Necessities as commodities: should I buy air or water today?

This is going to be very offensive to some people. I hope so.

Let’s do a thought experiment. These can be very illuminating. Einstein used them to good effect.

The boss of Nestle has said that water should be a commodity to be bought and sold. They have a near monopoly on distribution, including Perrier and San Pellegrino (read the labels carefully). In that model it is ok if your tap water is poisonous as long as they can sell you packaged water (PFAs anyone?) that is somewhat less poisonous. The difference in toxicity levels is a parameter they can adjust to maximize profit.

So let’s consider a mining operation in the asteroid belt.

It is likely that the work is hard, possibly body-destroying. It is certainly risky: chance of exposure to vacuum, toxic substance etc. It is not a pleasant living environment – no riverside meadow, no coral reef or sunny woodland glade. People who go to work there probably don’t have much in the way of alternative options. In other words, they are ripe for exploitation.

How might we organize that society? Necessities for life are air, water, food, protective clothing/habitat. They need to be produced, transported, and made available to the workforce. I hope we don’t imagine hauling scuba tanks, plastic water bottles and salmonella-tainted packaged salads out of earth’s gravity well.

The commodity approach is that there are producers, distributors, retailers, all dealing with each other trying to maximize profit. The result is a workforce (aka population) constantly on the edge of suffocation, starvation, dehydration or death by meteorite.

“You load sixteen tons, what do you get?

Another day older and deeper in debt” — Tennessee Ernie Ford

Is there another way we can think how to organize such an operation?

All suggestions are welcome.