McDonald’s on Mars

One theme running through In the Shadow of Ares is the economics of early human settlements on Mars, and one way in which we explore this theme is through the contrast between the entrepreneurial independent settlements and those subject to the meddling of the Mars Development Authority.

Readers of MarsBlog may find familiar the following passage, which sets up the first major illustration of this theme and is based on a blog post from almost exactly five years ago:

Aaron halted the rover near the base of the huge sculpture.

“Why are we stopping?” Lindsay asked.

He leaned forward, looking at the nearly complete monument rising before them.  “Look.  Can you see it?”  From this angle the third arch was hidden behind the central axis, so that the Gate appeared to be only a pair of arches.

“See what?”  Amber asked.  She and her mother both craned their necks, trying to see what it was that Aaron was seeing, besides the obvious.

Aaron traced an “M” across the rover’s window with his index finger.  “McGate,” he grinned.

Lindsay chuckled.  “Ha…you’re right!”

“Mick what?” Amber asked.  She had heard the project referred to as “Gate-gate”, by critics of the MDA’s waste of funds and materials.  The controversy had been surprisingly short-lived in the Martian media, with Quipu and the smaller news aggregators alike quickly losing interest in it and not following up on the occasional revelations of mismanagement and overspending.  The rumor among the independents was that MDA pressure squelched the reporting of any controversy.  It was easy to believe such a rumor — the Gate was, after all, Administrator Poissant’s pet project.

“McGate,” he repeated.  “You know, like McDonalds.”

“The Earth restaurant?  Are we getting one?”

“No, no, no,” he shook his head.  “But isn’t it ironic that the new ‘signature’ of Port Lowell should look so much like an ‘evil corporate logo’?”

“Evil?” Lindsay frowned.  “McDonalds isn’t evil.”

“No, of course not,” Aaron laughed.  “It’s just that the MDA resents successful private enterprise.  Look at the independent settlements — the better they do, the less power the MDA has over them.  A Martian McDonalds would be MDA’s worst nightmare:  it would mean Mars had reached a high level of economic development.  Private development, exactly the kind they don’t like.”

“What do you mean?” Amber asked, confused.

“Well, shipping all the ingredients in from Earth would be prohibitively expensive, so they would have to be produced right here.”

“So?  How hard can it be to make a hamburger?  I mean, aside from the fact we don’t have cattle on Mars.”

“Yet…” Lindsay amended.

“Yet.  Well, it’s not just about burgers.  The meat, cheese, pickles, onions, buns, and other things have to come from somewhere.  That means a whole range of other complex economic activities.  Things like meat synthesis facilities that go way beyond what we have on Mars today, bakeries for the buns, and plants making soft-drink concentrate and condiments.  Not to mention all the necessary transportation and construction elements, or a manufacturing industry able to produce the specialized machinery needed to turn all the raw materials into the final product and deliver them to customers — freezers, refrigerators, fry vats, grills, microwave ovens, cooker ‘bots, soft-drink dispensers, and more.”

“And don’t forget customers,” Lindsay added.  “You need enough customers to keep the restaurant profitable.”

“Certainly.  They’d also need unskilled and surly teenagers to staff the counter.”  He winked at Amber.  “And all these industrial capabilities — machine fabrication, transportation, specialty materials — would support many other industries, besides food production.  All of that together implies economic self-sufficiency.”

“Which means the MDA is no longer needed,” Amber said.  “We could petition for full sovereignty.”