An increasingly common refrain today is that the rich should not be allowed to buy tickets to space before everyone else. This idea is encapsulated in a Forbes article titled “SpaceX Is Sending the Ultra Wealthy to the Moon, but That’s No Cause for Celebration.”1 The article claims that space “must benefit society at large in the same way that roads, trains and even commercial air travel serve the social good.” The authors argue that space should be “accessible and equitable for everyone” and that “Without attention to the ethical dimensions of transportation and mobility, there’s a disturbing risk that such expeditions [into space] will be reserved for the ultra-wealthy.”
They declare that “Developed societies function and thrive because of accessible, equitable infrastructure,” which includes such things as clean water, reliable electricity, and a near-global cell phone network. “Now imagine,” they summarize, “if these benefits were only available to the few. It’s unthinkable. Whatever treasures, opportunities and promises space may hold, we need to make sure they’re available to all of us, not just some of us.”
Such arguments ignore history, economics, and ethics (despite implications to the contrary). In fact, cell phones, electricity, and even running water were once the sole domain of the rich. This is simply a historical fact, and there is an excellent reason for it. . . .
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1. Remington Tonar and Ellis Talton, “SpaceX Is Sending the Ultra Wealthy to the Moon, but That’s No Cause for Celebration,” Forbes, September 19, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/ellistalton/2018/09/19/spacex-is-sending-the-ultra-wealthy-to-the-moon-but-its-no-cause-for-celebration/#210c1d6c7869.
2. Gabrielius Blažys, “What It Was like to Buy and Own a Car in the USSR,” Jalopnik, July 22, 2016, https://jalopnik.com/what-it-was-like-to-buy-and-own-a-car-in-the-ussr-1783136956; Mark Gillespie, “18 Russian Cars That Were Built to Crumble,” Hotcars, February 24, 2018, https://www.hotcars.com/20-russian-cars-that-were-built-to-crumble/.
3. Life in Stalin’s Soviet Union, edited by Kees Boterbloem, (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019), 202.
4. Anggy Polanco, Corina Pons, and Mayela Armas, “Venezuela Fuel Shortages Hinder Food Delivery Amid Coronavirus Quarantine,” Reuters, March 31, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-venezuela-food/venezuela-fuel-shortages-hinder-food-delivery-amid-coronavirus-quarantine-idUSKBN21I2K4.