This short piece by Keith Spencer is absolutely spot on. Exploring the contrasting visions which Bezos and Musk have of our interplanetary near-future would be a wonderful exercise in design fiction for someone who is a more talented writer than me.
This is what makes Musk’s Mars vision so different than, say, the Apollo missions or the International Space Station. This isn’t really exploration for humanity’s sake — there’s not that much science assumed here, as there was in the Moon missions. Musk wants to build the ultimate luxury package, exclusively for the richest among us. Musk isn’t trying to build something akin to Matt Damon’s spartan research base in “The Martian.” He wants to build Mars-a-Lago.
And an economy based on tourism, particularly high-end tourism, needs employees — even if a high degree of automation is assumed. And as I’ve written about before, that means a lot of labor at the lowest cost possible. Imagine signing away years of your life to be a housekeeper in the Mars-a-Lago hotel, with your communications, water, food, energy usage, even oxygen tightly managed by your employer, and no government to file a grievance to if your employer cuts your wages, harasses you, cuts off your oxygen. Where would Mars-a-Lago’s employees turn if their rights were impinged upon? Oh wait, this planet is run privately? You have no rights. Musk’s vision for Mars colonization is inherently authoritarian. The potential for the existence of the employees of the Martian tourism industry to slip into something resembling indentured servitude, even slavery, cannot be underestimated.