For people to need money, there will need to be optional things they can buy.
It's not clear how necessities will all be carried to Mars, let alone luxuries.
What would cryptocurrency mean for people living on Mars? And is there even a traditional currency for the Mars settlers to try to use?
Either one is a wild claim for a space settlement where resources will be rigidly controlled in order for the settlers to survive—not that Musk necessarily expects them to—and it’s not clear today how Musk will even carry everything to Mars that settlers will need to sustain.
To think about currency feels about 20 steps ahead of the plans that are actually on the books.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 24, 2020
Cryptocurrency has some major advantages. The idea of Mars settlers having virtual accounts rather than any kind of paper currency based on Earth standards makes sense—not only is it impractical to lug cash to Mars, but it’s also hard to imagine a reasonable way for any of those transactions to be reconciled. Travelers will likely have dedicated accounts that work both on the long trip to Mars and on the planet’s surface.
Could transactions be sent back and forth to Earth? That part is actually relatively simple. Batches of transactions could make it to Earth in up to about 20 minutes at most if they were transmitted using radio waves. Banks and the transaction clearinghouse ACH have robust infrastructure, but most banking data is as simple as possible—one of the closest things to true “plain text” processing that we have in modern life. That means small files that are all killer, no filler.
Exchanging cryptocurrency would likely require Mars settlers to have handheld devices like we all do on Earth, and they could make peer-to-peer transactions as needed. Within a closed economy, that means each person would have an account to bring in and hold money.
But if Musk is imagining a small enough settlement where he could have a practical direct democracy, it’s not clear why people would need currency at all, at least not for a while. That implies there will be luxuries of some kind, both for people to be able to buy and for it to be okay to deny to them without currency.
In places on Earth with scarce paper currency, people often form impromptu “change” out of things like small candies, buttons, or other pieces. It’s easy to imagine a near future on Mars where people exchange tokens like small hardware or even portions of salt or spices.
Marscoin could be used for big stuff (again, it’s still hard to imagine what this will even be), but people love to fall back on simple bartering—especially when material items are both controlled and in demand.
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