide housing for one million Mars residents. This is housing at the level of 650 square feet of space and a private restroom for each person on Mars. And let's keep in mind that, in this estimate, every 15 years we tear down all of the housing and rebuild shiny new housing. Let's also keep in mind that this number is highly dependent on the amount of space provided to each resident. If everyone lived in Cruise-ship style housing, (100 square feet per person and a private restroom for every couple) this number could fall to 10 million hours or less per year.
This sounds great. For three of the big essentials that every Mars colonist needs (food, clothing and housing), each Mars colonist contributes about six hours of work per week. In fact, it seems like an amazing bargain compared to life in the United States.

However, we should also recognize that there are quite a few other tasks that members of the Mars colony will need to attend to each week. How do we understand the amount of time these other essentials will require? We can look at how much time typical cities in the United States spend on these activities.

Understanding City Services

What about things that the Mars colony will need, like the fire department, the police department, trash collection, water, etc. that are common to any city in the United States? I live in Cary, North Carolina, so let's use it as an example. Cary has about 150,000 residents (in 2017) and about 1,000 city employees, or one employee per 150 residents. Those 1,000 employees are broken up into a number of different departments, like this [ref]:

  • Water and sewer (aka Utilities) department
  • Fire department
  • Police department (includes 911, cops in schools, etc.)
  • Parks, Recreation & Cultural Resources
  • Development Services (helps coordinate new construction, business development, etc.)
  • Finance (administers the financial affairs of the Town)
  • Human Resources (hires and fires people, safety training, etc.)
  • Inspections and Permits
  • Planning
  • Public Works (maintains and repairs Town buildings, grounds, parks, greenways, streets, and traffic signals as well as water, wastewater, and reclaimed water lines and equipment located off a plant site; collects and properly disposes of garbage and trash, yard waste, and recycling, conducts fleet maintenance for all Town vehicles and equipment; coordinates community litter reduction and beautification.)
  • Technology Services
  • Attorney’s Office
  • The Town Manager's Office
  • The Town Clerk's Office
  • Transportation and Facilities (responsible for the planning, design, and construction of all Town facilities including parks, sidewalks, greenways, buildings, and streets; addresses traffic engineering and safety issues; oversees real estate, surveying and design-related technical services; coordinates the organization’s sustainability efforts; operates GoCary as well as the Town’s Traffic Management Center.)
As you can see, the Town of Cary provides a comprehensive set of services to keep the town running smoothly.

Is 150 residents per town employee typical? Some cities, like Las Vegas, Reno and San Jose, have even fewer employees per resident. In San Diego (population 1.3 million [ref]), the number is 137 residents per employee [ref]. But some big cities really pack on the employees. New York City, for example, has only 32 residents per city employee. These big cities may have more employees because they have additional large-scale situations they have to deal with. New York, for example, has a huge international airport, which Cary does not have. It has active cargo ports for ships. It hosts many national and international conventions, along with things like the United Nations. Many corporate headquarters are in New York. The city has 50 million visiting tourists per year [ref]. It has many employees devoted to things like welfare, child protective services, arts, diversity, etc. These kinds of things are not true, or are true to a lesser extent, in a place like Cary, NC. In New York City, the police department alone employs over 51,000 people [ref] because crime happens at a different scale in New York than it does in Cary. Also, New York City is to some degree a target at the international level.

So let's pick a number of city employees for the Mars colony. Should we pick a number like New York City, with 32 residents per city employee? Or a number like San Diego, with 137 residents per city employee? Let's put it somewhere in the middle, so we set it at one city worker per 70 residents. We do this in part because the Mars colony will be a somewhat special situation compared to an Earth city. This means that 1.4 percent of the Mars colony's population will be involved with city services – 14,250 people will be involved. This might work out to 30 million hours of human time per year for city services.

How will this work be distributed amongst the Mars colonists? For example, will every colonist be expected to serve as a police officer for an hour every other week, or for 2 or 3 days per year? Or will there be people in the colony who are full time professional police officers (they go to police academy, they get lots of training and then they serve as police officers all the time)? We will explore this question in Chapter X.

With these 14,250 people, the Mars Colony gets the kind of comprehensive services we would expect in any American town or city: a police force, a fire department, clean running water 24x7, a sewer system, garbage collection, parks, etc.

Education

What about education? Let's say 30% of the Mars colony, or 300,000 people, are school-age children and college-age adults (nearly identical to the case in the United States today [ref], but we are adding in kids from age zero to age five as well to get to this number). This is very nearly 1 out of 3 residents of the Mars colony being in the education system. If we assume there is one education worker for every 10 students, this works out to 30,000 of the Mars colonists being involved with education in one way or another. This is something on the order of 60 million hours of human time per year.

Who will do all of this education work? For example, should parents be responsible for individually educating their children (i.e. home schooling)? Should all mothers and/or parents be responsible for being teachers? Should there be professional teachers who teach all of the time? Should all Mars colonists be asked to serve as teachers for a little bit of time each year? Or some kind of hybrid? For example, early child care is a big expense in the United States today. What if all mothers of infants and toddlers are given “maternity leave” for 3 or 4 years, but during that time they are expected to take care of their children and work together to share day care duties? We will explore these questions in Chapter X.

Health Care

What about health care? How much of the population of the Mars colony should be devoted to health care? In the United States, there are about 13 million health care workers for a population of 320 million people (in 2017) [ref]. This number includes obvious people like doctors (about 1 million doctors in the U.S.) and nurses (about 3 million), but also includes many, many more people involved in all aspects of healthcare, like all of the other people working in hospitals (nursing aides, orderlies, attendants), home health care aides, occupational therapists, psychiatrists and psychiatrist aides, dentists and dental assistants, pharmacists, physical therapists, massage therapists, etc., etc. And management. [ref]. This is everyone working in health care. This means that there is one health care worker per 25 residents in the United States, or 40,000 health care workers in the Mars colony. This would be something on the order of 80 million hours of human time per year that will be spent providing health care in the Mars colony.

The health sector of the Mars colony in particular points out the need for specialists. A doctor, at least in the United States, tends to be a highly educated, highly trained person with a lot of responsibility. If a Mars colonist needs food, he/she can grow his/her own food. But if a Mars colonist needs a brain tumor removed, he/she cannot do it himself/herself. He/she will want a highly trained, highly professional, highly disciplined specialist removing the tumor, along with a team of other specialists helping the surgeon in the operating room. How do we handle specialists like this in the Mars colony? We will explore this question in Chapter X.

Energy and Internet

In North Carolina, energy is provided by the company called Duke Energy. According it its web site [ref], Duke Energy serves 7.4 million customers (in 2017) with about 30,000 employees and 50 gigawatts of generating capacity. This is one employee per 247 residents. On Mars, this means that energy production and distribution will require approximately 8 million human hours per year. Note that the service area of Duke Energy is 95,000 square miles. It is a huge area encompassing several states. As discussed in Chapter 22, the million-person Mars colony will likely be 1,000 square miles in size at most, possibly much less. Therefore, providing electricity to the Mars colony will be easier and less costly than it is for Duke Energy [ref].

Let's assume that Internet requires about the same amount of human effort, so another 8 million hours of human time per year. It is likely to be much lower than this, but it can serve as a very conservative estimate for now.

Totals

What is the total so far? It looks like this:

  • Food production requires 220 million hours of human time per year. (this number has the cost of productivity-increasing machinery like tractors already baked in, and serves all the food to the Mars colonists in restaurants, like a cruise ship does.)
  • Clothing production requires 52 million hours of human time per year (this number has the cost of productivity-increasing machinery already baked in). However, a person who is very into clothes might want to contribute more hours, and a person who dresses plainly will need to contribute less.
  • Housing production requires 52 million hours of human time per year (this number has the cost of productivity-increasing machinery already baked in, along with the cost of producing all of the materials and components, plus the cost of the city's dome to protect the housing). The amount of time each colonist contributes will be highly dependent on the type of housing they select.
  • City services requires 30 million hours of human time per year. (includes police protection, fire protection, water, sanitation, parks and recreation, permits, etc.)
  • Education requires 60 million hours of human time per year.
  • Health care requires 80 million hours per year.
  • Energy requires 8 million hours per year.
  • Internet/communications requires 8 million hours per year.

The total here is 510 million hours of human time, and we have made significant progress towards providing the Mars Colonists with all of the products and services they need to live their lives. With 510 million hours of human time, we have provided an abundant, high-quality, luxurious, comprehensive supply of:

  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Housing
  • Health care
  • Education
  • Electricity
  • Internet
  • City services (includes police protection, fire protection, water, sanitation, parks and recreation, etc.)
If there are a million Mars colonists, and 52 weeks in a year, this is approximately 10 hours per week per Mars colonist to provide the colony with all of these services.

Think about how amazing this all is – all of these products and services, provided with maximum variety and in shocking abundance to all one million members of the Mars colony – and to achieve this, each Mars colonist contributes approximately 10 hours per week on average. It is mind boggling when you think about it from this perspective.

So imagine if we approach a million impoverished, hungry Americans – say Americans who are currently stuck in crappy minimum wage jobs, or Americans on food stamps, 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 10 hours per week of your time, and in return you will receive an abundance of high-quality food, clothing, housing, health care, education, electricity, Internet, water, sewer, police protection, fire protection, parks, etc.”
The response, obviously, would be extremely positive. Now imagine bringing a system like this to Earth, today. How do you think that poor Americans on Earth today might respond to this proposal? Never mind how a billion slum dwellers on Earth today would respond, or how 65 million refugees without anywhere to call home might respond, or how the 80% of the Earth's population who make less than $10 per day (day, not hour) might respond. The system proposed for the Mars colony is nothing short of a miracle compared to the crushing, oppressive economic systems that prevail on Earth today.

Everyone in the Mars colony gets great food. Everyone in the Mars colony gets a wide variety of stylish clothing. Everyone in the Mars colony gets great housing and a private restroom. Everyone in the Mars colony gets oxygen, water, sanitation, police protection, fire protection, parks, etc., just like they would in a well-run city in the United States. All of the children are well-fed and well-educated. Everyone gets healthcare, electricity and Internet in return for the human time that they contribute to the system. As the colonists land on Mars and start developing their city, the facilities of the Mars colony are rapidly being constructed right before everyone's eyes, and every Mars colonist is participating in the process. It is an amazing wealth of products and services that every Mars colonist partakes in, simply by contributing their human time into the system.

It really helps you understand how unbalanced and appalling the economic systems we use on planet Earth, and especially in the United States, really are. The overwhelming amount of theft that corporations and their executives are perpetrating on the American people becomes very obvious (See Chapter 3 for details). The utterly absurd (insane, really) idea that the CEO of Nike makes $14.7 million per year ($7,350 per hour, never mind all of the executive perks), while a worker in Bangladesh who actually assembles the shoes makes $1 per hour has been abolished. Perhaps for the first time in human history, everyone in the society participates fairly in the abundance created by the society's economic system.

And the even more optimistic news is that things are only going to get better. As new manufacturing techniques, new robots, better software, more automation, etc. come online, the amount of human time required to produce all of this abundance will shrink. The one million people who live in the Mars colony will be working less and less over time because of the coming innovations.

It is amazing to realize how great life can be for the one million inhabitants of the Mars colony, if they work together in a Mars economy designed to maximize productivity and share the wealth of that productivity evenly with everyone in the colony. By working together, everyone will prosper.

In Chapter 10, we will look at an interesting question: Who gets a free ride in the Mars colony?

>>> Go to Chapter 10

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 - Coming October 1!
  • 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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