Private Property on Mars, Explained

Learn Liberty Team,

Release Date
January 11, 2021


Economics Property Rights

How do we create property on Mars? We applied the thinkings of John Locke and Robert Nozick to Mars Colonization to find out.


0:07 Anarchy
In a lot of ways, Mars is probably going to start out as an anarchy and I don’t think that that’s a bad thing. My name is Jim Cavera. I am a senior test engineer at Blue Origin.

0:27 Who’s Jim
My favorite thing. I have 30 years of experience doing test engineering for pretty much every aerospace company. I get to touch everything. It doesn’t fly unless me and my group have gone through and made sure it’s ready to fly.

0:42 The Golden Age of Space Exploration
You might not realize it, but we’re living in the golden age of space exploration.

0:48 Timeline
So what is our timeline in your opinion for when we might be sending a mission to Mars?

Sending human missions to Mars, our timeline can be as optimistic as 10 years. And I don’t think it’ll take any more than 20. We have hardware in place, we have the knowhow. People like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson are dead set on getting themselves and as many people as they can out into space. If the political will were there, we could theoretically do it in five and that is the purpose for companies like Blue Origin and Space X. We are trying to build the Conestoga wagons to take the pioneers to the stars.

1:30 The Future
But this isn’t a video about getting to Mars. It’s about what happens when we do.

1:42 Small Steps
Initially we will probably go to the moons of Mars. We’ll start off with small research colonies. There won’t be an expansive station, but it will be off the planets. We need that in order to build up experience with closed life support systems, with self-sustaining systems, with fault tolerance systems, and with social systems as well. First, there will be a lot of specialization, a lot of division of labor, classic Adam Smith because that’s the best way to survive in a harsh environment.

2:13 Adam Smith
What is classic Adam Smith? One of Smith’s ideas related to the specialization and division of labor. Smith argued that groups are most efficient when each member specializes in a particular skill.

The individual
Everybody has to bring their unique set of talents, their unique structures to table in order to ensure the survival of the community as a whole.

Once we thrive…
But soon Mars colonizers will go from survival mode to thrive mode. We’ll start mining for asteroids, bringing up tourists, making rocket fuel, building new bases and so much more. This raises the question, how can someone own land on Mars? Can regular folks just buy a piece of real estate? Will there even be laws on Mars?

The Outer Space Treaty
So given the lack of government, property rights will initially work a little bit differently. Now, according to The Outer Space Treaty, no country can lay claim to any celestial body. So the United States, when we went to the moon in 1969, we did not claim the moon for ourselves. We landed on it for all mankind, but it’s going to be a little bit different when people start utilizing the resources that are available in the new colony. I think that John Locke had some good ideas and that his theories can go a long way to providing a path toward, I wouldn’t say of laws, I would say property principles, that could be in use on a space colony.

So what are these principles? Locke and Harvard philosophy Professor Robert Nozick said, “Individuals could acquire previously unknown property by mixing their labor with it.” That is by developing the property and adding value to it. The Lockean Proviso also said that you can claim a property right only where “There is enough and as good left in common for others.” Nozick agreed the Proviso would help prevent the monopolization of that which is necessary for life, a pressing concern for the early Martian colonies. These ideas have forced us to imagine a world that no longer exists. They appeal to the state of nature, a world before civilization. For possibly the first time in history, we’ll get to truly test out Locke’s and Nozick’s theories. Locke and Nozick argued that private property makes people and resources more productive. If they’re right, early colonizers of Mars will likely adopt private property as a tool.

No need for laws
I tend to believe that humans are oftentimes better than we give them credit for. Couple that with a spirit of survival that will be ingrained into those first colonists, and people will not naturally have any need for laws.