early this morning, a new era of space exploration began.
a ten year old private company, spacex, rented part of cape canaveral from nasa and launched the falcon 9 into space to dock with the international space station on friday. it will be a first for a private firm.
spacex is run by elon musk. he’s described in the media as ‘space crazy’, like he’s a little kid spending his allowance on a model rocket. he started paypal, then sold it to ebay. he then started tesla motors, who have been producing high end electric vehicles. a few years later, perhaps realizing some of the inherent folly of electric vehicles (that electricity is usually produced via fossil fuels), he starts solarcity which builds, among other things, solar powered chargers for electric vehicles. and so, elon musk is a billionaire. perhaps money isn’t his only motivation, but it is the only motivator for a business.
many were disheartened when nasa axed the space shuttle program altogether. since the inception of space exploration, even the smallest achievement with regards to space exploration had been a source of national pride, no matter which nation was involved. for some years, having a space program was higher on a nation’s priority list than even attaining nuclear weaponry. it was a way to show the world you were a cultivated, sane, intelligent nation capable of achieving as a group the most intricate and exploratory of tasks. that idea has fallen away in my lifetime.
many people are consumed with the idea that private business can do anything better than government. the reasons for this evident in human nature: in business you earn a profit. in public life, you might get congratulations, some degree of power and a relatively meager paycheck, but rarely any accolades. the business ideal feeds into both the best and the worst parts of ourselves. the aspirational: if we work hard and have good methods or ideas, success is inevitable – and the self serving: i can get everything i want and it doesn’t matter what anyone else needs.
i’m not anti-business. i’m trotting off to work in a few minutes to get my paycheck, also meager, so i can go after more of the things i want. but business, when left all to it’s own to grow unfettered and unregulated, has a tendency to get out of control.
we saw it when glass-steagall was overturned. why? because big banks lobbied to be let to become bigger, to be regulated less. so now banks could be not just commercial banks but also investment banks. they wanted to make more money. they wanted more leverage in the market. in short, they wanted to make more money for them while gambling with yours. and it happened. and a few years later everything went to hell worldwide and we are still just creeping out of it, with some of the china still upright on the wall. and as we are doing it the banks are still saying regulation is strangling them and to get government out of the way so the market can decide all our fates.
there is this strange facet to business life that totally moral people can come together and as a business can engage in things which are immoral. because it’s a legal entity, each individual has the plausible deniability of being able to say ‘i am moral’ and they are almost right. no one feels culpable, even as awful things are done. business is business, after all.
business is about one thing, in the end: profit. people like mitt romney make careers in business essentially functioning as asset strippers. a great deal of their success comes from streamlining business models and changing direction and policy such that fewer people need to be employed to make the same profit, and that customers can get as little as possible while getting the most money from them as possible.
when you maximize profit, you minimize people, and their needs. this seems to be a truth. so, i wonder what this will bode for space exploration.
space ……… the final frontier (for business)