According to the Twitterverse, Google CEO Larry Page recently said that he wouldn’t mind leaving his fortune to Elon Musk’s SpaceX so he can actually build that Mars colony he’s been talking about. You might be scratching your head and going, “Why the **** doesn’t he just leave it to charity?” Larry Page might sound like a rich person with a goofy idea on the face of it until you consider the fact that old models of philanthropy just aren’t cutting it anymore when automation could replace all those minimum wage hack workers and there are a lot of people who think Earth is overpopulated as it is.
If a group of people felt like they were being squeezed out of mainstream society, they used to pack their covered wagons and drive off into the frontier. Now that most of Earth is pretty well populated — the parts of Earth that don’t feature interesting life forms like polar bears, penguins and sharks anyhow — there aren’t very many more places to go that don’t involve starting your own seastead. Alternatively, you could build your own rocket and go straight up (and I know people who can make their own rocket fuel from common ingredients you might find in your kitchen), but if you’ve ever seen the movie Astronaut Farmer or just have a good dose of common sense, you might have an idea of why that might not be such a brilliant idea. NASA gets so many applicants every time it announces another astronaut selection because most people don’t have the money or expertise needed to get into space on their own. That’s where potential donors like Larry Page can make up the difference.
It’s not that bad of an idea when you consider the idea that Elon Musk himself has floated the concept of forming a fair-sized Martian colony and even thinks he can get the cost per person down to a relatively affordable level. As Larry Page puts it, the idea of leaving billions to a fund that can help pay for this idea would amount to, “That’s a company, and that’s philanthropical.” It would be “backing up humanity” as Elon Musk seems intent on doing if only the cash would start coming his way.
It’s not even a bad idea when you consider that many charities might help people get through the next week or the next month, but only a handful are geared toward helping people make a long-term difference in their lives. Goodwill seems to do a decent job if you go by the ratings on Charity Navigator, with the lowest I’ve seen being the Goodwill chapter in Greater New York & Northern New Jersey at an 89.62% overall rating. However, it gets to the point where helping people develop job skills won’t help much if the opportunities for gainful employment just aren’t there. (Hint: Many jobs are likely to be automated in the near future if they aren’t already.)
You probably roll your eyes and say that a lot of your money go to corporations anyway. Consider that the next time you pump money into a vending machine to buy a bag of Fritos. However, I don’t get mad at the local entrepreneurs who see a need in their community, take the lead when it comes to filling that need, and sometimes make a profit while doing so. I’ve seen the lady who owns a string of vending machines at local businesses and she sometimes gets her kids to help her restock those machines. It’s not glamorous work, but I suppose she does fairly well buying crates of those snacks at Sam’s Club to sell to people who are hard at work and want to satisfy those mid-afternoon munchies without stealing somebody else’s leftovers in the break room fridge.
Neither do I get mad at people who want to earn a living like most normal people who don’t have a bloated sense of entitlement. The Salvation Army probably didn’t expect the construction company that expanded its facilities across the street from where I used to work as a receptionist to do the work for free. Those workers expected to be paid for their time so they could pay rent and put food on their table. They might have had families and children who depended on them to bring home a paycheck so they wouldn’t lose their homes because some jerk they don’t know failed to pay the breadwinner for his/her time and effort. In that case, working for a for-profit company isn’t greedy. It’s just good practical sense that applies to the CEO of Home Depot, which might have sold the supplies to the construction company, as much as it applies to the man who installed the electrical system for that building. There might be a difference in the number of digits in their annual salaries, but neither one is slurping down meals in a soup kitchen.
My point here is that Elon Musk might be a wealthy serial entrepreneur, but he’s like most normal people who have a reason to get out of bed every day. He’s thinking about his cash flow so he can pay the bills and also produce something of value that people might actually use. He ain’t shy about the fact that he wants to get people off this planet so humanity can survive if Kim Jong-un decides to actually use North Korea’s nukes in an attempt to destroy all existing copies of “The Interview” and then a large asteroid creams him and kicks enough dirt and debris into the atmosphere to cause another ice age in the process. Like most people who have big dreams, Elon Musk just needs large wads of cash to actually accomplish that. For the rest of us, it’s a shame that he doesn’t do an IPO for SpaceX – though I can see why. He doesn’t want to get into a power struggle with investors that might force him to curtail whatever plans he has.
Larry Page is reputedly worth $32.7 billion dollars, which basically means he could fund the first few Mars One crews if the future Martian settlers don’t mind the fact that they aren’t exactly going to be staying in the Hilton. So it’s not such a crazy idea after all. If SpaceX decides it doesn’t want to get involved, huge donations to the Mars Society or a special trust fund earmarked for actual manned Mars missions might be an option. This may be a slightly different take on philanthropy than dropping off your old castoffs at the Salvation Army thrift stores, but this is an idea that could actually make a difference in a way that actually could make a difference in whether the human species survives the next mass extinction.