When discussing futurist technological concepts, one of the key areas rarely spoken about is the intersection between science/technology and economics. For example, from a purely technological perspective a hypersonic airplane which allows travel over the Pacific Ocean in a little bit over an hour made from a body of titanium sounds great. Titanium is light and highly durable material which can withstand the high temperatures experienced at hypersonic speeds. But from an economical perspective, titanium is a very expensive metal which if used to make a fleet of such hypersonic vehicles would put upward pressures on the price this rear resource which is equally need in aircraft engines, power generation turbines, and a host of other applications.
In the same way, even though the explanation of how SpeceX plans to get to mars has gaps (e.g. how the crew would survive in space environment on the way to mars and how they plan to survive once they arrive) and a lot of technicality are unanswered, next to nothing is said about the economic aspects. The scope of the program and the size of the vehicles required to make this feat would involve a lot of resources which are equally needed in other areas.
As things stand, it’s usually governments who have these kind of resources. But from what Elon Musk said, he want to make it a public-private partnership. Key questions need to be asked about the desirability of such an approach. Whenever industries or ventures are subsidized or support, in many cases, resources are being diverted from efficient industries which are genuinely meet a consumer demands to industries who in many cases have no consumer demand and can’t survive without such subsides. Furthermore, when solely private resources are dedicated towards such endeavors, profits needs to be made to keep such going. This incentivizes a level efficiency and thinking outside the box which might not exist in such public-private partnerships.
With all the raw materials and resources required for such a feat, resources would be bided away from areas in which they are currently employed most efficiently for the most pressing human needs. This creates scarcities, upward pressures in prices, and humans being forced to forgo some more pressing consumer needs. Thought it might be more difficult, SpaceX should go the route of using solely private funds. Under conditions in which the venture must return a profit, efficiency would be emphasized. As a side effect of efficiency being supreme, SpaceX might even come up with inventions or process which have benefits outside space exploration.
Humans have always had, and will always have, the desire to explore and build things which outlast ourselves and whose benefits might never be fully reaped by those who envisioned them. But in doing so, effort should be made to make sure resources are used effectively. From human experience to date, market processes of gathering resources have proven to be the most efficient route and have brought humans to where we are today. If SpaceX wants to get to mars, this is probably0 the best way to go which would give the best results even if it has more difficulties and challenges and takes more time.