Billionaires Are Lifting Off: Good Riddance

When wealth concentrates, Sam Pizzigati says we get a society that revolves around the egos of the most affluent among us.

Starship high-altitude flight test, Feb. 3. (Official SpaceX Photos, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

By Sam Pizzigati

Three of the richest billionaires on Earth are now busily spending billions to exit our Earth’s atmosphere and enter into space. The world is watching — and reflecting.

Some commentators see our billionaire trio — Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk — as heroic heirs to the legacies of Charles Lindbergh and Sir Edmund Hillary, the first mere mortals to high jump the Atlantic alone and scale the world’s highest mountain.

Our billionaires racing into space, other charmed commentators are adding, aren’t just thrilling humankind. They’re uplifting us. The technologies that the space operations Branson, Bezos, and Musk “develop could benefit people worldwide far into the future,” says Yahoo Finance’s Daniel Howley.

But most of our commentators seem to be taking a considerably more skeptical perspective. They’re dismissing the space antics of Branson, Bezos, and Musk as the ego trips of bored billionaires, “cynical stunts by disgustingly rich businessmen,” as one British analyst puts it, “to boost their self-importance at a time when money and resources are desperately needed elsewhere.”

“Space travel used to be about ‘us,’ a collective effort by the country to reach beyond previously unreachable limits,” writes author William Rivers Pitt. “That was the Cold War propaganda, anyway, and it had an unavoidable allure. Now, it’s about ‘them,’ the 0.1 percent.”

The best of these skeptical commentators can even make us laugh.

“Really, billionaires?” comedian Seth Meyers asked earlier this month. “This is what you’re going to do with your unprecedented fortunes and influence? Drag race to outer space?”

Wake-Up Call 

Let’s enjoy the ridicule. But let’s not treat the billionaire space race as a laughing matter. Let’s see it as a wake-up call, a reminder that we don’t only get billionaires when wealth concentrates. We get a society that revolves around the egos of the most affluent among us and an economy where the needs of average people go unmet and don’t particularly matter.

Characters like Elon Musk, notes Paris Max, host of the “Tech Won’t Save Us” podcast, are using “misleading narratives about space to fuel public excitement” and gain tax-dollar support for various projects “designed to work best — if not exclusively — for the elite.”

Elon Musk. (Tumisu from Pixabay)

The three corporate space shells for Musk, Bezos and Branson — SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic — have “all benefited greatly through partnerships with NASA and the US military,” notes CNN Business. Their common corporate goal: to get satellites, people, and cargo “into space cheaper and quicker than has been possible in decades past.”

Branson, for his part, is hawking tickets for roundtrips “to the edge of the atmosphere and back,” at $250,000 per head. He’s planning some 400 such trips a year, observes British journalist Oliver Bullough, about “almost as bad an idea as racing to see who can burn the rainforest quickest.”

The annual UN Emissions Gap Report last year concluded that the world’s richest 1 percent do more to foul the atmosphere than the entire poorest 50 percent combined. That top 1 percent, the UN report adds, would have to “reduce its footprint by a factor of 30 to stay in line” with the 2015 Paris Agreement targets. Opening space to rich people’s joyrides would stomp that footprint even bigger.

Bezos and Musk seem to have grander dreams than mere space tourism. They’re looking “to colonize the cosmos,” with Bezos pushing “artificial tube-like structures floating close to Earth” and Musk talking up the terraforming of Mars. They essentially see space as a refuge from an increasingly inhospitable planet Earth. They expect tax-dollar support to make their various pipe dreams come true.

And how should we respond to all this? We should, of course, be working to create a more hospitable planet for all humanity. In the meantime, several egalitarian wags have been circulating online petitions that urge our terrestrial authorities not to let orbiting billionaires back on Earth.

“Billionaires should not exist…on Earth or in space, but should they decide the latter, they should stay there,” reads one petition nearing 200,000 signatures.

Ric Geiger, the 31-year-old automotive supplies account manager behind that effort, is hoping his petition helps the issue of maldistributed wealth “reach a broader platform.”

Activists like Geiger are going down the right track. We don’t need billionaires out to “conquer space.” We need to conquer inequality.

Sam Pizzigati co-edits His latest books include The Case for a Maximum Wage and The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970. Follow him at @Too_Much_Online.

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The views expressed are solely those of the authors and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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5 comments for “Billionaires Are Lifting Off: Good Riddance

  1. Andrew (Andy) Alcock
    July 22, 2021 at 11:47

    May they go and never come back. They are wasting money that could be spent on positive services for humanity, causing further pollution that is already causing millions of premature deaths (according to the WHO) and causing climate change.

    And the fantastic amounts of money they have to throw away on useless projects like this came from the exploitation of people and the environment.

  2. Dr. Hujjathullah M.H. Babu Sahib
    July 21, 2021 at 14:58

    An eye-opening article clearly. But I confess I can’t go entirely with its thrust. Instead of trying to somehow penalize all billionaires for suddenly getting privately space-borne, we should try to strike some balance in these activities.

    We should not go entirely with the egalitarian wags, though they may have a strong case against socially-blind billionaires blasting off mindlessly into space. Musk, in particular, needs a pat on his back for not actually contaminating our immediate outer-space but instead pro-actively ventering into deeper trans-solar odesseies ; surely he can’t be accused of contaminating our Earthly atmospherics !

  3. Chris Gayler
    July 20, 2021 at 15:45

    What a sad and misguided opportunity. Where is the flap about the 5.2 Trillion dollars that governments spent to subsidize the fossil fuel industry in 2018 alone? Source IMF. And this noise about redirecting billions from space programs to social programs; the social problems are not about lack of money, they’re about lack of political will. Billionaires make an easy target to look virtuous and hate on, but it is Elon Musk for instance who single-handedly is greening transportation; whose rockets are bringing Starlink internet service to all areas of the planet – with telehealth for instance, and who is bringing Plan B in colonizing Mars. How is Plan A working out so far?

  4. bobLich
    July 20, 2021 at 12:37

    Here is a classic NPR (Neocon Plutocrats Radio) article about praising those with the most money. At the end of the article it even gets more disgusting when they say, with a straight face, ‘The company’s webcast touted that interested viewers should get in touch about booking a spot on a future Blue Origin flight.’


    Apparently the billionaires have bought NPR along with outer space.

    • subhuti37
      July 21, 2021 at 02:36

      NPR sold out long ago. Their corporate sponsors call the shots…basically own the place and then NPR begs ‘listeners like you’ for money to pay the rent.

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