Billionaire Space Flights and the ‘Malefactors of Great Wealth’

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We have just witnessed the spectacle of billionaire Richard Branson taking a brief joy ride into outer space. In the near future, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos also has a trip planned. These entrepreneurs are going to compete for market share in the proposed business of selling tickets to other millionaires and billionaires who similarly want to blast off into space for 15 to 20 minutes before returning to Earth.

Governments fund space exploration for the purposes of generating new knowledge in astronomy, engineering, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, telecommunication, weather forecasting, climate science, as well as aid in our understanding of geology. Space exploration can also have unexpected benefits by generating new knowledge which has unexpected practical applications and by inspiring young people to pursue careers in mathematics, science, and engineering. 

Back here on Earth we must grapple with a worldwide pandemic, social and political unrest, income disparities, an opioid epidemic, cancer, heart disease, a decaying infrastructure, global warming, and an inadequate system of education.

Billionaires Branson and Bezos have made their fortunes by maximizing profits on the backs of underpaid and overworked workers. Now they are publicly flaunting their wealth with space trips for the purpose of creating an industry of space tourism.

Problems With Space Tourism

Let’s consider two glaring issues with the normalization of space tourism.

First, attempting travel into outer space is potentially fatal. There are many deaths that have already occurred as a result of space travel. Branson and Bezos are subjecting themselves and, more importantly, their employed pilots and other passengers to a significant risk of death by these unnecessary trips. 

Second, billionaires may have “money to burn” but that does not absolve them from acting in a moral manner. Branson and Bezos could fund programs to fight poverty or disease and they could build schools, hospitals, research institutes, and universities. Bezos could pay workers in Amazon warehouses and those driving his trucks a living wage and stop trying to halt the unionization of employees. There is plenty they could do of social value instead of indulging themselves in a public display of ego.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Photo: AFP

In 1895, New York City Police Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, who would go on to become governor of New York and later vice president and president of the United States, said, 

“There is not in the world a more ignoble character than the mere money-getting American, insensible to every duty, regardless of every principle, bent only on amassing a fortune, and putting his fortune only to the basest uses… These men are equally careless of the working men, whom they oppress, and of the State, whose existence they imperil. There are not very many of them, but there is a very great number of men who approach more or less closely to the type, and, just in so far as they do so approach, they are curses to the country.”

Roosevelt would coin the phrase “malefactors of great wealth” to describe these “curses to the country.” His cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt, who also served as president of the United States, would repeat the phrase and observe “The people of America have no quarrel with business. They insist only that the power of concentrated wealth shall not be abused.”

Branson and Bezos are demonstrating themselves to be malefactors of great wealth. They, and entrepreneurs like them, should get their concentrated wealth out of the clouds and put it to socially useful work on Earth. Goodness knows there is plenty of useful work to be done.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.