Mars One and the Olympic games

Bas Lansdorp, the founder and director of “Mars One”, thinks that it will be possible to fund a manned mission to Mars through a reality soap. In order to defend this Mr. Lansdorp is tireless in referring to the Olympic Games. However Mr. Lansdorp ignores the financial reality of the Olympic Games.

If you are seeking an opportunity to invest your money, the Olympic Games are a very, very bad choice. According to The Guardian the estimated costs of the 2012 Olympics were at least 11 billion pounds, and according to Wikipedia the 2012 Olympic had no net loss OR profit. The article also shows that most OGs since 1976 were break even, or had a profit of a few million USD.

Of course, we aren’t sure how reliable these figures are, but these and other data suggest that the Olympics have a very low or negative return on investment. The reason why we are sceptical in regard of the figures of the costs/profits of the Olympics is that both politicians and the IOC have interest to lie about the real costs of the Olympics.

The truth is that the IOC is able to run “profits” from the games, whilst all costs resulting of the externalities caused by the Olympics are shifted to the government. All great part of the costs of the games are hidden, indirect costs. These are often hard to estimate and easy to keep out of the books. And more importantly the IOC never takes responsibility for them.

When Mr. Lansdorp is referring to the Olympics, he takes great risks. More and more people are realising that the Olympics are, financially speaking, a huge scam, where the IOC takes all earning, whilst shifting all costs to the taxpayer. By associating himself with ruthless criminals, he gives not only the Mars movement but the general Space movement a bad name.

See also our post Mars One for a critical review of Mr. Lansdorp Mars program.

Space based solar power?


Since the 1970s advocates of space colonization have believed that building space power satellites and transporting space based solar power would be the raison d’être of space colonization. However we do not believe that space based solar power (SBSP) will have any future for terrestrial application.

Public acceptance

The first reason why SBSP will not be a core export product for Space Settlers, is public acceptance. A central part of all SBSP proposals is microwave transmission of power, although this wouldn’t be dangerous for people, a lot of people are afraid of anything related to radiation. An example, in the Netherlands there is broad concern about the health effects for people living in the neighbourhood of overhead power lines. Given that the Netherlands are a densely populated country, a few million people live within two kilometers from an over head power line. Although no scientific study has ever been able to provide conclusive evidence that living near an overhead power line is actually bad for your health, many people believe it is.

Some space advocates believe that we can “educate” the masses through tv shows like man-made marbles, I think this will be a dead-end. It is quite unlikely that it will be possible to educate the masses in this way. First of all, only a selected group of people actually watch this kind of tv shows, and these people are probably already convinced of stuff like SBSP. Secondly, the stronger one’s beliefs are the harder it will be to change these beliefs. Especially beliefs related to health issues are quite strong and therefore difficult to change.

Changing public opinion is difficult and we believe that space advocacy groups shouldn’t waste their time and funding to attempt to eradicate radiophobia.


Another issue is whether SBSP is actually necessary. Back in the 1970s photovoltaic technology was in its infancy, solar arrays had low efficiencies and were quite expensive. It was in this time that people like Peter Glasser and Gerard O’Neill were proposing to solve the global energy problem (the 1970s were the age of the oil crises). However, since then both the efficiency of solar cells has been improved and their production costs have been decreased.

In order to provide the world with sufficient energy, we need actually a surprisingly small area: some 62,500 square kilometers or about 2.63 percent of the surface area of Algeria. Of course it will be bad idea to concentrate all of the world’s power plants in the Sahara, but we could spread the solar power plant about the world. In the USA, we could cover a great part of Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico with solar arrays, Western Australia is another place suitable for solar power plants, in Latin America Chile’s Atacama desert will be an attractive site.

An exciting development are the so-called solar islands designed by a Swiss company. Oceans cover two-thirds of the surface of the earth, and are exposed to a large portion or our intake of solar power. So it is a logical idea to harvest solar power at sea.

In a previous post we have discussed the future of Japan’s energy supply, in that post I mentioned the possibility of using synthetic fuels:

One way to do this, is by producing hydrogen through electrolysis. But hydrogen has some severe drawbacks. First the very low density of hydrogen gas requires either storage under high pressure or liquefaction to very low temperatures,  which might cost more energy than can be delivered. The storage problem of hydrogen is one of the greatest obstacles for the transition to a hydrogen economy.

An alternative for hydrogen would be the production of synthetic fuels through the Fischer-Tropsch process from hydrogen and carbon monoxide gas. CO gas can be obtained by electrolysis of CO2 from the atmosphere or sea water. There is also current research of creating fuels directly from water and CO2. Both methods will produce hydrocarbons, like methane gas [main component of natural gas], or alcohols like methanol. These synthetic fuels can easily be transported and because the synthesized fuels are chemically similar to “mineral” gasoline, they do not suffer from the transition paradox. This is the problem that no one will buy hydrogen cars if there are no hydrogen gas station, but no one will build hydrogen gas station if no one drives hydrogen cars.

There is no reason why the production of synthetic fuels couldn’t be done on solar islands.

For more information about solar islands see:


It is hard to imagine that Space Based Solar Power will ever been accepted by the broad public, due to concerns about radiation. Any effort to change this attitude is probably wasted energy. Further it is questionable whether SBSP is actually a necessary part of the World’s future energy supply.

Simple steps to the future of mining and a permanent solution to the problem of dwindling resources.

Asteroid mining is not only the solution for resource depletion on Earth, but is also good for our environment. A lot of current environmental demage is caused by mining.

Brickpages's Blog

The problems faced by us all with resource scarcity and the possible solutions on the horizon. Even though they might seem unrealistic they can still be envisioned by the average person with a reasonable science understanding.

Would it surprise you that the needle indicating the amount of certain resources essential to our technological way of life are running near empty? If the current level of demand for non-renewable resources such as copper, Indium and even Silver will be depleted in under 30 years! This might not seem to bad for many of us but it will cause many headaches for our children. So if we can’t get these resources from existing mines any-more where can we get them?
One solution that is being given thought to these days is to acquire rare elements from near earth passing asteroids. Ok this might sound like something from the pages of a science…

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Next, the Turducken: Scientists Say a Duck Has Fathered a Chicken

The technology described in this article are of interest for space colonists. Using chicken hens to lay of other birds will help us to implement our “Noah’s Ark 2.0” strategy (see ).


Correction Appended: Mar. 20, 2013

The Turducken — a duck stuffed inside a chicken stuffed inside a turkey — is a mythical culinary beast and the dream entree of Thanksgiving obsessives everywhere. And now, science is on its way towards making the Turducken a reality — sort of: a duck has successfully fathered a chicken at the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Dubai.

(MORE: Alternative Thanksgiving Recipes from the World’s Top Chefs)

Researchers injected a chicken’s germ cells — carrying DNA to produce eggs and sperm — into the reproductive organs of a male duck embryo; once the duck matured, it began to produce the chicken’s sperm. Initially looking to genetically modify chicken to produce more fertile hens (the global poultry industry currently maintains some 50 billion chickens), these scientists are now planning to use this technique to allow hens to lay eggs of other birds, including ducks, songbirds, hawks or eagles.

The ultimate…

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The problem of taxation. Part One


For the purposes of this post, I will define Space governments as the owners of space habitats.

Governments of space colonies need funding, both for protecting their citizen and for maintaining space habitats (and for several other purposes, depending on the specific policies of space colonies). The question is how Space governments would raise their funding. In this post I will discuss several proposals for taxation and non-tax revenues.

Regardless how future space communities will be organized, one thing is certain: space habitats have to be maintained and are someone’s property. The communities of the larger space habitats, like the Bernal sphere or the O’Neill cylinder, with their several thousands of inhabitants, also need security, both internal and external. So the “owners” of space habitats have to provide at least the following services: maintenance, police and national defense. Also highly desirable is the arbitration of conflicts between residents of the space habitat. But governments will almost certainly offer many other services, especially when they have to compete with other space colonies for citizens who are able to vote with their feet. Of course some space governments will only a minimal government package, with low taxes, but I guess that many more governments will offer more elaborate bundles of governmental services.

Whatever services a government of space colony offers, they need to be funded. One way to do this by imposing a head tax, a fixed amount of money to be paid per person. In fact this is a kind of “rent”, where the taxpayer pays for the “right” to live in a particular space habitat. A head tax is especially interesting for those space communities which are committed to a minimal state. But for space communities with a more elaborate government a head tax will most likely to be insufficient for funding these services, or they had to be so high, that no person is willing to pay them, or many are simply unable to pay them. Foot voting present a fundamental problem for any space government: people like to have many services to be provided by their governments, but are less willing to pay the required taxes.

Since space colonies are new comers in the global “market” of societies, the cannot rely on for example feelings of nationalism, people who strongly identify with their country are more likely to pay their taxes (with the possible sole exception of the USA). Furthermore, we can safely assume that the persons most likely to emigrate to a space colony are those who have the least attachments to their homelands. Attracting immigrants with income tax rates of 90% will not work.

Therefore we need to find other ways for funding space governments.

Canons of taxation

Adam Smith formulated in his famous work On the Wealth of Nations, four rules for levying taxes which governments should keep in mind. These rules are known as the canons of taxation.

1. Canon of equity: this is the principle that people should pay taxes according to their ability to pay and the benefits they receive from society. The logic is that people who has the greatest advantage of public services should also contribute the most of it.

2. Canon of certainty: this means that people should know in advance how much they had to pay. This is both beneficial for the government as the tax payers, since they can plan their revenue and obligations in advance.

3. Canon of convenience: taxation and the collection thereof should not place an unreasonable on the tax payer. For example taxes should be collected at the moment the tax payer receives the money.

4. Canon of economy: the collection of taxes should not be more expensive than the revenue. The lower the costs of collection, the better. If a tax is difficult to collect, less revenue can be spent on public services since more money has to be spent on collection.

For more information on the canons of taxation can be found on this site, it also discusses additional canons made by modern economists.

Tax on consumption

Many popular proposals for abolishing income taxes advocate their replacement with sale or value-added taxes. There are several problems with this idea. First of all are taxes on consumption regressive to income. Wealthier people spend as a proportion of their income less than poorer people, the wealthier a person is the more he will either save or invest his money instead of consuming. Because basics needs are (almost) the same for everyone, regardless of their income. This problem might be solved be charging a higher tax rate on luxury goods than on basic goods, however this leads to the question of what is a basic or luxury good? And who decides this?

A basic problem with consumption taxes is the collection, these taxes are collected by retailers from their costumers. Although costumers will be pay their taxes without notice, the tax officers have to check whether the retailers are collecting the right amount of revenue. It’s easy to imagine that some shopkeeper collects the sales tax from his costumers, but keeps a part of the money himself.

Another complication is in our age the on-line sale of goods and services. On line shopping is not restricted by national boundaries, so if one buy something on the Internet from abroad, how would you impose a sales tax? Recall that sales/VAT taxes are collected from retailers, not consumers, and foreign based retailers are not bound by laws of other countries.

Income taxes

Most modern countries rely nowadays on taxation on income as prime source of public revenue. A common system is Pay as you earn, which means that your employer will withhold some of your earnings and transfers it to the tax agency. Income taxes may be levied on both natural persons as on corporations.

However a common problem is unreported employment. For employers it is attractive to employ people unreported, because they will have to pay less wages for the same amount of work. Another problem we have with income taxes is the fact that these taxes are violating people’s privacy. In order to calculate how much money someone owes to the state, tax officers has to collect a huge amount of data: how much and what work one has done, what kind of assets one has and so on.

Income taxes are usually progressive or proportional. Also most countries have a lot of deductions for all kinds of stuff, mortgage interest rate, if you have a business, or whatever. Actually these deductions are more a tool for wealthy people to avoid taxes legally, if you afford to pay a good accountant you can save a lot on your tax by exploiting all kinds of loopholes. Therefore tax agencies has to spend a lot of efforts in order check whether tax deductions are filled legitimately. Because of this, we are no fan of such deduction. In our view it is better to have a low tax rate with no deduction than a higher rate with much possible deductions.

Non-tax revenues

A common definition of tax is:

A compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government on workers’ income and business profits, or added to the cost of some goods, services, and transactions (Oxford dictionaries).

This helps us to understand what non-tax revenue is. However this definition is missing one essential aspect of taxation, namely that taxes are without a direct quid pro quo for the tax payer. Non-tax revenues are non-compulsory payments for goods and services provided by the government to private parties.

Many governments in the world have multiple sources of non-tax revenues. In some countries this kind of revenue is a substantial part of public funding. We should ask what kind of non-tax revenues could be utilized by the governments of Space habitats. This question is in fact equivalent to what kind of services can space colonies provide to their residents for the purpose of raising public revenue?

There is actually a very obvious service which can be provided by the governments of space habitats: land. Since they are the owners of the colony, all land contained in the habitat is their property. By renting land to interested private parties, space governments can raise revenue to fund their activities. Interestingly, by providing certain public services the governments of space colonies might increase the rental value of their land. Good school, clean streets, low crime rates are among of several factors which will attract potential emigrants from Earth.

The idea of using land rents to fund governments is not a new one. During the 19th century American economist Henry George argued in his famous work Progress and Poverty, that a so-called Land Value Tax (LVT) would not only be quite efficient but it would also raise sufficient revenue for governments to fund public services.

Because land cannot be hidden or moved out of the country, collecting a LVT is quite efficient. Most modern countries have already an elaborate registration of ground ownership, and space colonies should easily be able to keep track of who rents  what and how much land. A further advantage of the LVT is that it does not discriminate among different classes of tax payer. It does not matter whether a single person, a family or a corporation rents the land.

In a future post we will explain more about Henry George and his defense of the LVT. Here we want to state that according to George taxation on income from labour and capital is both immoral and bad for the economy. A tax on land, however, is just because land is not created by any particular human and hence belong equally to all.

Land in a Georgist sense does not only include “area”, but also the electromagnetic spectrum (used for wireless communication) (among other things). Because the EM spectrum is not made by man, it also belong equally to all. Licensing the radio spectrum will be good source of additional revenue for space colonies.

Another important source of non-tax revenue for space colonies are the sale of asteroidal resources. Asteroid mining is, we believe, is the raison d’être of space colonization and as we has argued in a previous post, it would be one of the most profitable activities of space colonists. However, terrestrial experiences has taught us that funding governments with the easy money from natural resource extraction is often detrimental for both the economy as political freedom.

Economists talk about the Dutch disease in this context. The export of a natural resource by a nation often leads to increase in public spending and to a decrease in productive activity. Instead of spending revenue from resource extraction, it would be better to put these into a sovereign wealth fund and to use the dividend from this fund for public spending. In future post we will discuss the role of sovereign wealth funds for space colony governments.

See here for part two of this post.

For more information on the land value tax: