Flights Of Fancy

Billionaire Jeff Bezos. Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr

By Eric Valentine

Billionaire Richard Branson. Photo credit: John Mathew Smith/Flickr

Two billionaires who fly into space within two weeks of one another during a pandemic while fires ravage North America and floods kill western Europeans and folks in central China are easy targets for criticism. This holds especially true for the left-leaning, semi-anti-capitalist consciousness out there, where social media memes, for instance, depict a man seeing two choices—“end world hunger” and “fly into space”—inferring that before billionaires Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos were building their rocket ships, they could have spent their time and money doing something that would have helped everyone, right away. Another viral post shows a screenshot of a news broadcast about Bezos’s trip while the lower third of the screen scrolls news about how many Americans cannot afford their next housing payment.

Let me be very clear: I am firmly on the side of “billionaires need to pay more taxes”—if making only $500 million isn’t enough incentive to get out of bed in the morning, you need to quit your day job and choose another line of work. And whereas I see the value in increasing the estate tax—sorry, folks, it’s not a death tax; it’s a tax on people who inherit wealth not a tax on people who are dying—I haven’t jumped on the anti-space-ride frenzy most left-leaning folks have seemed to do.

Billionaire Jeff Bezos. Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr

Here’s why:

  False Choice—One of my pet peeves with socio-political and economic discussion is when we are given a false choice. For instance, “government handouts” versus “self-reliance”—the two are not mutually exclusive! Even Howard Shultz, the CEO of Starbucks, needed government/taxpayer help. Where do you think the water in the coffee comes from? Billionaires like Branson and Bezos and Musk have plenty of money and other resources to fund things like cancer research, world food distribution, micro loans, et al., while still funding their rocket-ship enterprises. Someone paid $28 million to be on that first Bezos flight; and he had so much money that when he had a scheduling conflict, he gave the ticket to his 18-year-old relative. The money is out there to solve big issues and fly privately to space at the same time, there just needs to be the moral will to do both.

  Small Time Frame—Sometimes it’s hard for human beings to understand their place in history. We live 100 years or less. And although we study ancient civilizations, it’s only the ones on record, which start showing up in any sort of recorded history about 6,000 years ago. So, to understand how something done now is necessary for something else to happen 10,000 years from now is outside our normal mental capacity. But to imagine Earth 10,000 years from now as not having established space travel to at least a space station outside the planet’s orbit is to not imagine clearly at all. Bezos has said that his desire to do his rocket ride is—at least in part—to establish a roadmap for space travel future generations can build on. He has even gone as far as to say one day Earth will be the residentially zoned place and space is where polluted industry can happen. In other words, whether you agree or disagree with that approach, this is the visionary acumen of explorers like Columbus and Vasco da Gama and Balboa, et al.  And this time, there are no natives to call savage, just a tiny blue rock we may just be able to salvage.

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