Elon Musk, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and Tesla and founder of SpaceX, wants to build a colony on Mars. Why? Because sooner or later, he said, “some eventual extinction event” will wipe out human life on Earth.

Your own extinction event may happen a lot sooner should you be one of the intrepid richies to make the trip (projected cost: $200,000). “The first journey to Mars is going to be really very dangerous. The risk of fatality will be high,” Musk told the International Astronautical Congress in 2016. “It would be basically: Are you prepared to die? And if that’s OK, then you’re a candidate for going.”

There won’t be a big payoff once you get there, either. No lounging about enjoying the desert views with Champagne and cheese. It will be work, work, work building a livable environment from scratch: Mars has no oxygen or surface water or life forms. But for Musk, that’s no matter. Humanity must be saved!

Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and the richest man in the world, thinks Musk’s plan is ridiculous. Why? Because Mars is horrible. “My friends who want to move to Mars? I say, ‘Do me a favor, go live on the top of Mount Everest for a year first, and see if you like it – because it’s a garden paradise compared to Mars.’” For Bezos, saving humanity will require living in free-floating space pods instead. Because if we stay on Earth, overpopulation and dwindling resources will mean population control and energy rationing.

What do they know about how to live, and why?

We should be rationing energy right now, and aren’t people having fewer kids voluntarily? Staying on Earth, even if we all have to ride bicycles and have our Amazon purchases delivered by pony express, sounds better than living in some four-by-20-mile space cylinder, seeing the same long faces every day. However, apparently in a space pod you can have as many kids as you please; Bezos likes the idea of a trillion human beings scattered throughout the solar system. “We’d have 1,000 Mozarts and 1,000 Einsteins,” he once said. That would be great, but what if it’s 1,000 Donald Trumps and 1,000 Melanias? And what if you’re stuck in a pod with one of them?

Bezos can’t figure out how to let his warehouse workers take bathroom breaks, but he thinks he’s the man to design the entire future of humanity. How’s that for business savvy?

Why do so many of us assume that the qualities that allow a person to amass a colossal pile of money are the same ones needed to make wise social policy? In our society, the ability to make a ton of money shows cleverness and drive. But why should we listen to these people about anything more profound than how to design cars or arrange for the swift return of unsatisfactory purchases? What do they know about how to live, and why? Whether it’s launching humanity into space, starting charter schools, or funneling their tax dollars to the nonprofits of their choice instead of contributing to the public good, rich people’s initiatives amount to an intellectual version of the trickle-down theory.


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