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Bezos donates $100M each to CNN contributor Van Jones and chef Jose Andres (cnn.com)
241 points by flowerlad 14 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 805 comments



All the critics lobbing cynicism against Bezos, Branson, and Musk saying, in essence, that their money is better spent here at home reminds me of a wonderful scene from The West Wing when one character asks why we have to go to Mars:

"'Cause it's next. For we came out of the cave, and we looked over the hill, and we saw fire. And we crossed the ocean, and we pioneered the West, and we took to the sky. The history of man is hung on the timeline of exploration, and this is what's next."

I personally don't care that these billionaires are spending their money on vacations to orbit. It's how we get to the moon and Mars and how we survive as a species. It's what's next.


I don't think it's really fair to lump Bezos, Branson, and Musk into the same bucket.

Musk, for all his flaws, started an actual rocket company with new and frankly insane tech.

Bezos and especially Branson's ventures feel much more like personal vanity projects than something that will actually push space exploration.

I mean Blue Origin has been running for 20 years and the best we have from them is flights that were accomplished in the Cold War?

SpaceX has been around for two years less and has accomplished orbital missions. Lumping them all together feels like we're giving out participation trophies.


> Bezos and especially Branson's ventures feel much more like personal vanity projects than something that will actually push space exploration.

I'm not sure why people feel this need to draw this weird line in the sand and say that SpaceX is okay because Musk built a business, but Blue Origin and Virgin are bad because... reasons?

Technology advances for all sorts of reasons. Lamborghinis exist because a farmer was pissed at Ferrari. Motorolla made the first cellphone to steal the thunder from AT&T. Hell, the first space race back in the 60s was basically done to flex on the USSR.

If this is all a massive dick measuring contest, I honestly couldn't care less. It's advancing space exploration and providing competition in the space. Even Bezos and Branson stopped right now, they've still proven that it's possible for a company other than SpaceX to put a man in orbit and dumped billions of dollars back into the economy.

When I hear people complain about this being a vanity project like that somehow taints the accomplishment, all I can think about is a particularly on the nose quote from the TV show Community. "Who cares if Troy thinks he's all that? Maybe he is. You think astronauts go to the moon because they hate oxygen? No, they're trying to impress their high school's prom king."


  Even Bezos and Branson stopped right now, they've still proven that it's possible for a company other than SpaceX to put a man in orbit and dumped billions of dollars back into the economy.
False. I hate to be "that guy" but neither Bezos or Branson made it to orbit. Those were sub-orbital flights with parabolic trajectories. To use your analogies: If Tesla were the Ferrari, then Virgin Galactic and friends would be the kit cars that look like a Ferrari but have a typical muscle car under the skin.

That's not to say that neither is impressive. They are definitely impressive. But they're also just carnival rides for Billionaires, and that's what gets on peoples nerves.


You're correct, but that doesn't really change the point I was trying to make

Since you've edited your post, I'll respond to the rest.

> But they're also just carnival rides for Billionaires, and that's what gets on peoples nerves.

If Bezos or Branson had sent someone else up in their place, does that really change anything?

Sure, it's expensive and only the super wealthy can afford to go into space right now, but there are plenty of technologies in our past that only the wealthy could afford at first, but as time went on, they became more affordable.


Neither Bezos or Branson achieved orbital velocities, which is the minimum bar for doing useful things related to space. It really is just a carnival ride - it's not about who's in it, its that they didn't actually achieve anything: what they built has no utility except as a dick-measuring contest.

Orbit is a little bit of upwards velocity and a whole lot of sideways velocity. They only did the much simpler former.

These sub orbital flights are just barely over the line into what can be called space travel, and do nothing useful except letting them brag that 'they went to space'


Suborbital rocketry can be useful. Much early rocket science involved "sounding rockets", which were capable of going above (very nearly all of) the Earths' atmosphere, as well as serving as testbed platforms for rocket-surgery-related systems (launch, recovery, plumbing, guidance, etc.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sounding_rocket

The delta-v differential between sub-orbital and orbital is tremendous, though.


Isn’t part of the VG business plan to sell cheaper zero gravity time for small experiments ?

At least cheaper than going to actual space and longer than using parabolic flights in planes.


Look up "vomit comet".

> Neither Bezos or Branson achieved orbital velocities, which is the minimum bar for doing useful things related to space.

Well, ICBMs are very useful, and only require sub-orbital velocities, though I don't necessarily want Bezos or Branson to get those.


ICBMs travel about 7km/s, Bezos and Branson both got up to about 1km/s, 1/7th of the speed, and 1/49 the kinetic energy.

ICBMs can be converted to carry a human in a tin-can on top into space, if you happen to find yourself in a space-race.


Do ICBMs have any practical uses besides delivering explosives?

If you can deliver a warhead, chances are you can deliver a satellite.

Some of the space launchers today either started life as an ICBM turned dedicated launch vehicle (Proton) or are decommissioned ICBMs turned launch vehicles (Minotaur)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proton_(rocket_family) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minotaur_(rocket_family)


Makes sense that former-ICBMs that can reach orbital velocity have utility. (Are they still ICBMs if the goal isn't to reach another continent?)

I think the deltaV's needed to place a warhead on the surface are significantly less than those needed to put a satellite into low-earth orbit.


If you can lob your warheads into orbit with enough propellant left to accurately deorbit and aim them, you've then 1) got the capability of dropping them anywhere on the planet you choose, and 2) no longer have them sitting vulnerable in the silos and can sit back and choose your retargeting strategy without worrying about whether all your launch facilities will get nuked before you chose which cities to retaliate on...

There has been somethink kinda like that, just not long term orbit:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fractional_Orbital_Bombardme...

The other nuclear powers did not like it and it was scrapped. Not to mention that even if you might get the first shot this way, there will almost certainly be retaliatory strikes back on you.


Same day Prime delivery

literally lol, thanks

There were some plans to convert demilitarized R-36 ICBMs to land couple tons emergency supplies (eq. lifeboats, medical stuff, firefighting gear) anywhere 10000 km from the launch site. In the end those rockets were just converted to the Dnepr space launcher.

Well, a little bit of sideways could sure speed up intercontinental travel. Sure, could be a rich person toy. I’d imagine sometimes it’s useful to move a rare thing halfway around the world very quickly.

Sorry about that, I realized I had more to say after I had posted the reply. Your point about expensive technology becoming more affordable in the long run- that makes a lot of sense, and I totally get it. At first, basic air travel was such a thing, as was travel by rail. Or fancy carriage. So yes. That much is true.

And I think if they'd sent up other billionaires instead, it would have made no difference. The truth is that a lot of people are hurting badly, and to watch others do extravagant things that don't make a difference for the bettering of humanity now just pours salt on the 'wound' of poverty. For many people, it's visible proof of the gaps getting wider and wider.


> The truth is that a lot of people are hurting badly, and to watch others do extravagant things that don't make a difference for the bettering of humanity now just pours salt on the 'wound' of poverty. For many people, it's visible proof of the gaps getting wider and wider.

I hear you there, but I don't understand why Musk gets a free pass then? He's just as rich as Bezos and just as out of touch with what the needs of average American.


Because in a lot of people's eyes all Branson and Bezos have done is show up late to the game with inferior technology and thrown themselves a party for it.

SpaceX's ventures have generally served more utilitarian purposes. There are significant economic, scientific and military advantages to reducing the cost of getting things into orbit.

I don't think any of the three are bad, but I do think there is a gradient in terms of ambitions/successes that puts Musk well ahead of Bezos (at least until New Glen launches) and Bezo ahead of Branson.

While Bezos/Branson's priorities seems slightly backwards to me, it isn't wholey unreasonable to take that stance that making spaceflight available to more people will increase the level of interest in spaceflight (even if the timing seems a bit tone deaf for that goal.)


SpaceX actually brings things up to orbital speeds, which is the minimum bar for useful space activity.

For reference, orbital flight requires 17,400 mph (28,000 km/h)

Suborbital flight only requires 3,700 mph (6,000 km/h)

Highly recommend playing kerbal space program if you'd like to get a better intuitive understanding of the difference: suborbital flights are your second or third attempt - pretty easy, orbital flight will probably take you a dozen flights or so to figure out.


The main thing is that what Bezos and especially Branson have built is a technological dead end. In order to make something that can actually reach orbit, Virgin Galactic is basically going to have to scrap everything they've done, and start from square one (Blue origin might be in a bit better place, but really hasn't accomplished anything yet after decades).

The only thing it may make cheaper is suborbital flights, which are essentially useless. You can't even launch satellites that low. So there's essentially no practical purpose for their tech, and their companies, besides bragging rights for rich guys.

A lousy metaphor we could use here is that in a world of automobiles, Bezos and especially Branson decided to research horses. It's not a very good metaphor - maybe a better one is someone trying a new entrant in the floppy disk category in 2021. Much like "Zip Drives" were able to make contemporarily larger floppy drives in their day (100mb instead of 1.3mb), you likely could make very good "modern" floppies in 2021, measuring in hundreds of gb, but they would still possess the fundamental flaws of the medium (being so easy to damage), and you simply couldn't get away from that. We abandoned it as a technological dead end for a reason.

They achieved something we already have the tech to do; the only thing that's special is that they paid for it all by themselves.

--

Musk, on the other hand, has two feathers in his cap - the first is that they're working on tech that's already fundamentally useful and "has room to grow" in incremental improvement. Getting to orbit is fundamentally useful (it's the tipping point where you can start to do satellites, and even extra-terrestrial trips); and pouring R&D into making that cheaper is very helpful for humanity.

The other feather he's got in his cap is that the company he founded didn't just do some piddly "incremental improvements" that shaved a little bit off the cost of launch. We'd all be cheering if they'd shaved, oh, 10% of the cost away. That would be really good for humanity.

--

But no.

They went so far above and beyond that it's absolutely daffy duck. They won the lottery. They didn't roll a natural 20; they rolled a d20 and the dice face on top said "50 million".

They invented reusable rockets - which everyone, including all the government space agencies, had written off as permanently impractical. The cost comparisons are just nuts — The cost of a space shuttle launch is something like 0.5-1.5 billion dollars. A similar launch from space x is something like, pessimistically, a few hundred thousand. It's like FIVE ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE. This is my first "allcaps" on HN, but it needs the emphasis. The thing that Musk's company (really; folks like Gwynne Shotwell deserve core credit here) did was a quantum leap that honestly - nobody else might have had the political capital to do. We might have gotten this a century earlier than an alternate timeline without him precisely because of the stupidity of "allocation of funding" - there's no practical reason why a government agency couldn't have done this; it's all social dynamics and groupthink.

It singlehandedly makes a lot of crazy, impractical things (like solar panels in space to solve terrestrial power problems) tip from pure fantasy into "gosh, maybe we could actually do this?" He's already rolling out Starlink, but there are an awful lot of really helpful things for real, contemporary problems on earth that "cheap space launches" could solve.

"One of these is not like the others."


Because what Musk is doing is pushing a technological frontier that can create new technologies to serve humankind while Bezos and Branson are not. It’s like inventing a new kind of ship vs. buying a super yacht.

I don't know all the ins-and-outs of everything these three companies are working on, but I'm having a very hard time believing that not a single innovative technological has come out Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic. Especially since many Blue Origin employees are former SpaceX employees.

Sure, just like building a superyacht today has some innovation as they customize it to each customer. But ultimately Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are retrodding old ground.

Their ‘normal’ lifestyle is as comparatively extravagant anyway, regardless of space travel, just less reported on. It being on cable news doesn’t change that.

I think it's viewed as wasteful because it doesn't actually get people into orbit, AND it is expensive. Thus, it's only really appealing to rich people with cash to burn. These vehicles aren't even stepping stones to orbital rockets, and orbital launch prices are dropping. It's much more likely that SpaceX will offer tickets to orbit for $25k in the next 5-10 years than it will be for Virgin Galactic to do so. Blue Origin at least has an orbital rocket in development, but who knows if/when it'll even start being fabricated.

Safety won't be high enough for orbital flights for tourists.

Sending rockets to space is still very prone to failures. Failure rates for unmanned rockets where lower 40 years ago than they are now if you look at the trailing 10 year failure rates. Around 1 in 20 unmanned mission fails.

Failures for manned missions are less frequent, however noone can guarantee you, that the rate is lower than 1%.

https://space.stackexchange.com/questions/8566/what-is-the-s...


Blue Origin is building and firing the BE-4 engines that will be used by New Glen and I rather doubt that there isn't work being done to fabricate other systems given the work that has been completed on their Florida manufacturing facility.

Do you have sources that indicate fabrication has not started?


Aha I have found footage showing a New Glenn first stage in the factory earlier this year: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXOXKfarFhg

I believe I was recalling another video tour, probably from last year, where they said "And this is where the assembled rockets will be stored" and the factory floor was empty. It's pretty cool that they've made so much progress since then!


> neither Bezos or Branson made it to orbit.

It is true that reaching orbit is much more difficult than reach space but Branson has another company called Virgin Orbit that did reach orbit.

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_Orbit :

> The first successful flight was on 17 January 2021, which delivered a payload of 10 CubeSats to low Earth orbit (LEO)

It uses an unusual strategy. A boeing 747 carries the rocket under its left wing. So, it does not need a spaceport and can can be pre-aligned on any orbit.

Bezos is also trying hard to reach orbit with the New Glenn space rocket. But this one had a lot of delays.


Frankly it would be more accurate to say they are go-karts dressed up like a sports car.

It isn't "because... reasons", it's because of specific reasons. Those reasons are actually right there in your comment: Blue Origin and Virgin don't strike me at all as "advancing space exploration". Like the comment you replied to said: we already knew how to do the stuff they've done, a long time ago. Spacex on the other hand is progressing the state of the art.

I think one of the main reasons that a line gets drawn between Musk and the others is the focus of the business models. While Musk focuses of space station resupply and satellite launch, in addition to "Mars Missions", Branson and Bezos have fully stated that they are in the business of space tourism. Those are very real reasons to draw a line in the sand between SpaceX and Blue Origin and Virgin.

As for the founders. Meh. They're circus show men, but at least Musk comes from an engineering back ground, I guess? But the difference in mission is important.


> While Musk focuses of space station resupply and satellite launch, in addition to "Mars Missions", Branson and Bezos have fully stated that they are in the business of space tourism.

That's kind of a silly argument in my mind. Tesla started out making electric sports cars that cost $100,000+ each. Just because a company focuses on high margin products for the super rich when they are starting off, doesn't mean they aren't making significant technological progress that can benefit the world.


Tesla's plan from the start was: luxury cars now to fund cheaper mass production later.

That doesn't stand scrutiny of the facts. Tesla lost money on every Model S.

https://www.tesla.com/blog/secret-tesla-motors-master-plan-j...

> In keeping with a fast growing technology company, all free cash flow is plowed back into R&D to drive down the costs and bring the follow on products to market as fast as possible. When someone buys the Tesla Roadster sports car, they are actually helping pay for development of the low cost family car.

Not only was that the plan in 2006, you'd expect them to lose a bit of money as long as they have available funds, in order to get to mass production faster.


Sure, but in the automotive world Musk is taken to task plenty when it comes to "more serious" EV's with more moderate performance that appeal to a broader market. He is given credit for popularizing the market, again, thanks to his carnival barker style, but he isn't bringing EV's to the masses. That's a large void that companies like Ford, Volkswagen and Toyota are filling =/

Musk's contribution to EVs isn't just that he brought them to market, but that he made them a highly desirable technology. That it's "cool" and "hip" to own an electric vehicle, something that everyone else up to this point had failed to do. Like you said, "carnival barker style."

Yeah, the reality is that the big car manufacturers are going to be the ones to commoditize it because they are experts in commoditization and manufacturing processes that Tesla still struggles with today. That may have even happened without Tesla. But I am confident that Tesla has accelerated the adoption of EV and I think it's fair to say that in this sense, yes, Musk absolutely is "bringing EVs to the masses."


Tesla famously made their EV patents free for other car makers like Ford and Toyota to use. Without Tesla paving the way those other car makers would likely still be focused on ICE cars.

Blue Origin is absolutely doing space exploration work as well. They have multiple contracts with NASA

https://www.nasa.gov/subject/5482/blue-origin/


You forgot the phrase “from the ground” in the first sentence.

> If this is all a massive dick measuring contest, I honestly couldn't care less. It's advancing space exploration and providing competition in the space.

This is the crux of your argument, and it's the core disagreement. Blue origin does nothing to advance space exploration just by virtue of existing. They are not competitive.


I'm not sure that's true. Even if they are never competitive with SpaceX you can't employ that many people and spend that much money without advancing the industry. The benefits are just second order effects.

This. Every engineer employed at BO is one engineer not wasting their talents doing adtech at FAANG to pay the bills.

Different kind of engineers usually, but yeah.

I have worked with multiple folks with Aerospace/Mechanical Engineering backgrounds who have switched to being data scientists or software engineers. Often because of the dismal job prospects in their fields. So yes, quite often the same kind of engineer.

Give me a 10000 people and 100 billion dollars. I guarantee you I can squander it like a pro.

That's not what's happening here though.

I didn't say it was, I'm responding to your claim that

> you can't employ that many people and spend that much money without advancing the industry.

I'm (jokingly) saying I definitely could.


No one has a problem with dick measuring contests, the criticism is that Bezos and Branson aren't "whipping it out", so to speak. They're just continuing to do what's already been done before and drumming up press about it.

I don't have a position one way or the other, it just sounded like you were missing the argument of the post you responded to.


> dumped billions of dollars back into the economy.

And how did they do that? By wasting earthly resources and real human lives on pointless rocket launches.

The disgusting part isn't that they are going to space. The disgusting part is that ONLY they get to go to space. They are pushing the worst conditions here on earth (forcing shit hours and trash work conditions) so that they can go fly in a rocket.

It's pathetic.


Noone bats a eye when those same companies perform test launches that are just as expensive.

I mean I get it that it seems extravagant, but if you just think about it as another test launch that they risked their lives to ride along with, it’s less troubling.


As much as we'd like to think otherwise, tech can be political. Think what happened with Edison and Tesla for example : we could be living in a very different world. It's OK to criticize the development of technology because of who and how it's used.

But they have not put someone in orbit. Neither of them. Let's see if New Glenn 'delivers'...

> I'm not sure why people feel this need to draw this weird line in the sand and say that SpaceX is okay because

It's because they know exactly what it really means if they cut SpaceX off at the knees and include them. It reveals what they're really saying they want to do. And that's just too far in polite company.

With Blue Origin they think they can chop them down and use them as an example and it's ok, because it doesn't imply a desire to return to the stone age and the crushing of technological progress. Blue Origin is a convenient example in other words, for now. If they use SpaceX, it would go too far in making them look like a luddite, lusting to dial back centuries of progress.

They apparently think it's possible to preordain from the word go which company will be the successful one. It's a product of centrally planned thinking, centrally planned fantasy. Such that it was okay for Musk to be doing what he was with his great wealth back when he had $100 million, and not if he crossed some arbitrary wealth line. It was ok for SpaceX to fail over and over and over again, and to burn through a large sum of money trying to get the Falcon 9 flying. It's just not ok for anybody else to fail trying. It's ok to take N time to succeed at $N money, but not ok if it takes more time and more money. Funny little needle the central planners want threaded.

When Bezos had $20 billion, nobody cared much about him. You'd very rarely see his name eg on Reddit or HN or Imgur or anywhere else outside of the business press. He'd occasionally pop up on HN in an Amazon story, it was rare though. Few people actually knew his name or who he was. That's ~2012, he had been a billionaire for about 14 years by that point and had been working on Blue Origin for around 12 years. So now he's worth $200 billion, everybody knows his name, zillions of people apparently hate him, people post vicious shit about him 24/7. They're all lying. They don't know Bezos anymore today than they did in 2012, what they know is his name is at the top of the rich list now, and the mob loves nothing more than to chop people down. The exact same thing happened to Gates once he took the rich list title.

What you're witnessing is mimic-based mob behavior in action. That's why it's so irrational, so emotional, so very much not thought-out. It's very predictable, most people that join in likely struggle to control their urge to mimic and join the rage mobs, and it goes after anybody that pops their head up too far. It's what social media is largely filled with today, ignorance and rage mobs. It's probably genetically wired in behavior for some people and then amplified depending on the culture and context.


The argument falls apart with Richard Branson. He’s a relatively poor billionaire barely comparable to $20B net worth Jeff Bezos.

You had an agenda and a point to make. You likely were going to get your anger across no matter what evidence you had to use.

I’m pretty sure at least half the people on HN knew who Jeff Bezos was a decade ago. That’s like saying people on HN don’t know who Jack Dorsey is. Sure he’s not going to be known by name to the average person but that’s not what HN’s crowd is

Is your point against society at large, who don’t fit in with defending Musk and attacking other space billionaires because they don’t really care or know what’s up. Or HNers who as said above, don’t work with what you’re saying.

> What you're witnessing is mimic-based mob behavior in action. That's why it's so irrational, so emotional, so very much not thought-out. It's very predictable, most people that join in likely struggle to control their urge to mimic and join the rage mobs, and it goes after anybody that pops their head up too far. It's what social media is largely filled with today, ignorance and rage mobs. It's probably genetically wired in behavior for some people and then amplified depending on the culture and context.

The vibe given off thru the post and ending with this is hard to distinguish from trolling or inebriated anger posting. Sounds like an exaggerated smartest person in the room take - Vs the rest of us sheep proletariats being too stupid to know right from left.


> Lumping them all together feels like we're giving out participation trophies.

In defense of Branson his other space company Virgin Orbit now does orbital launches also, and has cool capabilities that genuinely differentiate it from other providers. We'll see if Bezos catches up, he's personally focusing on it more now and may make faster progress on New Glenn etc.


I agree, I have a friend who worked on early designs for Virgin Galactic and he talks about many of the differences (and benefits) of the Virgin design over Blue Origin and SpaceX.

There's no reason to get into comparisons, except to the extent that it helps push them to compete harder, and make more progress.

A public space race of billionaires is exactly the kind of thing we should all be hoping for. They can leverage their relatively small funding to push much larger government funding in productive directions. They're better than most government administrators and don't have as many constraints, so they can take more risks and pay experts what they're worth on the open market.

The public should be calling for more of this kind of thing across all major areas of civilization. Let's get a public race among billionaires for curing cancer, HIV, and poverty.

If it feeds their egos, all the better. Almost all progress is connected to selfish goals, even among the greatest and most "pure" scientists. They want to win a Nobel, for the money and the recognition. Or they're doing science because it's just extremely pleasurable for them, which is not a selfless reason at all. The sooner people realize that base motivations aren't a sin the better we'll all be. And in reality, motivations are always a mix of (mostly) selfish and selfless reasons.

Motivations aren't what matters. What matters is making progress that can (eventually!) benefit everyone.


> Let's get a public race among billionaires for curing cancer, HIV, and poverty.

Imagine thinking that having to beg fief lords for what should be yours by right is a good thing...


Imagine making up strawmen on forums so that you can feel smug knocking them down...

The fact is that governments already spend far more than billionaires are able to spend and are relatively ineffective. No one has ever suggested they stop doing their part. Billionaires lending their expertise and money is not a substitute for government work, it's just a proven accelerant.

See Bill Gates' work in Africa for an example. He has leveraged his fortune to help find effective opportunities for his money and government money. He has has saved millions of lives that no government would have otherwise saved, even if he had donated all of his money to the U.S. treasury.


This "eventually" sounds like it's really "we get progress once we put them through guillotines and claw back all the tech we paid for"

The end state of these things is still government provided utilities: space equivalents to roads and busses

The main benefit of billionaires doing this is that republicans love giving as tax money to rich people, so it can actually be funded, and the funding is what really decides whether a thing will be done


Can you point to some examples in history of things going this way? There are relatively few advances that were done purely by governments. Usually progress starts in the government and is then superseded by private industry, or the reverse.

There's a reason capitalist-America has led technological progress for 100+ years. The USSR had almost purely governmental funding and their administrators were almost universally terrible at genuine innovation.


"Almost all progress is connected to selfish goals"

[citation needed]


More like find one that isn't. I bet you can't :-)

Salk and Polio vaccine.

Salk said: "It's brought me enormous gratification"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonas_Salk


Salk got funding for his lab from the billionaire Mellon family. The Polio vaccine is a prime example of how billionaires can help push civilization forward.

> Sarah Scaife's causes were family planning, the poor and the disabled, hospitals, environmental causes and various good works in and around Pittsburgh. Her most famous gifts, in the late 1940s, were to the University of Pittsburgh – $35,000 to equip a virus research lab. In that lab, Jonas Salk discovered his polio vaccine.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/clint...


How how far the Salk family has fallen. Weren’t they implicated in the opiate crisis?

> A public space race of billionaires is exactly the kind of thing we should all be hoping for.

I'd rather see them paying fair wages and taxes. It's hugely inappropriate that they make billions while their workers struggle to pay rent.

It's only possible, because those poor people are too worked out to protest and do something about effectively being slaves.

These rockets seem more like modern day pyramids, only difference is that they will not last 3000 years.


> I'd rather see them paying fair wages and taxes.

Unless you're in the "billionaires must not exist" camp, which we could argue about, they'll still be very rich, given the scale and success of their businesses. A net worth of $50 billion vs $150 billion doesn't change all that much, for the U.S. treasury or Bezos.

> It's hugely inappropriate that they make billions while their workers struggle to pay rent.

There are many thousands of Amazon workers making six figure salaries. Thousands that making millions per year. These people are not struggling to pay rent. Amazon has also saved millions of low income people money through their services, not to mention the billions of taxes generated by their businesses. They're not some purely predatory business, like cigarette and alcohol companies. Billions of people benefit from Amazon.com and AWS-powered services every day of their lives.

The fact that low skilled jobs pay crap is in no way unique to Amazon, they just happen to employ more than any other single organization.

I'm fully onboard for a UBI policy in the US and I doubt Bezos or Musk would object for reasons of greed. The caricature of these guys being extremely greedy is fairly ignorant. Greediness is not what made them so rich.

> These rockets seem more like modern day pyramids, only difference is that they will not last 3000 years.

There's some other major differences, like they can actually make humanity space-faring, multi-planetary, provide world-wide high speed internet to poor villages, move toxic industries off-world, etc.

Even the pyramids were not all bad, although the best you can say about them is that they were jobs programs, and a better use of human resources than fighting useless wars.


> Unless you're in the "billionaires must not exist" camp, which we could argue about, they'll still be very rich, given the scale and success of their businesses. A net worth of $50 billion vs $150 billion doesn't change all that much, for the U.S. treasury or Bezos.

They should be okay with $10 million. Average worker will never be able to accumulate even $1 million during their lifetime.

> There are many thousands of Amazon workers making six figure salaries.

Amazon has 1,298,000 workers. The 1% you are referring to, does not make Amazon a good company. Furthermore, given how much money Bezos was able to skim, the six figures are still laughable.

> The fact that low skilled jobs pay crap is in no way unique to Amazon

Yes, because we don't have proper regulation - like making sure highest pay is no more than 10x of lowest pay or linking minimum wage to company global revenue (with a minimum threshold).

> and I doubt Bezos or Musk would object for reasons of greed.

They would object, because people on UBI wouldn't have to work in their sweatshops.

> like they can actually make humanity space-faring,

Corporations are not motivated by humanity

> provide world-wide high speed internet to poor villages

To help with surveillance, data mining and control.

> move toxic industries off-world, etc.

Only if it is profitable. More likely they would move banking off-world to shield themselves from paying taxes.


They definitely aren't all at the same level right now, but I'm happy for the competition. Hopefully it will drive innovation.

> Lumping them all together feels like we're giving out participation trophies.

Like this?: https://kstp.com/kstpImages/repository/2021-07/richard-brans...

I honestly don't think it's something bad to praise when only a handful of organizations have ever done it. [0] Thousands of people have climbed Everest, but it is still a commendable achievement.

> Blue Origin has been running for 20 years and the best we have from them is flights that were accomplished in the Cold War?

Plenty of other nation-states have been working on spaceflight longer than that and accomplished less.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_human_spaceflights#Sum...


> nation-states

You mean "countries", right, or are you trying to make some point about nationalism?


Bad word choice on my part. I just meant government-sponsored space programs, in contrast to private attempts.

No, he means “governments.”

I can't think of any country that would try to run such (decades long) projects under the remit of a few years' government.

They would report to but be independent of government ministers, and likely span multiple governments.

'State' is what was meant. (Country, nation, fine; bit less accurate perhaps? But I wouldn't have batted an eyelid.)


No, "nation-state" is trying to make about about someone's smartitude. It's like "thread actor" in that regard, i. e. its a big word that important people use in their CNN interviews. The racing strip of sentences, basically.

Did we have fully reusable rockets during the Cold War? Even though it's suborbital, Blue Origin's re-use is still a pretty impressive achievement.

Spaceplanes are also interesting tech. Maybe not the best choice for earth but could prove useful on other planets with different atmospheres.


Yes, going back to WWII many aircraft have been reusable rockets.

In 1963 the reusable X-15 broke the same 330,000f (100km) barrier at 353,200 ft using a nearly identical approach, 3 aircraft 199 flights, zero crashes. Blue Origin only nominally beat that at 367,490 ft, but was optimized for altitude rather than extreme speeds of the X-15 @ Mach 6.7.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_X-15

Blue Origin is an awesome amusement park ride, but not particularly interesting in terms of space exploration. Air launched anti satellite weapons for example are actually the most common approach. The main issue with air launching is scaling problems as you need to support the weight in multiple directions.


Sadly there were X-15 crashes:

"On 15 November 1967, U.S. Air Force test pilot Major Michael J. Adams was killed during X-15 Flight 191 when X-15-3, AF Ser. No. 56-6672, entered a hypersonic spin while descending, then oscillated violently as aerodynamic forces increased after re-entry."


No, but nobody had any interest in creating a reusable suborbital rocket. Hobbyists can do that, it just isn't very hard. The reason why what Falcon9 does is hard is the margins are so slim, to be able to get big payloads to high orbits, and still have fuel left to land from that speed and altitude, usually on a boat!

What blue origin is doing is vastly simpler.


The truth is that there 100% isn't anything morally wrong with:

1. Building a rocket company

2. Being a billionaire

3. Going on a flight on a rocket your company built

The issue stems from how the optics of these 3 lumped together appears to the masses.

To the people who are struggling everyday to make a living, it says: "Hey look at how much of a baller I am, I just went to space and you didn't"

Obviously, investing many personnel hours, pain and billions of dollars into a venture just for a "personal vanity project" is absurd and key driver behind these ventures is probably a desire to build the future.

However, most people don't have the luxury to worry about building the future when they're living paycheck to paycheck.

It is difficult to explain how the pie grows and everyone is better off (even if the inventors are the best off) as we invest in technology. The only solution to prevent public backlash to innovation is to make everyone well off enough to want to invest in building the future (and better PR, Jeff Bezos shame on you).


You give as truth that #2 is not 100% morally wrong. I am not so sure, and many other people would also disagree.

The implicit assumption in what you're saying that the only way to obtain a billion dollars is by immoral means. There is no proof that this is always the case.

As someone who thinks it's morally wrong to have billionaires in a society let me try to make an argument why I think so.

If a person has a billion dollars it does not exist in a vacuum. It interacts heavily within the economy in which it exists and more importantly with the people who participate in that economy.

Think for example the amount of people employed to do work in order to service a billionaire. A vast estate requires 24 hour staff, a sports car fleet requires thousands upon thousands hours of labor to produce. The logistics of a private jet demands a lot of effort from a lot of people. In order to service a single individual we require, in aggregate, countless of human lives spent toiling.

I am not arguing that the effect of increased economic activity and employment are not desirable. And one can make a decent case that a billionaire's time is incredibly valuable which to an extent may justify spending larger resources in service to this lifestyle. I just think the idea of many humans spending their lives in order to satisfy a single human is absurd no matter which societal model organizes this arrangement.

It can be argued that the people who service the billionaire are better off having found employment within or in relation to someones billion dollar estate. Though I think it is even easier to argue that we can find many hypothetical arrangements that are far more just and moral for these people.

There is also an argument to be made about the large amounts of undemocratic power that a billion dollar in private wealth entails. If the billionaire holds majority stakes within prominent industries we are delegating important decisions to opaque power with unknown agendas that we can not hope to influence in meaningful ways. As I firmly believe that a moral society is actively democratic this feels deeply wrong.

With that said, I do not have any good quick fixes. Because the reasons I outlined I feel that the presence of billionaires reveal that human society has yet to reach its moral potential. I have no illusions that reaching that goal will be either a simple or fast process. I prefer billionaires to having a nobility class. Though I hope that we as a species recognize that deeply inequitable social arrangements is something we want to move away from.


Ok there is a lot to unpack here and it may need a few comments.

First, you seem to conflate being a billionaire with conspicuous spending or otherwise inefficient use of their capital. Once again this is a generalization and many billionaires don’t have these sports cars and estates that you describe.

Secondly, you state “I just think the idea of many humans spending their lives in order to satisfy a single human is absurd”. This seems extremely blind considering that your iPhone was probably made the same way, and the food you get at the restaurant and literally anything you pay for. Countless humans have toiled to sustain your life too.

You also state that “If the billionaire holds majority stakes within prominent industries we are delegating important decisions to opaque power with unknown agendas that we can not hope to influence in meaningful ways.”. Yea it’s a risk, but it’s absurd to say with complete certainty that all billionaires use their power to influence the world in nefarious ways. What if they use it in moral ways that benefit us all? Does that make the billionaire a better person than the rest?

There is nothing to be fixed here. Your sense of deep equity is a feeling that’s born out of some kind of primal sense of fairness. In reality, there is nothing inherently amoral about billionaires.

Try applying all the arguments you have above from the perspective of someone with lesser means than you, with your relatively wealthy position being that of the billionaire.

Do you benefit from the labor of others? Check. Do you have more influence on the society than the other person? Probably, check. Somehow these add up to you being an immoral person. It’s pretty absurd bro.


I appreciate your response and I actually agree with most of it. Let me address your points in order.

>First, you seem to conflate being a billionaire with conspicuous spending or otherwise inefficient use of their capital. Once again this is a generalization and many billionaires don’t have these sports cars and estates that you describe.

Of course there might be some modest billionaires that lead relatively normal lives. Obviously my arguments do not apply to billionaires that sit idly in their wealth. I could try to make a different case for why that is an issue but I do not have major moral quarrels with that type of individual and have no interest in picking this fight. Though I assume you agree with me that this type of billionaire is a rare one.

>Secondly, you state “I just think the idea of many humans spending their lives in order to satisfy a single human is absurd”...

Excellent point and I can not stress enough how much I agree with you. To be clear, I am not arguing that the principle of the division of labor is bad. Obviously some people need to be software developers and other line cooks. But I am deeply bothered by the fact that I will average 40 hour weeks affording me a great deal more leisure than the person who assembled my laptop, farmed the bananas I eat and sewed the shirts I wear.

This does not mean that the solution is for me to live in the forest and sustain myself on berries. I recognize that this inequity is the result of different economies being in different stages of industrialization. My participation in the global economy will most likely help rather than hurt countries in earlier stages of development. I expect my global peers to join me in a relatively painless and happy life full of leisure as developing countries reach a more mature economic stage. If you tell me that this will never happen and this inequity is permanent, I might have to seriously re-examine my personal moral beliefs.

I have the same attitude towards billionaires. I recognize the historical trajectory that brought them here and for the cheap access to information and technology enabled by the industries that minted the latest set of tech billionaires I consider the deal to be quite good. I can still hold the belief that its morally wrong to have a billionaire class while not advocating for violently dismantling the current societal structure. I want society to become more equitable but I think the more realistic time-frame is in the span of hundreds of years, just as most social progress over the last millenia.

>You also state that “If the billionaire holds majority stakes within prominent industries we are delegating important decisions to opaque power with unknown agendas that we can not hope to influence in meaningful ways.”...

Good point. It can be argued we are better off due to undemocratic decision taken by key industry leaders. By democratizing every decision growth would likely be stifled. But there are middle-grounds. I for example would like some democratic influence over google without necessarily nationalizing it or forcing it into a co-op. Google is the de facto information aggregator for the half the worlds population that has internet access. This is a good thing and is due to decisions by democratically unchecked business leaders. However, its model for delivering information is highly incentivized to maximize ad revenue rather than providing the highest quality information. Philosophically, I believe that when something becomes ubiquitous to a large group of people, those people should have a say in that thing. I think a more democratic google is a moral necessity here which will likely be in detriment to the profit incentives of the shareholders. What this entails in practice is something we could probably argue about for a long time. (I understand that Pichai is not a founder nor a single majority holder of google and barely a billionaire. I choose google to highlight the drawbacks and advantages of democratic vs undemocratic power. Our discussion is about billionaires and not corporate decision making though I hope you can see how my reasoning would apply to undemocratic yet helpful decisions made by billionaires. )

Finally, I would like to state that my desired end goal is not complete 100% mathematically verified equality in all measures. I'm not a Pol Pot-esque collectivist who does not believe in the individual or individual differences. I actually believe a degree of inequity to be necessary for a dynamic society. A billionaire is a different beast than a multi-millionaire. I'm not advocating for a revolution to topple the billionaires. I'm advocating for a conversation about how extreme wealth might undermine the health of our society.


I agree, Blue Origin at least was thoughtful enough to use fuel that doesn't emit CO2.

Branson is more likable but does seem like he's just trying to defend his title of being the eccentric billionaire, rather than thinking too hard about the future.


>I agree, Blue Origin at least was thoughtful enough to use fuel that doesn't emit CO2.

I thought that too, but apparently the BE-4 engine uses LNG :/


Where do you think the H2 comes from?

They could always electrolyze seawater. We need to deter large-scale greenhouse gas venting, not energy uses of all kinds.

they could, but that's not where it comes from.

I think Bezos and Branson are just lagging Musk in execution. But that does not mean theirs are vanity projects. In the long run, Bezos plans to create a platform like AWS for space launch. And it's OK if it happens by 2025 or 2030. SpaceX, for all the wonderful things it has achieved, won't be able to cater to all space launch requirements. There needs to be a competition.

I don't think that's true at all about Branson. Almost all the Virgin companies are non-vanity: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_Group#Subsidiaries_and_...

>Musk, for all his flaws, started an actual rocket company with new and frankly insane tech.

Isn't is an amazing coincidence that Elon was able to find so many rocket engineers with ideas just as NASA was being starved of funding? Just lucky I guess! anotherwinformilos.gif

SpaceX is a privatization that enjoys plenty of easy funding from the government, it's just that spaceflight staff aren't paid via the federal HR department anymore.

Frankly, I don't see the benefit of Elon getting any of my tax dollars.


> I mean Blue Origin has been running for 20 years and the best we have from them is flights that were accomplished in the Cold War?

Blue Origin's is reusable. That's a huge difference.


SpaceX has already done that, in less time, and took humans to the ISS.

So we should stop? SpaceX did it first, everyone else can just fold up shop?

C'mon. Blue Origin has a proper rocket, it seems very capable. They even land the booster like SpaceX does. To be unimpressed with their achievements seems like sour grapes.


No, but the press has been crazy about this event to a dispiriting level. I'd have loved to see some restraint and clear criticism of their tiny hops.

>To be unimpressed with their achievements seems like sour grapes.

Carlin says something similar to what I was going to say, but he's better at saying it.

" The phrase sour grapes does not refer to jealousy or envy. Nor is it related to being a sore loser. It deals with the rationalization of failure to attain a desired end. In the original fable by Aesop, "The Fox and the Grapes," when the fox realizes he cannot leap high enough to reach the grapes, he rationalizes that even if he had gotten them, they would probably have been sour anyway. Rationalization, that’s all sour grapes means. It doesn’t mean deal with jealousy or sore losing. Yeah, I know you say, "Well many people are using it that way, so the meaning is changing." And I say, "Well many people are really fuckin’ stupid too, shall we just adopt all their standards?" " [0]

- George Carlin

[0]: https://www.sense.net/~blaine/funstuff/carlin.html


Yes, blue origin was founded in 2000 and spacex founded in 2002.

Blue origin landed it's first rocket in 2005. It was a tiny rocket and a tiny flight and purely for testing.

SpaceX landed it's first rocket in 2015. It was an orbital flight delivering real value.

Would it have made sense for SpaceX to stop because blue origin already flew a reusable rocket?


If you're counting Blue Origin's Charon test vehicle, SpaceX had Grasshopper going several years before 2015, and they'd achieved orbit in 2008 already.

Sure if you pull the date of the first landing I'll update my comment.

I don't see the point of this comment. The parent comment didn't talk anything about SpaceX.

Also, since SpaceX did it already, in less time, should others just close the shop and not try to do the same?


I don't think distinguishing them is really useful. For Bezos at least, it's worth noting he's an ex-ceo of one of the most successful companies in the world and now seems to be spending a lot of his time on this project. I think it's more fun to be optimistic that this will contribute towards a more interesting future where humans in space is just kinda normal.

>SpaceX has been around for two years less and has accomplished orbital missions.

And if they didn't get government contracts, then where would they be right now? If those contracts had landed in the lap of other companies, maybe they'd be the more successful ones?


Also if anyone should get the credit for Virgin Galactic it should be Burt Rutan and the folks at Scaled Composites whose blood sweat and tears made this happen.

A spaceship is only a vanity item until you actually need it. Who knows when you might need to spend a few years in orbit waiting out a nuclear winter?

I’d be interested to see more progress made toward long term space habitats. You don’t need reusable rockets when you don’t plan on coming back anytime soon.


You need reusable rockets and space resources (Moon, asteroids) if you want to do space habitats at any reasonable scale.

To be clear, it wasn't my intention to trivialize the amazing accomplishment of reusable rockets, and your point is perfectly valid. I should have left it at me being excited for long term space habitats, and not even mentioned reusable rockets. As you've pointed out, of course reusable rockets will provide immense value to any space habitat. My unspoken position was that there are other ventures worth pursuing aside from the great leaps that leave us all in awe. The little things, like growing space lettuce, intelligent augmented reality to assist astronauts, etc.

Bezos: "How can I improve the chances of positive press?"

"I'll encourage journalists to say nice things by letting them believe there's a chance they'll become insanely rich if they do."

... Such a cynical move.


Just a minor correction here- SpaceX has been around for 20 years as well.


Unless it's been edited, the comment says that SpaceX has been around "for two years less"; as in 2 fewer years than Blue Origin, which is essentially true (Sept 2000 vs May 2002; so really more like "a year and a half less").

Especially the Bezos one also feels unethical, when you take into account tax avoidance, poor wages and working conditions. It feels like he skimmed money from the workers and tax payer to give himself a trip to space.

He deserves ostracism rather than recognition.


> Musk, for all his flaws, started an actual rocket company with new and frankly insane tech.

there's nothing that spacex has done that's "new tech". VTVL rockets were worked out in the 60s and the 90s

spacex does a good job of making it seem like what they're doing is new, though.


Musk's MO in general is to make tech look new when it's not. Most of his ideas (that seemed have petered out, strange) are just worse versions of what we currently have. The Hyperloop in particular was a laughing stock of an idea. Nothing but an amusement park ride. We already have something that works better for transit, and so much better than it's ridiculous: trains.

Do you have some examples of VTOL rockets from the early days? I can't find much online other than the Lunar module, and that was designed for VTOL on the moon...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_DC-X

I also believe that Blue Origin had VTVL working before space-X

in the early 2000s there were one or two other scale VTVL projects that were working, I can't find info on them now.

also Masten: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A5b9LnzjGgU


Seconding this. Musk is a workaholic who happens to be a total jackass on Twitter but his employees are well paid and to the best of my knowledge aren't forced to piss in bottles at work.

I thought Tesla and SpaceX famously underpay and overwork compared to most of the big Tech firms?

Quick Googling gave me values of 92K for the average SpaceX employee and $18.37/hr for Tesla's lowest unskilled labor rate.

> It's how we get to the moon and Mars and how we survive as a species. It's what's next.

I find it extremely weird that people are banking on a (almost literal) moonshot for the survival of our species. Isn't trying to stop/lessen the damage we're doing to the place we currently live and which can sustain us better and more optimistic proposition than hoping a metric shitton of things go perfectly after probably millions of man-hours and trillions of dollars in order for a privileged few to go live on Mars in underground settlements with artificial everything to sustain life there? Ffs, all the rocket tests create enormous amounts of CO2 emissions, among other things, actively helping to make the Earth less habitable.


The Earth is going to die one day. The Sun will die too. There is no guarantee that intelligent life will survive on this single planet, even if we do a perfect job of taking care of it. Catastrophic, species-killing events can happen at any time. If we wish to ensure the long-term survival of the only intelligent life in the universe that we know about (as well as the survival of all the other creatures on Earth, who don't have our knowledge) then adapting, exploring, and surviving in space is what we must do. It absolutely surprises me that relatively few people seem to understand (or voice) this fact. We may have a long time to accomplish it, but that it should be our primary goal is extremely clear.

> The Earth is going to die one day. [...] If we wish to ensure the long-term survival of the only intelligent life in the universe that we know about (as well as the survival of all the other creatures on Earth, who don't have our knowledge) then adapting, exploring, and surviving in space is what we must do.

I think that's the gripe. We all wish to ensure our long-term survival, but worrying about becoming a multi-planetary species today —as we're polluting the earth at an unsustainable rate, as we're still fighting wars, as we loose millions a year to disease and as the possibility of higher education remains a privilege for few— sounds like making the wrong investment.


> sounds like making the wrong investment.

It's not the wrong investment. It's a different investment.

Other billionaires are working on some of the problems on your list, too, if that makes you feel better. The most prominent one being Bill Gates. He's working on the "we lose millions a year to disease" portion of your list. Do you hate on Bill Gates because he isn't solving world peace ("fighting wars" on your list)?

Space dominance is a multi-generational thing. It's something that will take a LONG time to figure out and perfect. If in 150 years we see an unavoidable rock hurling towards earth, there won't be time to figure out how to keep our species alive. We need to push forward now to have a chance.


>Other billionaires are working on some of the problems on your list, too, if that makes you feel better. The most prominent one being Bill Gates. He's working on the "we lose millions a year to disease" portion of your list. Do you hate on Bill Gates because he isn't solving world peace ("fighting wars" on your list)?

Relying on the goodwill of billionaires is a problem.

>We need to push forward now to have a chance.

We need to get our house in order now to have a chance. I don't know how that isn't obvious.


You can and should do multiple things at once, to make sure all bases are covered.

Focusing on one thing solely doesn't necessarily make it even faster to solve due to diminishing returns.

You can argue against any action, any person does that you should be helping the poor and hungry instead --- or build sustainable energy. Are you constantly helping the poor, diseased and the hungry? 24/7 of your time?


> Relying on the goodwill of billionaires is a problem.

Isn't that part of my point? You're expecting billionaires to spend their money on what you think is most important. I'm not.


Yeah, the idea that current space initiatives have relationship to preserving humans from the destruction of earth is ridiculous and contemptable. Even an incredibly polluted earth experiencing runaway global is going to remain less hostile than anywhere else for a long time. And that's not saying the species would survive on such an earth.

What? That is exactly the relationship and the goal.

I don't think Musk, Bezos, or Bransen are going to be solving war anytime soon. We can be concerned about human suffering while also being exciting about this possible incredible step forward for humanity. I could go to space in my lifetime, that's incredible to me and fills me with hope.

There's specialists with different passions everywhere, and it's good that they exist. Having everyone focus on only the problems you mentioned wouldn't add to them. It would have diminishing returns. There's an evolutionary reason why different people naturally develop different passions, from maintenance to innovation to many other categories.

For example would you divert Elon Musk to start solving one of the problems you mentioned and still do that with similar passion? Would you expect that to help the situation?

And also this type of investment is diversification.


I think part of the negativity is the expectation that we'll eventually screw up any other plant we inhabit as well. Which I think is true, unless we make some fundamental changes to our society.

But I agree that it's important to make planetary colonization a priority now rather than waiting. We can -- and should -- develop the technology and expertise needed to build a settlement on Mars while simultaneously trying to arrest and reverse some of the damage we've done to Earth. The latter is unfortunately largely a political process, not as much a technological and scientific one, so it will take a lot more time and effort than it should.


The main argument for colonizing planets is some kind of cataclysm destroying earth that we had nothing to do with, e.g. meteor or gamma ray burst. It doesn't make sense to set up shop somewhere else otherwise, as we could spend resources to make earth more habitable way more easily than other planets

Yes, I understand that, but I think the belief among some people is that, as long as we are being irresponsible stewards of Earth, we will be equally irresponsible with any other planet we colonize. And if life on Earth is destroyed by a meteor, that will still be the case. Some seem to believe that this is a reason to get a handle on our own destructive tendencies toward our environment before we try to colonize other planets. But I agree that it'd be better to have a somewhat-environmentally-destructive bunch of humans on Mars, rather than waiting and risking extinction because a meteor hit Earth before we got our shit together.

I do believe, however, that it will be at least a couple hundred years before a colony on Mars will not only be self-sufficient, but capable of flourishing, if some extinction event were to befall Earth. That doesn't mean that we should give up or stop working on it right now, but I think the reality check is important.


Because Mars doesn't have life to mess up....

Isn't the Terra-forming technology that we will have to develop to make Mars habitable, basically aligned with what we will have to learn to repair/manage our relationship with the Earth's environment?


> Because Mars doesn't have life to mess up....

The issue isn't "messing up life", life will be fine. The issue is that we're knocking the supports in the forms of ecosystems out from under ourselves. Not to mention the human cost, e.g. potentially hundreds of millions of refugees. The potential for war, and the possible destructiveness of war, is immense.

Besides, starting "afresh" where there are no such supports to begin with, without Earth to be supported by initially is still facing same issues, but worse. Depending on that of all things saving humankind is like hoping a child "might" save their parents from their troubles 5 minutes after being born.

> Isn't the Terra-forming technology that we will have to develop to make Mars habitable, basically aligned with what we will have to learn to repair/manage our relationship with the Earth's environment?

Here too I see it the other way around: our civilizations not collapsing in massive wars over scraps is what is needed for civil space missions to go on, and the sustainability -- materially, socially individually -- which we would need to avert that from happening is also what we would need for space colonies to both come into grasp and to not turn into the wrong end of Star Trek episodes. You know, where we're not the visiting crew, but said crew shakes their heads in horror at.


I think part of the negativity is the expectation that we'll eventually screw up any other plant we inhabit as well.

No, Mars or Venus are as hostile, more hostile probably than what would result if we screwed up the earth utterly. Radiation, lack of atmosphere, lack of sufficient gravity, lack of the resources that millions of years of life give. These aren't small problems.

Humans are extraordinarily dependent on the conditions of life on earth. That might be changeable in the long term but sending rockets into space isn't really related to such change. Extreme revolutions in biology and materials are whats needed.


>but that it should be our primary goal is extremely clear

It’s not extremely clear to me. Why is long term survival more important than making life better for more people? Wouldn’t it be reasonable to prefer to belong to a species that took care of it’s entire population and lived in harmony with the environment than one that avoided extinction, no matter the cost?

Also, why would space be the best way to survive an extinction event? Wouldn’t some good bunkers do the trick?


If we don't spread to the stars, our entire species will have made absolutely no impact for better or worse on the galaxy or Universe. None whatsoever, no matter how beautiful or horrific our existence on this planet. Unless some more proactive species picks up our 'I Love Lucy' episodes and decides to remember us. Some of us hope for there to be some meaning to our sentience, or at least put off the long night a few trillion years more if the Universe is going to go dark and there is no escape.

Totally agreed. But, so what? Why do we need to have an impact on the galaxy or Universe? Why would that impact be meaningful absent our own value framework?

Even if we want to, it’s not safe to say people in the future will. Any truly significant impact we’d have would occur so far in the future that it isn’t safe to assume that our progeny will be recognizable to ourselves. They may have evolved significantly different values and goals.


I respect your position but I completely disagree. We are so far off from needing to worry about the sun dying out. We should be focused on stopping and reversing climate change.

It's not just about the sun dying out. A large asteroid could strike at any time and wipe us out. If that is going to happen on Earth with probability p and we make it to Mars then our chances of going extinct due to that cause shrinks to less than p-squared (it's less than p-squared because Mars is smaller than Earth), which is many orders of magnitude smaller than p. Diversification is extremely important to our long term survival as a species.

Still, it makes sense to take the chances for another 500 years, work on making our lives on planet Earth more habitable and sustainable and then invest in space faring tech.

The chances of being wiped out by a super volcano or asteroid impact over the next 500 years until we solved the sustainable energy problem and a stable ecosystem are rather small.


This is very dangerous thinking - we have the technological window of opportunity now and we need to use it NOW to get space infrastructure working.

We might not have the option in 500 years, even if nothing big wipes us out till then, there could be less serious catastrophes destroying our ability to do spaceflight damning our descendants to inescapable destruction.


There is an argument that advancing orbital launch capacity can help with the scientific research and geo-engineering needed to control global warming. There is even an argument that the technology needed to make living on Mars feasible could be beneficial in combating the adverse effecta of global warming and the resulting ecological collapses.

I don't think that working to towards colonization of mars and working to counteract global warming are antithetical or even orthogonal.


I mean, the scale of a sun-shield is insane but not impossible.

You need to block about 0.3% of the sunlight hitting the Earth to counteract global warming.

About 80,000 km of mylar at L1 would do it.

On Amazon, that much mylar would cost you on the order of $100B and weigh 7 million metric tons; SpaceX would charge around $40T at today's prices to lift it to orbit.

Obviously it's more complicated than that, and that solution is potentially unworkable for a variety of reasons, but that's roughly the scale of the problem.


The scales of most (if not all) geoenineering solutions to global warming are pretty mind boggling.

There are all sorts of ways that the resources and energy available in space can make the scale of these challenges more feasible. I don't expect that is we will see those benefits for several decades at a minimum as we are a long way from industrializing space at the scale necessary for it to matter.

In the short term the only practical benefits we can expect to see is cheaper satellites that will help use understand how the planet is changing as it heats up.


Mind-boggling, maybe, but at the same time, while a $100T project would be "the largest human endeavor ever attempted" and consume a non-negligible fraction of the world's GDP no matter what time span you attempted it over, but the more surprising thing is that it's still a vaguely "real" amount of money. It's not a quintillion zillion dollars.

> The Earth is going to die one day

This is different than humans polluting and crushing the whole ecosystem for it's greed. It will be better for other species if it try to reverse at least what it can instead as we are the cause. Humans are the literally the worst thing in universe. It will also be better for all species if humans die out asap.


This anti-space exploration position is basically a meme now and is so unoriginal and tiresome.

Where's your anger when it comes to movie development, international tourism, stadium construction, the cosmetics industry, and the rest of the endless list of nonsense that is more wasteful and less beneficial than allocating a tiny proportion of Earth's resources towards rocket tech?

I hope to hear this cynical take when the next Spiderman is announced! (I'll be holding my breath, though)


It's a strawman argument.

I don't think people are against space exploration.

When a dude alone can finance a space program it creates two moral issues:

1. How come a guy who make people pee in bottles have enough money for this?

2. Should space exploration be privatized this way.

Of course, you can see no evil here, but that's different from caricaturing legitimate arguments.


1. I won't respond to this because this is a wealth inequality question/debate which is much broader in scope.

2. Yes, definitely. Government should step in and run the show only when there's market failure.


I think this is a pro towards capitalism. It's good that we have individuals with successful track record who managed to gather so many resources and instead of blowing it on expensive vices, they decide to use those resources to organize groups of people to innovate on things that no government would have incentive to do in order to have a better product or some sort of escape latch for humanity if things were to go very wrong.

If instead of something like capitalism we taxed people until they wouldn't have left over money to start new businesses, how would new businesses even be brought to life? How would you go about organizing group of people to work on a single goal that would not have immediate benefit and especially when a common lay person would think it's a complete waste of time? In such world where wealth was divided equally and 99% common people who don't understand the subject or potential gains many years down the line.

Would we use some sort of voting system in such a world on what we should build if that something would require 100B worth of resources to build?

I think if you managed to earn that 100B in the current system, it's evidence of your ability to use money wisely, to make something out of nothing, enough of it for it to provide more than 100B worth of value to the world, I think I would trust such person to make good decisions on next businesses and start ups as well as opposed to people collectively voting and trying to organize on what the next innovative attempt would be.

In the end worrying about him having 100B, just seems like envy out of ego rather than pragmatic thinking to me.


I personally don’t think many people are banking on colonizing another planet, but rather the technologies created as byproducts of that effort. Between energy creation, energy storage, thermal regulation, extraction and refinement of products necessary for life (oxygen, water, etc), and transformation of atmospheric gases, there’s plenty that can help keep our current planet healthy and suitable for human life.

But why do we have to go to Mars to invent all those things? Aren't there enough incentives to invent them in the context of helping our own planet?

Would the internet have been invented if not for military interests? Innovation, especially massive leaps, is born from necessity and drive, not "let's improve our technology".

This reads like a truism that one is simply expected to accept. Yet we could just as well cite the Wright Brothers as an example of people innovating for no other reason than a desire to improve technology:

> In 1896, the newspapers were filled with accounts of flying machines. Wilbur and Orville noticed that all these primitive aircraft lacked suitable controls. They began to wonder how a pilot might balance an aircraft in the air, just as a cyclist balances his bicycle on the road. [1]

> The Wrights' serious work in aviation began in 1899 when Wilbur wrote the Smithsonian for literature. Dismayed that so many great minds had made so little progress, the brothers were also exhilarated by the realization that they had as much chance as anyone of succeeding. Wilbur took the lead in the early stages of their work to solve the problems of flight, but Orville was soon drawn in as an equal collaborator. They quickly developed their own theories and, for the next four years, devoted themselves to the goal of human flight. [2]

Human flight was one massive innovation born not out of "necessity", but out of the curiosity of two restlessly brilliant men seeking to make a technological breakthrough for its own sake.

[1] https://www.wright-brothers.org/History_Wing/Wright_Story/Wr...

[2] https://www.nps.gov/wrbr/learn/historyculture/theroadtothefi...


I have a hard time believing that the Wright Brothers innovated for no reason other than a desire to improve technology. The appeal of human flight is/was well-established, and there was clear utility in it.

Even in the link you posted, it mentioned that immediately after creating a viable flying machine, the Wright brothers approached militaries worldwide trying to sell it to them.

Basic science and pure math research do exist, and I'm sure loads of people push for advances in tech without any eye towards profit or power, but basically any real-world product or system was engineered with a specific goal in mind.


But as above mars and the moon are not necessities - climate change is

Clearly not.

I don't think people that think about this as their day job consider climate change to be the existential threat we are fixing by going to mars.

It's generally: nuclear war, asteroid strike, super volcano bioweapon/plauge and possibly malicious AI.


Super volcanoes, nuclear wars, asteroid strikes and bioweapons makes earth about equal to living on Mars or the moon. You could build all the same things on earth instead, for a fair bit cheaper.

Malicious AI would almost certainly affect the moon or mars more heavily than earth, since on earth you can survive without high tech solutions


> Malicious AI would almost certainly affect the moon or mars more heavily than earth, since on earth you can survive without high tech solutions

They do have the benefit of being air gapped, though.


Living on only one planet is a recipe for extinction no matter how perfect that planet’s environment is. Sooner or later it will get hit by an asteroid, or the sun will go supernova or any one of a million other completely unpreventable natural disasters will happen. Being multi planetary is the only way to ensure the survival of humanity.

> Isn't trying to stop/lessen the damage we're doing to the place we currently live

There are lots of people working on that problem in parallel.

It's worth exploring multiple solutions.

Also, even if we stop damaging the Earth, the sun will damage it in a few hundred million years. We will at some point need a new home.


You're not seriously proposing that we start planning for something that might happen in a few hundred million years now, are you?

We have serious issues down here right now, if we don't solve them we most likely won't even last another 100 years.


Living underground on Mars with limited resources doesn't seem like a privilege to me, it seems like hard work.

Also, an extinction level event for a single planet species is a binary thing.. and there's not much you can do after it happens.


It's a religion at this point. The problems facing humanity on Earth appear daunting, so it's easier psychologically to put faith in sci-fi ideas that might be impossible, but are simple by comparison to thinking through concrete solutions to our woes.

Humanity sits atop a food chain that is going extinct, right before our eyes, and it's long past time to stop hiding from it. Human life on Mars is neither feasible nor imminent. We aren't getting level 5 autonomous vehicles or AGI or androids or flying cars or time travel any time soon either. These are ideas we run to when facing the absurdity of our existence becomes too much to bear.


Well, we still can't get two people of opposite political parties to agree to any long term policy on sustainability. Expecting millions of businesses and/or billions of individuals to follow along as part of a long-term coordinated effort is, IMHO, a super hard problem too. I can't say going to/living on Mars is any easier, but they're both hard problems.

What is this rockets and co2 argument that's being parroted everywhere lately? Yes it does emit co2, but it's a drop in the bucket compared to cars.

> Isn't trying to stop/lessen the damage we're doing to the place we currently live and which can sustain us better and more optimistic proposition than...

Why not both?


You are assuming we know all the problems we might encounter. We don't, in fact there are many ways the human species can go extinct that are not fault of our own.

The best we can do is to create general knowledge which allow us to better combat future challenges. Climate change is a potential problem but not existential and not something we can't handle with our current technological understanding.

The idea that humans can somehow survive or progress without an impact is IMO missing the entire premise for human survival if that is in fact what you want.


> Climate change is a potential problem but not existential

While I agree climate change is not "existential" (at least not for humans, possibly for many other species and societal structures) it is definitely more than a "potential" problem.

> and not something we can't handle with our current technological understanding.

I think the degree to which our current technology is able to "handle" the amount of warming we have locked in is highly debatable and depends entirely on what you consider acceptable costs/loses in handling it.


99.999% of all species ever existed was wiped out by the climate way before we arrived. That's always a danger as nature doesn't care about us.

The way we combat that is not to minimize our impact on the planet but maximize it by creating general knowledge which can be used to come up with even better solutions that we have today.

We have never been as safe from the climate as we are right now. The number of climate related deaths have plummeted the last 100% years.

This is done through the use of energy and technology which is responsible for saving many more lives than killing them. In fact most people wouldn't be around here today if it wasn't for our use of energy and impact on the planet.

So we could ask the same question back. How many current lives are those who want to stop our current impact on the planet ready to let die in return for speculative issues in the future where we would be much richer and have even better technologies to handle any issue.

I think far too many people haven't actually sat down and thought this through but are mostly caught in short term thinking while telling themselves they are telling long term.


> Climate change is a potential problem but not existential and not something we can't handle with our current technological understanding.

Climate change is not existential to humanity, but it is existential to human civilization as we know it.


The climate has wiped out 99.999% of all other species. We are the first who have a chance to avoid being part of that statistic. Not by minimizing our impact on the planet but by maximizing it through climate mastery.

Human civilization has never been as robust as it is now and we have never been as safe from the climate as we are now.


We need to make humanity a multi-planetary species, Mars is just the beginning. The moonshot is just a tech validation, then we can send humans to the rest of the planets and the belt too.

Figuring out how to solve pollution on Earth is also doable with modern technology. We can terraform Earth to be more habitable as well, we could melt the antarctic icecap and colonize it. Maybe even make a new civilization there without as many problems [government/bureaucracy as we have in the rest of the world?


Am I the only one who calls bullshit on this? Let's say Elon pulls off going to Mars and establishing a permanent colony within the next 50 years. What plausible doomsday scenarios are there where everyone on Earth dies, but the people on Mars survive and are completely self-sustainable and able to grow their population exponentially?

I mean, even if 99.99% of all humans on Earth are killed, there will be several orders of magnitude more people left on Earth than in the colony on Mars, and they will have a lot more resources to play with.


It's seems pretty unlikely now. But what about once the Mar's colony has been established and growing for 300 years+ ?

What makes you so sure that within 300 years, the Mars colony won't become an existential threat with interplanetary nuclear weapons pointed our way? They may even take to calling themselves "Martians" as generations live and die on Mars with little connection to Earth. Like any civilization they'll have their own language, culture, and values.

The British colonized America in 1607 and 170 years later those colonists were calling themselves "Americans" and waged war for independence. What's it going to be like when that happens on an interplanetary scale?


That's surely a risk. But even in a worst case scenario the chances of a humanity ending scenario are certainly reduced by having more satellites of human civilization.

Could become super handy if aggressive aliens happen to arrive. ;-)

Self-sustainability is definitely more than 50 years away (barring a major technological revolution.)

Once sustainability is achieved, exponential growth seems implicit (even if the base of that exponential growth is close to 1.)

Full, long term Sustainability is probably centuries away (at a bare minimum and assuming some very significant technological advancement.)

Ironically, the very technology (manufacturing, sealed stable ecological design, etc) that would allow a fully self-sufficient mars colony would also significantly reduce that set of possible civilization ending catastrophes on earth.


There are other planets that might be more hospitable for sustainability. It will require much more advanced technology, but even Venus colony might be promising in relatively short run. Not to speak about many icy words around the solar system. If we solve the nuclear fusion, then any icy world with plenty of water would become habitable.

I don't know how to put this in a polite way... Let's just say your brain seems to have gotten too much TV entertainment.

These billionaires made many billions on covid, while you got a 1400 dollar check so you could survive. These billionaires pay their workers minimum wage every day. People can't get toilet breaks at amazon warehouse without being harassed.

This guy is a world class parasite. There is nothing "we" about what he is doing. We are not with him. He doesn't care about any of us.


>These billionaires made many billions on covid, while you got a 1400 dollar check so you could survive.

They made billions from excellent businesses on which the world relied during a time of crisis. What would people have done without the likes of Amazon and fast delivery of nearly everything?

>These billionaires pay their workers minimum wage every day.

No one makes minimum wage at Amazon.

>People can't get toilet breaks at amazon warehouse without being harassed.

Citation needed. Individuals out of a population of 1,000,000 diverse people choosing to do things is not a trend.

>He doesn't care about any of us.

I don't care about him either. It's a business transaction that benefits both parties, nothing more, nothing less.


> They made billions from excellent businesses on which the world relied during a time of crisis. What would people have done without the likes of Amazon and fast delivery of nearly everything?

You're building an argument atop the assumption that if Amazon didn't exist, nothing else would be available. Amazon's strategy is to spend money that no other company can spend (by forgoing profits) to be the fastest / cheapest option available. Bezos' innovation is not the "fast shipping" or "broad range of products" Amazon offers, his innovation was the foresight to understand how to dominate the market and the gumption to do it.

A single business that owns the sales and distribution of goods is one possible solution to the problem you describe, absolutely, and it's pretty clear that Amazon is doing the best job at that solution... but it's not the only solution, it's one of many.


Well written reply so I'll try to address thoroughly.

>You're building an argument atop the assumption that if Amazon didn't exist, nothing else would be available.

I cannot be making this argument because Amazon exists and we have many other options. We also had many other options before Amazon. Despite this, Amazon became an e-commerce powerhouse. Why? I suspect it's because Amazon is by the far the best option for consumers and others are only close because they adopted many of the same guiding principles like fast free shipping and easy returns.

>Amazon's strategy is to spend money that no other company can spend (by forgoing profits) to be the fastest / cheapest option available. Bezos' innovation is not the "fast shipping" or "broad range of products" Amazon offers, his innovation was the foresight to understand how to dominate the market and the gumption to do it.

He dominated the market because he offered those things. How else would Amazon be able to overtake its much larger competitors? Amazon is not operating at a loss with external funding like many startups, it simply reinvests in itself because it makes incredibly impressive use of its resources. Other companies could do the same but as it turns out, it's quite difficult to repeatedly leverage your profits into bigger and better outcomes. Apple and Google sit on a pile of cash because they don't know how to best make use of it despite a history of successes.

>A single business that owns the sales and distribution of goods is one possible solution to the problem you describe, absolutely, and it's pretty clear that Amazon is doing the best job at that solution... but it's not the only solution, it's one of many.

Nothing stops me from shopping elsewhere and I frequently do. Best Buy gets much of my business for certain products because they've been quite good ever since their early 2010s turn around. eBay gets all of my business for used products. Walmart, Target, and regional grocery stores (not Whole Foods) get the rest. And I shop online mercilessly and don't have a particularly strong taste for Amazon (despite my countless comments in this thread would suggest -- I'm simply arguing for principles) so I'm as decent of a gauge for the state of things as anyone.


> They made billions from excellent businesses

Bezos is not 1 million times more productive than other human beings. He just managed to create a system that exploits people in a massive scale. That's not what I call excellent business.


> Bezos is not 1 million times more productive

Bezos has unambiguously produced 1m times more than what most humans have.


I've written 10 million lines of code. Can I get a ride to Mars too?

Nobody cares about your 10 million lines of code, so good luck.

No he hasn't produced anything. The people making all the things his platform sells and his employees do. He sits on high in his ivory tower, never has that been more apparent.

He has created million or more times more value than an average human being.

To make it simple.

Would you live in a village where you have 1000 people with 1 apple to eat, or 999 people with 3 apples to eat and one guy with 1000 apples, because he was able to find a way to grow many more apples per day?

Conclusion: Jeff Bezos has added enormous amounts of value to the world.

I guess you will probably say something like, "but I would like to live in a world where this person must give away most of those apples, until he maybe has only 6 apples per day and others have 4". Would this person have still been as motivated to take a risk - which entrepreneurism is all about? Especially knowing that maybe 5% of the start ups will succeed.

In such world, no one will take risks and everyone stays with 1 or 2 apples per day. There's a reason US has so many successful unicorn start ups.

It takes skill, talent, passion, resources and massive amount of luck to pull of what Jeff Bezos did. In a more socialized version of this system, it would have not happened.

The more you tax potential returns and reward, the less risk or resources would people be willing to put in to create something new.


So in Bezos case with his estimated net worth of 205B USD and assuming a average net worth of an american family of 750k (not sure how accurate this number is it was the first thing on google) this comes down to Bezos owning 266666 Apples for every apple a "normal" famliy owns. Noone would complain if it was a 1000 to 3 ratio.

Almost noone argues that we should take all his apples away but I think there is a lot of room before he has to feel like his risk is not worth it anymore.

The only issue Amazon would have in a more socialized society is that it would be way harder to exploit poor people that have to take up with their working conditions and wages because they rely on those jobs. And if your business cannot survive without exploitation it should not exist in the first place.


I'm still thinking that any bigger taxation could decrease potential risk taking and/or investments into new potentially innovative avenues. Maybe there could be a golden taxation point that's higher than it is now, but I also think it's definitely possible that it would work out worse overall for everyone.

If there's 1000 to 3 ratio, the things small group of people could organize to build would be far off what individuals could start with today.

If a single individual who has a good idea, they would have to convince many more people that the idea is good in order to be able to proceed with it.

Also, why does it even matter that much what Jeff's net worth specifically is? Unless he's wasting that money or using that to purposely destroy the world, it just exists as a number and if it was divided between people, it would only increase prices of everything and we probably would be back where we started. And it would only benefit the world if the people the money was divided with would use the money more wisely as opposed to Jeff.

If they can't get over 1000 to 3 ratio or certain ratio, because of the taxes, why would those folks just not rest on their laurels?


I agree that at some point there will be a decrease in risk taking and investments but I don't think that risk and investments are inherently more important than all other factors.

I am also not arguing for 1000:3 or any other specific ratio. The only reason I brought his net worth up is to show the ratio that we have right now (not even including the ratio compared to amazon workes which would be even higher). And even if he doesn't do anything evil with his money its money that other people dont't have. People that could use that money to provide for their families or put their kids through school. People that could have the potential to create something new or come up with new ideas who never get to do it because they barely make enough to get through the month. For Bezos it is indeed just a number but for others it could mean a lot more.

For all of those people it suddenly doesn't matter how hard they work or how skilled and talented they are. We do not live in a meritocracy and its probably impossible to achieve that so the only answer can be a more socialized system.

You are right in that it would not help to just split the money up my point is that we should not allow this to happen in the first place. As for prices increasing - If our system only works if a few have a lot and a lot have very little I think we should think about the sustainability of this system. If we do nothing things will get out of hand sooner or later (if they are not already).

People wont stop investing or taking risks just because they cannot reach bezos levels of wealth. Bezos has absolutely no reason to aquire another dollar but he still keeps going. Again I am not arguing for 1000:3 the number can be a lot higher but there needs to be an upper limit.


It would be definitely interesting to see what would happen and amazing to test out if we could have two parallel universes where in one you will increase taxes.

I wonder if there are any economic simulations done that would represent the actual world most closely to have something to toy with.


What if instead of paying Bezos paying more taxes, he has to pay his workers more? I think it's wrong to just force Bezos to give away his wealth. However, I also think that some Amazon workers should be payed more.

I don't think Bezos would have had the same amount of success with Amazon, if he had to do everything himself without hiring any other people. I believe most successful achievements were achieved through the work of many people. In the villagers and apples example, if the one man was able to produce 1000 apples by himself, I agree that the one man should be able to keep all 1000 apples to himself. However, if the one man was only able to produce 1000 apples with the work of others, I think that the workers should be receive a "fair" share of the produce. I don't have an idea or definition of what "fair" would be but 266,666 to 1 apple doesn't seem very "fair".

I don't see Bezos as being bad or evil but I see the fact that his workers don't get payed more as unfair. It's kind of like the "thank you essential workers for keeping the society functioning during the pandemic" phase that America had last year. We call these workers "essential" but their pay doesn't reflect that title. Some of the work that these "essential workers" do might be simple unskilled labor, but it is necessary work. Even if the work itself might not be of something that demands better pay, I believe the fact that the work is necessary is something that demands better pay. And if one person has 266,666 apples, I think there are enough apples to go around to pay the "essential workers" more. I just don't think it's "fair" that some "essential workers" who are earning close to minimum wage will never have the same opportunities that others in more lucrative fields (e.g. software engineering) will because of financial limitations.


>What if instead of paying Bezos paying more taxes, he has to pay his workers more? I think it's wrong to just force Bezos to give away his wealth. However, I also think that some Amazon workers should be payed more.

Amazon already pays the most for this type of work. So how much should they pay?

>We call these workers "essential" but their pay doesn't reflect that title.

The work is essential but the workers are easily replaceable, with the exception of medical staff whose pay is appropriate.


As mentioned before, I don't know what a "fair" pay would be. Maybe it could be based on a percentage of the total revenue? But one man being paid 266,666 apples while others get paid 1 apple doesn't seem "fair". Especially, if the 266,666 produced apples were only possible with the combined work of others.

And yes, the work is essential and workers are easily replaceable because the work is something practically anybody could do. My point is that because the work is essential, the easily replaceable workers should be payed more. Regardless of who does the work, whether it is some random civilian off the street or Bezos, somebody has to do the work. That's why it's essential. The work itself is valuable so I believe whoever does the work should be payed based on the value of the work.


Bezos isn't "paid" his net worth. His compensation was actually very low compared to his net worth, only $1.6 million in stock compensation in 2019 (and $82k cash). His net worth comes from his 10% stake in Amazon that he's pretty much had since he founded the company. So, he isn't paid 266,666 apples, he owns 10% of a giant apple farm that he founded.

Yes I understand but even if he isn't necessarily being paid 266,666 apples, he has access to that much wealth. I mean, Bezos is able to start his own space expedition which I don't think many people can do. While that's happening, we have people who are doing essential work getting paid close to minimum wage. Their net worth is probably some insignificant amount. These essential workers probably won't be able even own a home until well later into their life, if ever.

Maybe I'm just too immature and ignorant but the fact that Bezos can start his own space expedition while Amazon workers have to pee into bottles and get paid $15 per hour just doesn't seem fair. And paying people the minimum amount simply because they are replaceable makes it seem like people are treated as if they were resources. Maybe in terms of logistics people can be seen as resources, but my opinion is that people and their lives are not resources. I don't think people go to work and spend a good chunk of their life working just to be a resource for someone else to take advantage of.


Who said that he was? Wealth has little to do with productivity.

Yes, and perhaps that might be a problem, don't you think?

So maybe we should be taxing wealth instead of productivity (i.e. income). Or at least let's tax both, with a 0% tax rate on the first $100m of wealth.

The median US household pays an amount of tax each year equivalent to about 8% of their net worth, so that would be an obvious rate for billionaires to pay on their wealth.


No. I want people to keep being incentivized to create innovative companies, products, and services that make my life easier and more enjoyable. The people that are successful in doing so will reap rewards many orders of magnitude more than their employees that did not take on any risk and whose output is measured by “productivity”.

> I want people to keep being incentivized to create innovative companies, products, and services that make my life easier and more enjoyable.

Funny, I do too! That's why I don't want all the wealth and power in the hands of a few oligarchs, and that's why I want everyone to be properly compensated and rewarded for their work and their creations. Capitalism, especially in its current flavour, prevents this.

> their employees that did not take on any risk

If a business fails and closes down its employees will be out on the dole, and that's the best case scenario. They lose their health care, possibly their homes and other possessions. Capital risks what, materially? One less luxury auto? One less vacation across the globe this year? Probably not even that.

I confess I never really understood all that talk about "risk".


Well then if it's so easy, then why doesn't everyone just start their own businesses? There's no risk after all. Get a loan from a bank and start a small business -- millions of people do this around the world! Easy. Guaranteed wealth, right?

>If a business fails and closes down its employees will be out on the dole, and that's the best case scenario. They lose their health care, possibly their homes and other possessions.

No, best (and most likely) scenario is that they find a job elsewhere a few weeks later while they collect unemployment. The business owner who likely had no savings because everything was reinvested into the business is actually screwed. You keep thinking every owner is Jeff Bezos but there are millions of small to medium business owners who risk it all for the chance to make it big. It's not "one less luxury auto". It's their entire livelihood.

Since you think that employees should share in the equity when a company is as successful as Amazon, I take it you also agree that employees should have all of their past wages clawed back when the company goes out of business, right? It's only fair. If they helped take the company to success, then they must have also brought it down to failure as well.


> Get a loan from a bank and start a small business

That's the point: Bezos didn't get a loan from a bank, he just raised money from other rich people. He never had even the risk of repaying a bank loan, for Christ's sake! Most people who want to start small business are a much more precarious situation, and that's why they don't start businesses as easily as you want.


His risk was the opportunity cost of not working a safe, guaranteed high paying job which he already held.

> employees that did not take on any risk

You must be kidding that Bezos took any risk... The only risk he had was that he wouldn't continue making money from his well paid Wall Street job. He was already well off when he started raising other people's money to found Amazon. So, no, he didn't take any risk to justify all this money. Only the very deluded think he did anything of great risk. He is an oligarch who exploit others, and doesn't deserve even a fraction of that fortune.


Yes… that is the risk. He was already comfortable and could have had a guaranteed easy life but he decided to throw that away to start Amazon that could have failed after many years of foregoing his cushy salary. Most people wouldn’t have taken this risk in his position and that’s why they will never have a chance to be wealthy like him. Your foot stomping won’t change that.

That's not risk at all. He wouldn't lose a cent, he was just trading one big salary for a potentially bigger fortune.

Do you think people would no longer be incentivized if there were, for example, a cap on how much money/wealth they could own? Let's say the limit was $1 billion, to start with.

The only counter-argument I can think of is that SpaceX might have run out of money if Elon "only" had $1 billion to pour into it, but I believe he started the company with just a $100 million investment of his own money.

I'd also accept people being able to funnel billions into non-profit foundations which they control, as long as those foundations have goals which vaguely benefit society, such as "making humans a multi-planetary species".


I've yet to see a practical alternative to market based pricing that doesn't require rewiring humans at a massive scale.

Markets ≠ Capitalism

> They made billions from excellent businesses on which the world relied during a time of crisis. What would people have done without the likes of Amazon and fast delivery of nearly everything?

They've been rewarded enough already. Sometimes enough is enough, it's obscene.


The thing is, most of the net worth of these people isn't just sitting around in a big bucket of cash; the wealth of these people is overwhelmingly due to their ownership of their businesses.

If I own a mom-and-pop sandwich shop worth $1 million, and I take a $50k salary, I imagine most people would be fine with that.

If I grow this sandwich shop into a national franchise worth $1 billion and still take a $50k salary, I still am in possession of just as much spendable cash, but suddenly I'm a billionaire on paper. It seems incredibly immoral to strip my own business from me because it's been too successful, and that type of ownership expropriation seems extremely likely to stifle entrepreneurship.

Tax people when they sell stock. Tax people's income. Tax collateralized assets. Tax the hell out of them if they're making boatloads of cash. But to wrest ownership of someone's creation from their hands because they've done too good a job creating it seems like a recipe for disaster.


> If I grow this sandwich shop into a national franchise worth $1 billion

It's very unlikely that you personally, singlehandedly would be able to build your sandwich shop into a billion dollar franchise.

The value of Amazon is not a trillion dollars because of Jeff Bezos alone. He helped get it there, sure, and he deserves to be rewarded for that, but so did 800k other people. Can an Amazon driver afford a house, 2 cars, and to put 2 kids through college on a single income today? My dad could working for UPS for 30 years starting in the 80s. He's retired now with a pension. Why can't Amazon provide that kind of life for their workers? They're certainly richer and more profitable than UPS ever was. One key difference is that UPS is unionized, and then you start to realize why Amazon really, really, really, doesn't want their workers to unionize.

Bezos' wealth is not a problem in a vacuum. It's a problem in a world where he's using his wealth to fly to space, while others (even people who work for him) are being evicted from their homes during a global pandemic, and there are more than enough homes to house everyone. That's the backdrop for all of this outrage.

IMO an example of what would be incredibly immoral is if your ownership stake in your national sandwich chain reaches $1 billion, and your workers aren't making a living wage that can cover rent, food, and healthcare for their families. Yes we want to encourage entrepreneurship, but we cannot do so at the expense of workers. I think we've gone too far in one direction and now the backlash is forming.


This is, in my opinion, the perfect example of where regulation should be applied though. If a business is playing by the rules and we as society aren't okay with the results, then those rules should be changed for all businesses, e.g. minimum wage raises.

The roadblocks to these laws is that they don't come for free, and loads of businesses would either no longer be viable or would be able to hire less. This is one of the ways that Amazon is building out its moat to prevent challengers (note that Amazon has had a $15 minimum wage for years). Of course there's a happy equilibrium somewhere in there, but this is not the role of Jeff Bezos (or my hypothetical sandwich shop) to figure out.

I expect my government to determine the rules of how society can function, and I expect businesses to be as efficient as possible within the bounds of those rules.

As an aside, though, none of this has to do with the concept of someone being forced to give up their own company. If a company needs to act a certain way, then the law should force the company to act that way for sure. If a company was following the law, though, the backlash for crappy outcomes falls firmly at the feet of that law.


What if the sandwich shop went from being worth $1M to being worthless instead? Should the workers bear the cost of any business debt and/or have their wages clawed back?

When a founder draws a salary and the business goes under, their wages aren't clawed back. Why would a worker's wages be clawed back?

Workers should share in ownership. If the value of the business goes to zero, their ownership stake goes to zero, just like the founder.


So where do you draw the line? What's the number? And when that number is reached, what happens exactly?

100x the poverty line. Excess earnings goes to taxes.

RIP innovation if the bar is that low

The world's greatest 20th century innovators, such as Einstein and Shannon, did not do their work to get rich. It's more than a little crazy that "innovation" has become so closely associated with ECommerce entrepreneurship, and is assumed to be driven by greed.

My outlook has almost nothing to do with being paid, but rather having the proper rewards for taking a proper risk. For someone like Musk, the reward from PayPal enables him to pursue even greater innovation, which he is doing marvelously. I would bet a large sum that he would not be where he is now if his gains were capped at 100x poverty level.

Innovators gonna innovate, they don't need ginormous returns to get out of bed.

This comment is pretty hand wavy, but generally speaking the innovator is not the only part of the puzzle. Our world is still largely driven by investment and risk and something has to balance the scales. I agree that intrinsically motivated people probably care less for the money piece, but there are plenty of innovators that are both extrinsically and intrinsically motivated.

This seems like a pretty good place, really. https://twitter.com/Mikel_Jollett/status/1241843944238923777...

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> College, medicine have increased 5-10 times

I think you should be mad on your govt, not Bezos.


You're blind to the injustices and violence in the system, masked under the veneer of "free transactions". There's nothing "free" about the current organization of the global economy.

Free market ≠ Capitalism ≠ Post-80s Neoliberal Capitalism


> They made billions from excellent businesses on which the world relied during a time of crisis. What would people have done without the likes of Amazon and fast delivery of nearly everything?

"Excellent businesses" that are modern day slave labor, in the case of Amazon.

Their employment is predatory to the maximum, optimized around the ridiculous churn rates. Blocking unions from forming the same way Musk and others do is really just the smallest part of that at this point.

This article below touches some of the insane practices one should keep in mind while watching Bezos thank his employees and customers for paying for his cowboy space ride.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/06/15/us/amazon-wor...


They also caused me exactly zero suffering. In fact, they actually helped me since I was able to order from Amazon throughout the lockdown.


Who pays for the roads that Amazon depends on for deliveries and employee commutes? Who pays for the k-12 educations and public universities that these employees used to become educated? Who pays for the entire social infrastructure that allows Amazon to even exist? That's what people mean when they say Amazon isn't paying their fair share. They depend on us and taxpayer benefits more than almost any other company in the country, why aren't they also paying a proportional share of their taxes?


They are paying exactly what they owe otherwise the IRS would come after them. You have equal access to the same infrastructure. Feel free to start a trillion dollar company.


No ones saying otherwise, what we're saying is raise the taxes to something reasonable.

>You have equal access to the same infrastructure. Feel free to start a trillion dollar company.

And this is such a lazy cop-out that ignores that Bezos had parents who funded his company (to the tune of half a million in today's money) during a time where he was in the right place at the right time. It insane how ignorant people are to how much luck in one's situation plays into their success. I'm not saying he isn't a talented businessman, but that alone is never enough to reach his level of success.


Who cares if he had parents invest in his company?!? Why do people jump to that immediately trying to prove what an “evil” guy he is. Guess what...Bezos’s parents paid their taxes on their incomes and saved the money and chose to invest in their son. Why is that a negative? Right place at the right time - there were millions of people in their 20’s in the late 90’s, thousands had $250,000 in cash to start a business, but only 1 turned into the biggest most efficient company in history. It wasn’t luck man, it was talent. The ignorance seems to be on your end believing it was luck.

I'm not saying he is evil or that he doesn't deserve his success, I'm addressing his point that Bezos isn't just a product of his own talents, but that of his situation and the opportunities he was provided by our society.

That's the case for literally everyone in our society. Can I take your money then, since you're a product of a society I contributed to?

If you make less money than the parent does, and live in the same country, than you essentially are taking their money, through their higher tax burden that pays for services (like roads and public schools and firefighters) that you almost certainly use or benefit from.

And that's a good thing! But I think higher earners should have more money taken than is currently the case. Wealth and income inequality are largely a result of luck and opportunity, not raw talent. An equitable society should find ways to mitigate those effects, which have only gotten worse in recent decades, not better.


Absolutely. In fact, I make more than most Americans ($300k household income) and I wouldn't mind more progressive tax brackets, especially if it meant we could provide our fellow countrymen with basic necessities like healthcare and continued education. My voting record reflects this sentiment. The funny thing is, Bezos has a lower tax rate than me and he's a billionaire.

Uhm yes? Thanks for understanding my point.

Thats an opportunity provided by his parents, not "society". If he owes anyone then it's them.

I’d love to have had parents who could afford to dump $1m into my fledgeling startup.

That he did proves he owes others for his success as much as his own wits and hard work.


Right, he owes his parents as established. They likely owe their parents, who owe their parents. And there were certainly others that contributed along the way may or may not have been compensated for that help. But none of these people had help from an amorphous group of "society", they had help from specific individuals.

So none of them went to public schools or used public roads or relied on a fire department. Probably none of them could look forward to social security or medicare.

Or maybe that's not correct.


Everyone on Earth owes some of their success to their parents.

VCs hand out millions to all sorts of companies that fail, every single day. This is another common talking point that holds no water. I'll give you $250K (or $500K equivalent) myself if you bet your life on turning it into a billion, let alone a trillion.


Taxes barely go to roads and infrastructure they go to welfare and warfare.

Would you say that it's reasonable that if you start a business, you get to keep 10% of the value created?

If you start a business, even a billion dollars is an unimaginable amount of money and a reward far greater than any other job in existence. People forget how insanely large a billion dollars is. If that isn't reward enough, then no amount is.

> Who pays for the roads that Amazon depends on for deliveries and employee commutes?

If they’re the interstate highways, then the gas tax pays for most of that. And Amazon buys a LOT of gas.


> If they’re the interstate highways, then the gas tax pays for most of that.

That's mostly a subsidy from passenger cars to larger vehicles, because road wear goes up much more rapidly with vehicle weight than fuel consumption does (IIRC, the former with roughly the fourth power of weight, the latter sublinearly.) Since Amazon mostly isn't using passenger cars as part of its delivery fleet, its actually being subsidized by gas tax, not paying its way.


What you say is true but they're just passing those subsidies on to their customers (the majority of the US). And they're still paying a significant amount contrary to the very popular belief, even if it's not proportional to the consumption which I agree with you on.

Amazon e-commerce is not all that profitable. Most of Amazon's value comes from AWS.


> Amazon e-commerce is not all that profitable. Most of Amazon's value comes from AWS.

AWS represents 43% of net profit, per the most recently posted quarter. It used to be on the order of 75%, but pandemic-related demand for physical products changed all that.

Retail is back, baby.


> Who pays for the k-12 educations and public universities that these employees used to become educated?

Ummm...the people living in that community pay for the schools in that community. I’m not sure why you think Amazon is responsible for paying school taxes in some location where they have no offices.


Do they not pay payroll taxes for the nearly 100k people they employ?


That's not a proportional share


Without getting into a debate about progressive taxes, Bezos pays far more than his fair share in taxes. The social burden that he creates is microscopic compared to the tax revenue he pays. If he disappeared tomorrow, the national budget would be in worse shape than it is today.


Complain to your senators, then? Congress is who sets the algorithm defining how taxes are owed, not the taxpayers themselves. Have you ever written the IRS a check for more than what you owe them (or declined to accept a tax refund)?


That's the entire point of this conversation, we want higher taxes and more people (voters) need to be convinced of this fact.

I live in DC so I don't have any Senators and barely any say in how my tax dollars get spent.

Congress voted to do that. They could undo it and make everyone a citizen of Virginia if they wanted to undo it.

Oh great let me just lobby my no senators and single non voting house delegate to fix it. How about in the meantime I don’t have to pay federal taxes if I don’t get a day in how they’re spent?

Also: neither VA not DC want retrocession and you can’t force a state to change its borders. So no, the answer is DC statehood, which is something Congress can do. It’s long past time.


I doubt Congress would vote to give the wealthiest people in the country even more power, they would rather it just ctrl-z what was done.

I didn't realize there was an income limit to statehood.

I agree with your other points but isn't it kind of your choice to move to DC, knowing full well that they lack full representation? It isn't like DC is this massive landscape of a bunch of natives who have lived there for generations and are too poor to move 10 miles away.

Voting representation in America is privilege not a right after all. History shows us that time and again.

Also I like DC. Why do I have to choose between living in the American city I like and having a vote in Congress?


I've been trying to get a meeting with my Senators to express my opinion, but they won't have me. They regularly take meetings with corporate lobbyists though. I wonder what it is they're telling my Senators? Sure wish I had $10 million to spend on lobbyists like Amazon.

You elected Senators that don't care about your opinion. Maybe you should be more mad at them and less mad at Amazon who provides millions of people with exactly the goods and services they promise.

Brazen assumption that the senator they voted for is the one in power. It is a democracy after all, they could have been on the wrong side of it

Such a lazy deflection. When corruption happens you can be mad at both the corrupter and the corruptee.

What’s lazy is not holding the people who are supposed to represent your interests accountable.

1.3 million*


No. The people they employ pay the payroll taxes out of their salary. No company pays payroll taxes for their employees.


Businesses pay the same amount in payroll taxes as employees do. Self employed people pay double the payroll taxes.


Technically, self employed people pay less than double because they can deduct the employer contribution. So I think it’s like 12.4% for self-employed vs, 7.5% for just an employee.


This is more complicated than you make it out to be.

The person who literally sends the money according to the law is not the same as the one who pays in the economic sense.

For instance, you could transfer the legal obligation to the other party, but that would change the negotiating position between the employer and the employee.

Similarly, you can add a sales tax to some product, and make the company that sells the product collect it and forward it to the government, but that doesn't mean that the company is worse off the that amount. The pie is split according to some negotiating position.


Not really. Firms hire based on the cost of an employee. If suddenly the employer portion of the payroll tax disappeared, there would immediately be an incentive to funnel those funds into the salary to make job offerings stand out against what the employee's other options would be. Sure, some firms would pocket it, but it beggars belief that most of them would, when they've already made a decision to open a hiring line based on the funds available and projected revenue.

> If suddenly the employer portion of the payroll tax disappeared...

That's what I'm saying. The piece that's added or removed is negotiated over, it doesn't just belong to whoever has their name on it.


"There are a variety of payroll taxes, some paid by employers, some by employees, and some by both."

https://www.paychex.com/articles/payroll-taxes/employers-gui...


You're getting downvoted (sad that people can't engage in argument and resort to burying differing points of view) but this is the truth. THERE ARE NO SELF-MADE MEN! Everyone, Bezos included, owes their "success" to the sum of everyone that is living and has ever lived before them.

(i) Amazon wouldn't exist without all the technological and societal advances made in the past 4 millenia. It wouldn't exist without Aristotle, Plato, Jesus, John Locke, Adam Smith, Montesquieu, and thousands of other thinkers. It wouldn't exist without the Watt engine or the Caravel or Gunpowder or thousands of other technological breakthroughs. It wouldn't exist without the millions of workers who build roads throughout the world, who drained the swamps, who cultivated the lands. All of this is hidden, but it's there!

(ii) Amazon also wouldn't exist without the direct collaboration of 100,000s of people and the indirect collaboration of millions.

The things in (i) are the common heritage of all mankind, which no person can claim more than another. The things in (ii) should be fairly compensated, but they're not because of the coercive and violent system of capitalism which compels the workers to surrender most of the value they produce to the owners of capital (capitalism ≠ markets, cannot stress this enough).


> These billionaires pay their workers minimum wage every day.

My nephew works at an Amazon warehouse. Makes like 15 bucks an hour for the first 40, and then 20 more at double the rate (his choice to take the extra hours). He's very happy, and nothing suggests he feels taken advantage of.


Is it your nephews choice or would he not be able to afford a reasonable lifestyle without working 60 hours a week?

His choice. He's kept his lifestyle frugal (roommates, reliable but older Toyota car, etc). He enjoys the work well enough that adding 20 more hours and getting paid twice the rate for it is worth it, because he doesn't expect he'll always feel this way about it (his biggest concern is that it's repetitive and he'll get bored quickly). He's about to turn 30 and it sounds like he's about ready to think of something more career-oriented than warehouse work. Wants to get into something real estate-related, as I understand it, and a little cushion will make that transition easier.

He's a parasite because the company (which hired 100K new workers during COVID) that he started and owns a shit-ton of equity in went up in the past year because of lockdowns?

Yes. By reasons I expounded in another comment I believe a percentage of any enterprises's shares (in the order of at least 20%) should be owned by the public and pay out an equal dividend to every citizen.

Luckily, any member of the public is free to buy AMZN :)

Of course that also requires excess capital to buy into. Most people can't afford significant amounts of capital investment though.

I felt like I entered a wormhole in the GP comment where the ocean wasn't on fire, the Amazon wasn't burning down, a heat wave didn't sweep through the Northwest, and the polar caps aren't melting at an irreversible rate. The largest redistribution of wealth in history is happening right now while the global environment collapses and somehow there are cheerleaders egging it on so rich guys can play around in sub-orbit.


Is wealth being redistributed, or are the Bezos’ simply slurping up the new money that have been so abundant?

It matters, I think. Because if people are only getting relatively poorer when compared to the top 1%, it’s not as bad as if they are losing their standard of living.

There are other issues about how excessively rich people can distort our society, but that’s not so much about the redistribution but the distribution, which is an ancient story.


I think wealth actually is being redistributed, but not in the sort of nefarious way that some people are claiming.

Last year incomes went up for the lowest earners. When less wealthy people get more money they tend to buy material, mass market goods. Large corporations tend to be the main suppliers of those goods. Thus, increasing buying power at the lower end of the income distribution results in companies earning more money.


Incomes went up for the lowest earners because of the trillions the government pumped into unemployment. You’re right that all this money gets spent and funneled up to large corporations, except now these large corporations are buying property en masse and aren’t significantly raising wages for the lowest earners, especially not enough to keep up with the inflation caused from all the stimulus.

I guess the point is these corporations need to be taxed at higher rates so low earners aren’t being shafted by our broken economic system.


> Is wealth being redistributed, or are the Bezos’ simply slurping up the new money that have been so abundant?

How do you differentiate these? If you have 100 dollars, distributed evenly among 10 people, and then you print 100 more and give them all to Jeffery, then you have redistributed the wealth even though you only printed new money. He went from 10% of the power to 55%.


I differentiate distributed from re-distributed.

He may have a higher percentage of available wealth, but it’s not like other people have lost their money.


That doesn't make sense though, each dollar doesn't exist in a value vacuum, so you can't ignore the impact of uneven distribution. If Jeffery wants to own the entire town, he can (and then he can get loans against his property to continue funding operations). At that point it seems pretty inane to argue that re-distribution hasn't happened - money is a proxy for economic power, and when you give one person a larger percentage, that's redistributive. Maybe the other people in the town can still buy groceries, but now they're competing with the baron for things like land, and baron Jeff will always win, if he wants to, with all that extra money.

I actually decided to delete my comment here. I've had a challenging day and I don't feel like making it worse by continuing this conversation. Have a nice day.

Inflation would say otherwise. Everyone had the same purchasing power before, and so could buy roughly the same things. Now, Jeffery has more purchasing power than anyone else, which means they can outbid and can keep the better things for himself.

It's fair to say there is redistribution at play when wages have stayed stagnant for over 10 years (at least since the 2008 crash) while executive salaries and payouts have skyrocketed at an unbelievably disproportionate level. It's effectively a global aristocracy as a handful of people amass an amount of wealth that would be impossible to conceive of not even 50 years ago. They can't soak it all up from new money, they depend on keeping their wage bills and other costs low to keep their profits up.

And the standard of living is being lost when the people with stagnating wages are being priced out of the housing market, with renting or sharing being the only reasonable alternatives. Renting itself is a redistribution of wealth from poor to rich in many a case.

Not to mention that tax policies (like Trump's tax cuts for example) tend to disproportionately benefit the wealthy far more than the middle class, and the poor. I can't think of a more clear cut example of redistribution there.

The typical HN user is likely to be on the higher end of the scale and less exposed to issues like this (after all, many of us software engineers get a yearly payrise by switching job), but I find it hard to dismiss things like this when looking at my own country's politics.


The redistribution is from the young to the old, to those who stopped housing construction to that drive up the cost of living for those without houses.

Those who create wealth aren't redistributing it, they are capturing a small portion of what they create for others.


For many workers, wages have stagnated but total compensation hasn’t, when you account for increased costs of benefits. I support universal healthcare, but it’s important to realize how much it costs employers has gone up.

> while you got a 1400 dollar check so you could survive

American people had the most generous COVID response of any country in the world, including the Superdole.


this isn't even remotely true, in Canada for instance, if you got laid off during covid, you could get $2000 a month payments unconditionally.


In the US, you would get $600/week on top of the usual unemployment (which is 60% of your regular wage) which amounts to significantly more than Canada. For a minimum wage worker, that would be over $40K/year.


I'm sorry to inform you that in many states, like Florida, the unemployment infrastructure is purposefully built to avoid paying unemployment. You're talking about something that for millions of Americans is a pie-in-the-sky hypothetical thanks to their state legislature.

By purposefully built, I literally mean that the unemployment web services infrastructure was designed to fail at scale. Not to mention dark pattern roadblocks, insane eligibility requirements, and authorized self-sabotage.

[0] https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/0...


That's a product of the leadership elected by the people of Florida.

Which is a product of the design of government in the country, so no: it doesn't get to be ignored when comparing the reality of COVID relief in the US compared to other countries.

The design works just fine for states that look out for the wellbeing of their populace. No point in discussing COVID relief in states that don't believe in the dangers of COVID.

Don't forget that money is exempt from federal taxes for the 2020 tax year and isn't taxed at all by many states.

$2k CAD ($1,591.79 USD)a month vs 600 * 4.33 = $2599 USD (which is in addition to unemployment insurance).

> It's how we get to the moon and Mars and how we survive as a species. It's what's next.

The core fallacy is to assume whatever made Earth less than ideal will not follow us to the new destination. To assume our survivability as species only depends on the locale, not what we will eventually turn that locale into.

This happened with every new frontier. The romanticism of "it will be better in the new place" is baked into our genes probably because of the explore/exploit mechanism; it is natural for any animal to want to wander off when resource/danger ratio in a place isn't ideal. What we omit is that the most important layer of our habitat is the anthroposphere; us and our artifacts. We will drag the best resources and worst dangers with us anywhere we go.

> that their money is better spent here at home reminds me...

What that money represents is an agreement on commanding other humans' goods and services. As such, how much can that be "theirs" if we are taking a plant scale perspective? Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to inject a purely collectivist perspective here; money works great at certain scales, but for entire-humanity-scale issues it is a rather useless construct to think with.

To me a more accurate perspective is "smart but ultimately single person, thus bounded in their rationality, somewhat exploits the imperfections of our value representation/abstraction layer to redirect tons of goods and services of humanity into what is ultimately a useless vanity gesture that will generate no insight into humanity's perennial problems".


> The core fallacy is to assume whatever made Earth less than ideal will not follow us to the new destination.

there are plenty of existential risks which can't "follow" anything, or happen to more than one planet simultaneously.

does living on two planets eliminate all existential risks? no, and nobody has claimed that.


> there are plenty of existential risks which can't "follow" anything, or happen to more than one planet simultaneously.

If the most salient risk was a large meteor striking Earth, you would be right, changing locale would have solved that. But almost all of our current existential risks are anthropogenic, and specifically risks based on our current lack of ability in being do multi-agent coordination at scale. Without solving the game theory of the entire class of those problems, they will follow us to any planet we go just fine.

> does living on two planets eliminate all existential risks? no, and nobody has claimed that.

Your implication of a strawman is a strawman itself. I am not arguing on the basis of a two-planet-solution's non-exhaustivity.

I am arguing that assuming a change of locale as the principal solution to our inherent perennial problems is not a risk-free position. In fact I find it actively harmful as it distracts us from proper root cause analysis and makes us chase after old men's peter pan dreams instead of our need for growing up.


You see earthly stuff as a risk because all the positives are grandfathered in and you only see the negatives.

Bats and pagolins, now are public enemy #1. In general animal reservoirs for viruses and species jumps can't possibly happen on Mars because there are no animals and no other specie. So we have eliminated that risk right?

But....that also means no food, no ecosystem, no biosphere, basically absence of everything. So the benefits provided by bats , poultry, bovines etc. outweigh the negatives of a pandemic every 100 years or so

Even an Earth ruined by supervolcanoes, mega asteroid, nuclear war and climate change all at the same time..is better than Mars.

The only cases in which Mars comes out on top are a huge comet impact and a Gamma Ray burst which strikes the Earth but somehow misses Mars.

Bezos is right saying that we have to go to space to save the Earth, then we can talk sci-fi type things such as mind uploading ourselves in silica, and once that process is complete than Mars and the Earth will be equally valid to host us. But that ship won't set sail for a long while.


> But that ship won't set sail for a long while.

Right. But you have to start to be able to reach that point. And sooner you start - the sooner you will arrive to it.


What are you afraid that humanity will do to Mars? There's no life there to disrupt, no ecosystem, no environment to destroy, nothing to displace.

Not to mention the technical base needed to go to space, that could very well be damaged by even lesser disasters.

We literally got to the moon before any billionaires bought joy rides to lower orbit, so what you’re saying is proven false already by history?

It’s so insane to me that people honestly believe that we need billionaires to fund all their hedonic desires in order to achieve anything good and useful as a society. It’s provably false and frankly an absolutely pessimistic view of society and humanity.


>We literally got to the moon before any billionaires bought joy rides to lower orbit,

Once upon a time you needed nation state sponsorship in order to sail across the ocean.

It's absolutely insane to me that people don't see that a billionaire can do as a vanity project something that was ~50yr ago only the purview of superpowers as an obvious sign of societal progress.


I think you're articulating exactly what the other commenters find appalling: a single man with the power of a state.


There's some truth to this but for the most part you're drawing the wrong conclusion here; Things like aviation and rocketry have become well-understood and "cheap" enough that they're now within reach of the private sector (same goes for the development/construction of satellites which facilitates commercial demand for access to orbit). Just because I can use my smartphone to perform tasks which could only be rivaled by global superpowers 300 years ago doesn't mean I wield the power of a state.

You, a single human being, can send messages from your home to the other end of the planet within a second today. This is greater power than any state had even 100 years ago.

Why compare this "single man's power" to a state from 50 years ago? It's disingenuous.


You are missing the point. You, as an individual living in 2021, have the power of a state as recent as 100 years ago, in many ways. Is that also appalling?

What’s hedonistic? this is a business. There’s money to be made on space, be it via a fancy rollercoaster now or mining or who knows what else in the future. It is inevitable.


They, minus Musk but plus Carmack, aren’t in it for the money. It’s no coincidence that they all chose the same field to work in, which happens to be one 9-year old boys tend to be fascinated by.

And it isn’t because it’s such a good opportunity only they have a chance to succeed on, or we’d see plenty of large companies or a few unicorn startups trying as well.

That doesn’t mean they will never get some revenue, maybe recoup their investments, or even see real profits. Space X is on a trajectory in that general direction. But it isn’t what motivated them.


Government did indeed put man on the moon. But they did it at an insane and unsustainable cost, which is why the moon was then abandoned.

Musk/Bezos/Branson are making space travel a paying proposition, which makes all the difference.


Musk is creating a constellation of satellites that can provide global internet. His technology seems like the only viable way to and back from Mars. Bezos/Branson made a rollercoaster for the super wealthy.

>Musk is creating a constellation of satellites that can provide global internet

And is a good example of creating negative externalities, lots of ground based astronomy (a field that has contributed immensely to our collective scientific knowledge and pushed technology advancements forward globally) extremely difficult due to those same satellites that create interference. Yes, global internet is good, but funnily enough this satellite network creates the need for more astronomical observations be done from space/orbit.. Handy that he is in the business of selling that service as well..

So while I agree his rocket technology is a great advancement and has spurred others to create similar reusable first stage rocket tech, these efforts were already underway. Musk might have accelerated this through risking his personal wealth when creating SpaceX but this was not a one man effort and people should spend less time attributing these advancements to one person.

Hoping "competition" in this space returns to helping orgs like NASA achieve scientific goals (rather than private joy rides), but that would require convincing govs to spend more tax money on these organizations..


I pretty much agree with everything you've said, maybe with different emphasis on certain points.

In particular, I do hope the reusable technology benefits people first and then science. I sometimes wonder about how many Einsteins are born and die without ever learning to read. First and foremost, I hope we use this technology to benefit people and science second.


> Musk might have accelerated this through risking his personal wealth when creating SpaceX but this was not a one man effort and people should spend less time attributing these advancements to one person.

You could have erased any person in SpaceX and SpaceX would have happened anyway. Erase Musk, and no SpaceX. Musk was the lynchpin to making it happen. He provided the vision, the impetus, the funding, and the leadership.

That's why he gets (and deserves) the credit.

It's just like Apple. Apple floundered with CEO after CEO, winding up 90 days from bankruptcy. Then Jobs became CEO, and Apple became the richest company in the world.

With the same staff.


The Apollo program was about $120B in today's money all said and done. And that's with 1960's manufacturing processes. The complete Gemini program was about $10B.

Blue Origin is up to ~$10B already and hasn't even gone orbital yet.


I googled "cost of Apollo program" and it comes to $257 billion in today's dollars.

Also, the economy was considerably smaller in those days, and so the Apollo program took up a much larger share of it.


> Also, the economy was considerably smaller in those days, and so the Apollo program took up a much larger share of it.

Isn't that what adjusting to today's dollars essentially does? Those $28 billion were back then what $257 billion are in today's economy.


> Isn't that what adjusting to today's dollars essentially does?

To make it more obvious, a town council spending $1 million on a project is a much bigger undertaking (for them) than a country spending $1 million. It has nothing to do with inflation. I.e. consider it as percentage of GDP.


No. I think parent means that the economy was smaller in real terms. E.g. the population was lower.

I read somewhere that 400,000 people worked on the Apollo program.

Not quite:

The purchasing power of a dollar has grown ~8.5x over the past 60 years.

The US GDP has grown about 38x in that same time.


I've seen a lot of numbers, how about we go with Wiki's $156 and cut the difference?

And it doesn't matter what the rest of the economy was doing if we've converted it to today's numbers. The argument you were making was that government was intrinsically bloated, but from my view these private orgs are barely keeping up with 1960s .gov.


Since you're leaving off half the cost, it does make the government bloat look slimmer :-)

Why did the Apollo program stop?

Too expensive; had achieved goal.

You are 100% right. A million people can own $1000 in a corporation, or 1 person can own $1,000,000,000. The company has the same capital but wealth is distributed differently.

Even if we needed big corporations, we still do not need billionaires.


Countries without billionaires are mired in poverty. Billionaires can make high risk investments. A million people won't.

I mean, countries with high numbers of billionaires are as well. Going around many parts of the US and then looking at countries with more balanced wealth and there's a pretty stark difference. Poverty is much more visible in the US compared to many other developed countries.

Governments actually make the risky investments. From infrastructure to nukes to the internet to space travel to particle colliders to fusion. The governments that have made these investments are the ones that do the best job of representing the interests of millions of people.

If you take the limit of concentrating wealth, you get a dictatorship. They don't seem to do much. It's hard to believe in democracy and insane wealth concentration at the same time.


> Governments actually make the risky investments.

Large investments are not the same as risky investments.


Democratic governments make the largest and riskiest investments. I've provided quite a few examples in the last century. Do you have any evidence or theory as to the contrary?

Democratic government could very well make the largest and riskiest investments, but I find it hard to believe that they make the most efficient investments.

Government need to get a job done, but they also need to appease voters and play politics to be able to achieve long-term goals. Businesses self-select for efficiency in the long-term, because those that aren't efficient go bankrupt or get overtaken by a more efficient upstart.


When making long-term investments, it's often a bad idea to optimize for efficiency (if we want to measure efficiency as return on investment), because it's difficult to predict ahead of time which projects will work out the best in 10 or 30 years. Sometimes the best bets are the ones no one thinks will work out, and therefore no one wants to make.

I think PG has spilled a lot of ink about this in the context of VC investment, but the same idea doubly applies to government funding because their time horizons are even longer term. If all you do is optimize for next quarter, next year, or even the next 5 years, you're going to miss the things that at first seem innocuous or useless, but then in 30 years blow up into something huge.


Actually the opposite. Just look at fundamental science research. The LHC cost $9B. Why didn't Bezos make his own instead of funding his 3rd rate rocket ride?

What's risky about building a highway?

I think it makes sense in a limited way. Government can do a lot but struggles to make big bets and see them through in the way a single minded billionaire could. Maybe government could solve this is providing some bigger chunks of no strings attached funding under the direction of a single person.

NASA has been beholden to the latest administration’s whims and inconsistent budget allocation for decades.


No billionaire's focus can even come close to matching a nation at war. In less than 25 years, governments went from realizing nukes were possible to creating an arsenal large enough to destroy civilization (1).

I think the great challenge of our generation will be a way to come together with such single minded focus to tackle problems without trying to exterminate each other.

(1) https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/atomic-bomb-hist...


> If you take the limit of concentrating wealth, you get a dictatorship.

Except that's never happened, not even close. Ironically, the modern activists are busy trying to force businesses into getting involved in politics unrelated to their business. This smacks of foolishness to me, as in be careful what one wishes for.

> It's hard to believe in democracy and insane wealth concentration at the same time.

Wealth in a capitalist country is created, not concentrated.


Consolidation of money and power into the hands of a few people is most of the most prevailing trends in history. What do you think a king is? Or a conquerer? Or a Caesar? It strikes me as quite ignorant to posit that wealth and power has never been concentrated into any sort of autocracy. If anything, we live in a unique time and place where military power and financial power are so separated. It is our democratic institutions that enable us to have billionaires without autocracy. Erosion and stagnation of these institutions is the problem.

You also seem to completely abandon your previous statement: "Countries without billionaires are mired in poverty. Billionaires can make high risk investments. A million people won't." Additionally, you've responded to arguments I haven't even made about forcing businesses to be involved in politics.

Your ideas seem like a loose collection of conservative talking points and fail to make any sort of coherent argument.


> Or a Caesar?

Caesar gained power through running a business providing people with wine?

> You also seem to completely abandon your previous statement

Not at all. It is obvious that people who became wealthy through force of arms or using taxation to line their pockets are in a different category.


I'm not sure you really have a grasp of human history if you think money and force are separate things. That's only a very recent idea.

If you look at historical rankings of wealth, by far the richest people were leaders of great empires. They were so wealthy that it's silly to put it in modern terms (1) & (2). Caesar Augustus controlled the entire output of Egypt which was the breadbasket of the Mediterranean world. His person wealth is estimated to be in the $5 to $10 trillion range.

More recently, how rich was Stalin when he could literally do anything with an economy making up 10% of global GDP? It's even unclear how much Putin is worth with credible accusations that he recently built a $1B palace (3) and has a wealth in the $200B range.

It is only our recently invented democratic institutions that enable billionaires who profit from non-violent sources. I sincerely hope you develop a sense of how important these institutions are.

This is my last comment btw, I hope you feel like you've learned something.

(1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wealthiest_historical_...

(2) https://www.luxuo.com/the-lux-list/super-rich/richest-people...

(3) https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-56007943


> how rich was Stalin

Stalin didn't buy his way into power. He took power by force, then used that power to make himself rich.

This is not capitalism. As I pointed out, people who take money through force are in a quite different category.

> I hope you feel like you've learned something.

I'm dumbfounded that you believe that Stalin, Caesar, etc., were free market capitalists gaining their wealth through running a successful business.

> It is only our recently invented democratic institutions that enable billionaires who profit from non-violent sources.

None have yet turned that into running the country. Note how billionaire Bloomberg's presidential campaign failed miserably. As did Ross Perot's. Rich people in America have not had much of a track record of buying themselves into office, though elected representatives have a tendency to get very rich while in office. Hmmm...


A million people can invest $20 in high risk/high reward investments similarly to a venture capitalist, meanwhile investing $800 in some less risky investment.

Kickstarter exists.


Good luck doing a Kickstarter for an enterprise that will need billions in investment.

The problem is not that billionaires are spending their money on space exploration. The problem is that we have many billionaires and millions (billions world wide) are barely surviving. Do you want our species to expand to other planets with this kind of society? We will all end up being slaves if this keeps going on, not in 19th century sense but modern kind - forced to work endless hours just to scrape enough money for food. Elysium style society but without happy ending.

The issue with this line of reasoning is that money is generally not going to solve the problem of people barely surviving. In the vast majority of cases, sociopolitical issues are the root cause and throwing money at things doesn't really help. If you don't believe me, look at the history of aid to sub-saharan Africa. So there's no reason we can't both spend billionaires' money on space development and fix terrestrial problems with social and political reform.

And if you want to argue that billionaires only became so wealthy by exploiting people... well, yes, and? Their wealth already exists so the options are 1) they spend it on stupid stuff like more yachts and mansions, 2) they spend it on humanity-advancing things like space exploration (Musk/Bezos) and philanthropy (Gates), or 3) we have bloody revolutions to claw it back and hope for the best.


> In the vast majority of cases, sociopolitical issues are the root cause and throwing money at things doesn't really help.

This ignores the fact that extreme and worsening inequality is the sociopolitical issue people are talking about. That's literally a problem between where the money is and where it should be. Billionaires becoming billionaires by extracting value from the bent backs of workers is actually a problem that can be addressed by just moving money around.

If Bezos built a penis rocket _and_ fed and clothed and cared for the homeless until he only had even 1 billion dollars left, or if he shared his profits with his employees until he only had even 1 billion dollars left, nobody would mind the rocket (though people would still make fun of it for looking like a penis), and 1 billion dollars is still incredibly obscene.


This strokes my interests...thinking aloud a bit here. This is somewhat offtopic, but it interests me and I can do what I want :)

>3) we have bloody revolutions to claw it back and hope for the best.

The structure of modern society, wealth and finance looks to render this option extremely pyrrhic and more or less impossible. Moreover, I kind of reject that "Their wealth already exists so" -- their wealth is an idea created within a much larger system. It's also kind of crazy to consider that "what to do with it" is actually a very deep consideration.

The wealth that is held by, say, Bezos* (I'm going to define Bezos* as any very wealthy individual for the purpose of the thought) is predicated only by its possible use in society. The money he can use isn't in bills or bullion, but is some kind of leveraged asset like stocks, real estate, insurance, or other investments and the like. The value in it lies not in what it is, rather in projected stock prices, capital for use in other financial prospects, etc. If you took that away with a wand,(and you would need magic for this) it would render him as just a bald guy with a boat.

To grok the way Bezos* can access his absurd billions largely tax free (and they do) is to first recognize that money isn't a real thing like rice is a real thing. The facts of fractional reserve banking and investments mean you have value that you can exchange for untaxed credit, loans, or other endeavors that will add to it. You don't need to get a dollar bill to use a dollar bill if you are a Bezos*, and anyhow these people aren't thinking: "Man, if I can just get another 0.7million prime subscribers, I'm gonna be able to buy this really great suit!" They don't need it to buy medical care. They don't need it for that at all. I think of this whole thing as the Xaro Xhoan Daxos[0] principle.

They can leverage their assets for loans and other instruments which are untaxed, with deductible interest, or trust schemes, and use the proceeds for increasing the value of the process. The wealth-credit that is generated can be used to finance any endeavor, or just buy a jet or a yacht. The jet or yacht is also probably something that can be used in this way, but in general assets like this are that which generate profits (probably incorporated to reduce tax burdens) and feed the self-beneficial cycle.

In the event of a worker revolt or some kind of economic coup, there isn't any cash to steal because it is fiat and will probably be drastically devalued and also exists solely in a computer. Insofar as there even is any gold to reclaim, that won't be particularly useful because that isn't something that works in the economies that we are habituated with and has its own problems aside. Reclaimed art or designer goods, maybe that is ok, but with the economic system so drastically changed, it will be of extremely limited utility in the short term.

In my mind that leaves things like the means of production. Industrial, production, storage, transportation goods and straight up food will be really desirable, but with the finance system crippled and devalued it will not have the continuity of paychecks to maintain their operation. It is entirely possible that the general supply chains will degrade and halt the flow of fuel and medical capabilities, among many other things. This generally dissuades this sort of activity in the US.

The only way I see that it could happen is a drastic political turn, but at that level Bezos* has very much power. The Xaro Xhoan Daxos effect is strongest politically, officials are reticent to act against these kinds of figures in the US today.

The money powers simply have a lot going for them, for example just by owning real estate. This alone is difficult to touch, because of the convoluted nature of this kind of ownership, nobody at all seems the least bit interested in addressing that. Despite the constant hand-wringing about housing crisis, no progress is being made because of how many Bezos*, corporations, and people have interests in how the system works to benefit them today. The best solutions are to build more and finance individuals. I think these kinds of thing are spelled out largely by Chomsky's "Manufacturing Consent"[1] project.

Part of why these kinds of things generate so much rattling is this: We're living in a society mediated by mostly false views of life its self. It is extremely difficult to engage with society at large without being drawn into varieties of false dichotomies, us-vs-them, incorrect views of life such as social media influencer crazes with rented Gulfstreams. Mass media, "social media", doesn't respect or promote thought like that, it will quickly direct users to whiz-bang-wow stuff, side-hustle culture, scapegoating hate, straight up pornography... It is pretty plain to see.

I don't think its an unwashed masses kind of thing, its more that we're inhabiting something like Debord's[2] reality. Even the wealthiest paragon of Bezos* is trapped by perceptions like these, and you can read the language in every discussion: "Billionaires have created so much value for society that they deserve their fabulous lifestyles!", but their lifestyles aren't loving family dinners, self actualized personality traits and an active social life. Increasingly, nobody's is.

The Bezos* reality is children raised by workers and bought the best connections, para-pathological obcession with "business", and completely alienated, probably paranoia-inducing interactions with people who want their influence and of course, stuff.

[0] - https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Characters/GameofThro...

[1] - Excerpts: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tTBWfkE7BXU

[2] - https://libcom.org/files/The%20Society%20of%20the%20Spectacl...


No, I think he's got something here. Surely Bezos could also spend some of his billions overthrowing African kleptocracies.

The issue is not overthrowing them, but finding a good replacement. Overthrowing one just to get another similar one is kinda pointless.

I was assuming he would turn the countries into fulfillment centers.

Kim Stanley Robison's Red Mars explores exactly this problem of colonising a new world whilst the old world is brokenly unequal and has ecological disasters tearing it apart.

Really good book. I won't spoil it too much, but think it offers a powerful challenge to the techno-utopianism of Mars Colony obsessives. The Martians cannot escape their terrestrial ideologies, because those ideologies are still rooted in the old world that they rely on for survival, and because they carried over those ideologies in their own minds.


You could say this about basically all progress anywhere in human history, though. Leonardo Da Vinci's patrons were spending their money on art and research when they could have been feeding their peasants better. The same with Isaac Newton's patrons and countless others.

We fund science and technology research because it improves expected outcomes in the future, for everyone. The idea that we can't fund research until everyone is fed is an oxymoron, we would never be able to get there without funding research.


How is this situation any different from past cases where people decided to spend money and time discovering new worlds instead of trying to improve the living conditions of their own people?

Endless money and effort has gone into trying to solve world hunger and misery, yet they still exist. Yet inventions like GPS and other technology that came out of the space race has probably had more impact worldwide.


The overall population is still way better now than it has been historically. I don't understand why both cannot be done in parallel anyway. It's not like we are investing everything in the space race, plenty goes on more earthly concerns.

Sounds like “manifest destiny” where we destroyed thousands of indigenous civilizations in the country because “it was next”.

I’m starting to come around to the idea that this kind of thinking is exactly why we have poverty and hunger in the USA. We allow individuals to accumulate endless wealth even when that money could be used to help those who need a helping hand.

I’m not saying we necessarily have the government tax them, as I’m more in favor of workers collectives and union power where more of the profit accrues widely across all workers instead of narrowly to the top.

But the problem with billionaires thinking they can solve the worlds problems is they want to create more and more tech to solve our problems, even though we already have great solutions. We could design our cities around trains and bicycles but instead every person drives a car. That takes vastly more resources to produce and operate than a bunch of bicycles. I spent 15 years in Silicon Valley and the whole place is pretty hostile to bicycles even though it’s all flat!

I think when you have $100B your mind comes up with big industrialized solutions to problems when the real solution in my mind is to reduce our resource utilization (which we can do without reducing quality of life).

Bezos built Amazon along with the help from thousands of workers. It is only a trick of our legal system that he was able to hold on to all the wealth that the company created. And it should be noted that Amazon draws a lot of profit (presumably) from millions of cheap plastic objects from overseas which will break and end up in landfills in some poor country. Or think of the millions of overseas workers caught up in abusive labor arrangements [1], paid pennies per day, who helped create the goods that are sold on Amazon.

I really don’t see Bezos as a hero, but as a complex figure who got more than he deserves. America is chock full of poverty and Bezos is directly opposed to the growth of worker unions which I think could help ease a lot of that poverty.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxFwA-jw3X4


Exactly.

"we pioneered the west" lmao.

"how we survive as a species" wtf lmao

op is heavily romanticizing technology and throwing humanity under the bus without even realizing it.


> Amazon draws a lot of profit (presumably) from millions of cheap plastic objects from overseas which will break and end up in landfills in some poor country.

So you're saying he's found a way to make carbon sequestration profitable at scale? Maybe he is a hero.


It sounds like you might be joking, but no the plastic does not come from carbon removed from the air. We remove it from the ground as oil, turn it in to plastic, ship it overseas in carbon polluting container ships, transport each item to an end customer, and then transport them to the landfill where they will persist for generations.

So no, I am not saying that.


I was half joking, so let me try to make the serious case here.

By purchasing oil to turn into plastics, manufacturers are in competition with buyers who intend to simply burn their oil-derived products (fuels). This increased competition must cause some (small) increase in the price of oil that has to be paid by the oil burners, making it marginally less economically competitive in comparison to renewable energy sources.

The effect might be negligible, and I obviously haven't modelled whether this leads to a significant reduction in oil burning (especially relative to the carbon pollution of the container ships, as you say), but it is an interesting thought experiment.


Joke acknowledged :)

but...

The oil isn't turned into plastic[0], the petrochemicals used in plastic don't compete with fuel, it is a byproduct of the oil extraction and fracturing process[1] mostly from the lighter natural gas components I believe. The effect is likely the opposite of what you imagine it to be in your example.

Keep in mind that the price of fuel isn't the same as the price of crude, as the fuel is a separate commodity whose production is tied to refinement of crude, which is the primary commodity.

In fact, using this industrial byproduct to create plastic will reduce the cost of oil extraction. The transportation of the packaged good which are enabled by this ubiquitous packaging technology will now drive demand for transportation, in turn raising the price again. The cheapening of fuel and plastic packaged goods incentivizes further usage and investment, and so the wheels turn on ...

It gets much more complicated from there and also involves some missiles and ground-based radar systems.

[0] - https://inbound.teamppi.com/blog/oil-to-plastic-a-lesson-on-...

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethylene


It does seem a rather roundabout way to find a silver lining.

Plastic does not sequester carbon.

However, if there were a bioplastic that did not degrade or a process to reclaim atmospheric co2 into plastic stock, it would be a great way to sequester carbon so long as it does not break down and is piled up somewhere forever.


It's how we get to the moon and Mars and how we survive as a species.

This is unbelievably pessimistic. You're literally saying that Earth is beyond repair and the only way for humans to survive is to move to a rock in orbit that we've spent a total of 3 days on in the past 70 years, or to a planet no one has visited that has radiation that makes life essentially impossible for us.

Assuming that's true, let's run some numbers. Assuming we can get to 3 launches per day (weather, launch sites, Mars being in the wrong place, etc are limiting factors), and we get 100 years of launches before everyone dies, and we can fire 100 people in to space at a time, that means the future of the human race rests on slightly more than 10 million people. The other 6,990,000,000 of us will perish with the rest of life on Earth.

Damn. If you're right then humans are going extinct.


> This is unbelievably pessimistic.

It's not pessimistic, it's realistic. It's just that what the parent poster means by "how we survive as a species" and what you mean are...different things.

Going to the moon, going to mars, are necessary for the survival of our species...on a 100,000 year time horizon.

At some point, something catastrophic may happen to earth. An asteroid impact, or a Gamma Ray Burst, or some other unexpected cataclysm. If a GRB happened to hit earth in 10,000 years, we only survive as a species if we're self-sufficient on other rocks by then.

If your time-frame of "how we survive as a species" is the next 100 years, then colonizing the moon or mars isn't on the list of potential solutions. I know of very few people who advocate that the moon and mars are the solutions to our climate change issues. Climate change is a crisis that we have to confront within the next 100 years. It's extremely unlikely that any moon or mars base would be self-sufficient within that time frame.

To survive as a species, the human race has to eventually be able to survive a fatal blow to earth and keep going. Hell, eventually we have to be able to deal with a fatal blow to this entire solar system.


First, I favor space exploration and think we, as a society, should spend more money on it than we do now. Second, calling this 'realistic' is nonsense:

>It's not pessimistic, it's realistic. [...] on a 100,000 year time horizon.

It has been 65 years since Sputnik was launched, so you are projecting out 1,565x that duration into the future. I'm sure you picked a nice, big, round number, but I think it's really important to grapple with how immediate all of space travel has been against how long our horizon is as a species is.

The first record we have of homo sapiens is from 300,000 years ago[1] - so 3x your time horizon. The founding of civilization could be pegged around 4,000 years ago with the founding of Babylon[2]. 100,000 years is about 25x the duration of the existence of civilization.

So I agree that space exploration must come at some point, but I actually think the most "realistic" approach would be to *ban* space exploration until climate change is under control. Fixing our impact on our own climate has fewer technical barriers and is a larger limiting factor to human survival than space. If the time horizon is really 100,000 or 10,000 years, then addressing climate change would be a blip on that timeline.

[1] https://theconversation.com/when-did-we-become-fully-human-w...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylon

Edit: accidentally a word


> If the time horizon is really 100,000 or 10,000 years, then addressing climate change would be a blip on that timeline.

I agree about the time-horizons. Dealing with climate change is an immediate and urgent priority, whereas the time-horizon for becoming multi-planetary and (eventually) multi-stellar are much longer.

That being said, it's all probabilistic, so it's not like there's a bright line when we need to be multi-planetary. A planet-killer could hit earth tomorrow, and the human race would be extinct. So, if we delay becoming a (self-sufficient) multi-planetary species by 200 years we increase the window of risk by that much time.

And there will always be current challenges that we face on earth that we could address before investing resources in becoming multi-planetary. And becoming multi-planetary itself will take a long time.


> there will always be current challenges that we face on earth

To me, climate change seems more existential than our other challenges. The reason we can use earth as a base for interplanetary exploration is because the environment is favorable to us. We are putting that at risk.

The only other problem that feels similarly serious is nuclear way.


> I actually think the most "realistic" approach would be to ban space exploration until climate change is under control.

Talk about cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. If we're going down this road, why not take it all the way:

* Ban climate change research until hunger is under control

* Ban efforts to curb hunger until war is under control

* Ban efforts to stop war until disease is under control


> If we're going down this road, why not take it all the way

Hunger and war and disease all have the potential to make furthering space exploration impossible. For example, we just had a pandemic that impacted a lot of people?

However, in general, all of those problems have existed for the entire span of human history. I am not concerned about any of them[1] damaging the earth's ability to be a base for launching humanity as an interstellar species.

Climate change is different. It's especially different because of our inability to face it so far. If we had done the sensible thing and reacted to projections in the 70s by ramping down fossil fuel use, I'd consider is less severe. But we have not.

[1] save nuclear way ofc


That's not what they're saying at all. Imagine if at some point in the history of the human species we just stopped exploring, stopped adapting, and just focused on preserving what we had and nothing more. We wouldn't be who we are today. Not just in the technological sense but in the human sense. The drive to explore the unknown is fundamentally human. The challenge of space and mars is the "final frontier".

The real criticism I have is that it's a false dichotomy. We need BOTH exploration and exploitation. Both greed and fear. Both mutation and rote replication. A species can't survive without a balance of both.


You are never gonna evacuate the Earth with even reusable rockets. With launch loops and space elevators? Yeah, no problem, totally possible. :)

For fictional yet science based scenario see this Orions Arm article:

https://orionsarm.com/eg-article/49b46fd2198ed

The biggest problem is actually not to lift all the people out of Earth's gravity well, but where to put them afterwards...


I don't think it's pessimistic at all.

The Earth is fucked. Not by humans, just by itself. It will be fucked within a few hundred million years simply because the sun is going to get bright enough to boil away the oceans.

If we want any hope of our legacy to carry on in the universe, we need to begin exploring the possibilities now, because we have the scientific knowledge and technological capabilities to begin that exploration process.


Mars and the Moon will be unusable long before Earth in that scenario. Our atmosphere is a really good shield.

I mean, when you take your inspiration from television and sci-fi movies it does seem like rich people doing vanity ego projects is the best way for us to survive as a species. Assuming you mean mean the "rich" when you say species, because unless you are watching different movies then me the non rich don't survive or are turned into a slave class. The Earth...well its prospects are even grimmer.

It is stupid to be cynical of rich people spending money on productive ventures, yet I don't buy the idea that spending on getting the hell off of Earth is the best way to save the species. It might be...which is pretty damned depressing in my opinion.


> I don't buy the idea that spending on getting the hell off of Earth is the best way to save the species

What are the alternatives? On a long enough timeline, it won't be possible for life to survive here. And even on shorter timelines, trusting in untested asteroid deflection plans seems pretty risky, as well. Seems that diversifying ourselves in multiple locations as soon as possible is the best way to guarantee survival of the species (or whatever derivative species we become).


On a long enough timescale the heat death of the universe will occur and there won't be any free energy left for life to exist. Therefore we must invest massive resources today to finding another universe. All life in the universe depends on this, so you can see how important it is.

There's no reason to believe we can sustain human life on Mars. Immense technical and biological hurdles stand in the way of that being possible, much less worth focusing on while the planet that does sustain life can still be saved. Believing the human race needs to go to another planet in our solar system to survive is philosophical suicide for sci-fi fans, akin to believing that saving Earth is futile because the rapture is imminent. To the degree that it distracts from the very real problems on Earth that must be solved and are in fact less daunting than living in Mars, it may even contribute to our literal suicide as a species.

> it may even contribute to our literal suicide as a species

Much as choosing to stay on earth is guaranteed suicide for humanity, on a long enough timescale. I would hate to see all of our eggs in one basket.


On a long enough timescale aliens will come and rescue us! See how silly that sounds? Pretending to save humanity with absurdities is a cowardly way of facing the real, imminent problems we actually have here and now.

I don't understand why you think sustaining human life anywhere beyond earth is an absurdity. The large technological hurdles you mentioned aren't going to solve themselves, we have to start somewhere, and the sooner the better.

I just finished The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal. It is a fantastic piece of alternate history science fiction that I highly recommend.

I mention it because the premise is that a meteorite hits the earth off the east coast of the United States and what the after-effects of such an event would be. It's horrific. A slow death at first that rapidly increases over a period of 50 years. It would be paradoxical because the immediate effects would be cold but the long-term effects would be a planet so hot that it couldn't sustain life.

Our global response to COVID has proven that we wouldn't be able to handle such a thing. How would you convince people that, sure, it's cold now but it's going to get hotter in 3-4 years? A LOT hotter. We can't even get these people to not freak out over having to wear a tiny piece of fabric in Costco!

We know something like this is going to happen. It's just a matter of when. Spending money to get off the earth could very well be the best way to save the species.


As an aside, The West Wing was an incredible show that just became too hard to rewatch. The things the fought and cared about on the show all turned out for the worst. In S1 or S2, they're shouting about cyber warfare and privacy, and here we are 20(?) years later constantly observing cyber warfare and having lost the war on privacy.

Wouldn’t it make sense that Antarctica and the open seas are “next in line” before Mars?

The point is we have a huge, open continent. At the present moment there’s absolutely zero demand to colonize it. Why? Because it’s inhospitable and hard to get to. But it’s a hell of a lot more hospitable and accessible than Mars. So, honest question why would we expect anyone to move to Mars if they can’t even be bothered to move to Trinity Peninsula?


At least for Antarctica this is largely prevented by international agreements. I'm sure there are companies who would go there for the resources alone otherwise.

This is total fallacy, I'm sorry. "We do this thing because we have always done this thing" isn't actual any justification whatsoever. It's whats leftover when realizing you're having a hard time actually justifying why it needs to be done.

"It's the way things are" are perhaps in all seriousness the 5 most dangerous words in the English language.


We need to go to space because if we don't, all of humanity will go extinct. The earth won't last forever and also tends not to fare well when it goes 1:1 with asteroids or nukes.

The earth can last for billions of years. That is, if we don't destroy it... The problem is not to get out of earth, it is not to destroy whatever planet we happen to inhabit.

This is blatantly wrong. The Earth's climate will naturally enter a significantly higher temperature climate attractor within 50 million years and will be completely inhospitable to known life in less than a billion years. The oceans will have completely boiled away, even from the poles, within 1.1 billion years, as the sun continues to increase in luminosity [1].

And this is the most optimistic scenario, assuming no gamma ray bursts, bolides, or super-volcanoes strike first.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_of_Earth


This is still orders of magnitude longer than our distance to the Roman Empire. We've gone from no flight to space travel in 150 years and you're worried about 50 million years.

Right all these comments are just baffling me. This is premature optimization on steroids. For a random analogy, I really hope these people aren't in meetings arguing about how to design a DB schema to last for 50000000 years, when the meeting topic was how to fix slow queries on an unindexed field.

The US life expectancy dropped one of the largest drops ever (1.5 years) and instead of facing the actual real-life disasters happening, "science enthusiasts" are quoting TV shows about science fiction disasters that might happen in 50000000 years... while the scene outside the window literally looks like this: https://abc7news.com/why-is-the-sky-orange-sf-yellow-califor...


I believe they do this because the plan for such people is exactly to let earth be destroyed. Don't do anything to revert global warming, because, after all, "we" have money and technology to colonize the space and let the poor die from its catastrophic results.

I think I have been in that meeting.

Technological progress is not a given. Spaceships don't magically get built given enough time. Humans must spend effort on it.

Do we really have 50 million years? Very unlikely. Do we even have 150 years? I'd take odds against, we've just come way too close to all-out nuclear war recently and international relations are not trending in a promising direction.


If humanity is at risk of extinction due to nuclear war, then going to space isn’t actually going to accomplish anything; the ISS, nor a Mars colony, nor a city of 10 million orbiting Io are going to be able to stop nuclear war either.

Exactly, humans having developed the technology to destroy earth, will easily destroy any kind of spacial colony. Going to other planets is not a solution at all.

I'm not worried at all, because the jealous, anti-progressive, pessimistic commenters littering this thread are not the dominant force in society (even if they did have a numbers advantage, which I don't believe they do, they would lose by the inherent virtue of the weakness in their personalities), and people like Musk, Bezos, and the thousands of engineers executing their visions will ensure humanity has self-sustaining off world colonies in just a few centuries.

You drank the kook-aid bud, that's all I can say to that.

Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

We're talking a timescale of millions of years before that happens, right? Have you you thought this all the way through? All the possible scenarios?

If we send humans out to the stars, our civilizations will diverge. First there's a hop to Mars, then Titan, then then next solar system over, then a galaxy or two. Soon enough you've seeded the universe with human civilizations that have no concept of what Earth was like. Maybe they've heard stories, seen videos or pictures, but what will they really know about Earth in 100k years?

It's not like we're going to be one happy galactic human family. We can't even do that here on Earth, how are we going to maintain peaceful relationships across the universe? So now all you've done is seed the entire universe with a race of petty, greedy, selfish, war-prone primates; living on barren planets, underground or in habitats; who have stories about a mythical homeland filled with a breathable atmosphere, rivers of drinkable water, abundant lifeforms that roam the surface freely, where no one has to live like hamsters (what even are hamsters?) in a habitat. What if they start talking about a better future for themselves on another planet, and they come right back here to conquer it?

I guess what I'm saying is, if all we're doing here is using science fiction to project out millions of years into the future, why are we only projecting positive scenarios where humanity heads to the stars and saves the human race from obliteration? What if instead of inventing the United Federation of Planets, all we do is invent the Reavers from Firefly, and we end up the authors of our own demise?


Humanity won't go extinct any time soon, and at this point in time focusing resources on fighting problems like climate change is infinitely more rewarding than any stupid dicking around on the moon or mars.

Mars won't ever be even as habitable as a thoroughly fucked up earth. It is a huge waste of time and resources that could be better employed on more immediate problems.


Even if we manage to get human carbon output under control, we know that historically the earth has gone through very extreme natural climate changes.

If we want to keep the earth habitable by humans over long time-scale then we absolutely need to learn how to do minor terraforming. Much better to experiment on the moon or mars than the earth.


It's possible to care about more than one thing at once. Some people simply cannot be motivated to work on climate change, but there are 7.5 billion people on the planet, and they don't all need to work on the same thing. We just need a critical mass, the same as for any other problem.

Climate change isn't en existential risk, the way we deal with it is developing new knowledge which as a by product allow us to go to the moon or mars. Furthermore there is a whole other perspective on space which is military and includes china who is not going to hold back.

That’s okay. Nothing lasts forever.

They’re not saying “let’s do things the way we’ve always done them,” they are observing that people seem to have a huge intrinsic drive to explore.

It’s cousin to the famous phrase, “why do we climb the mountain? Because it is there.” It’s not a rational thing but it is a very real part of being human nonetheless.


It’s maybe a bit silly to argue about inspirational slogans from TV presidents, but constructing “we have always been exploring and we will continue to explore” as a defense of the status quo is… quite impressive, actually?

To rephrase it: “we need to shake things up! I propose we do so by stopping to change”.


Ok but, "I have a sweeping romantic idea in my head that connects a bunch of human activity into a chain and I have decided that this is the next thing in that chain" isn't that good of an argument IMO.

It's not though, it was only for us if the technology is returned to public space. That's why NASA is cool.


An alternative viewpoint: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=goh2x_G0ct4

I'm not convinced that exploration is such a self-justifying good that we should look past the very real and very urgent problems that are aggravated precisely by the people "leading the way" here.


Good old HN. Every crazy advance (the other day it was github copilot) is met with negativity and cynicism.

I don't think anyone here would dispute the importance of always reaching beyond as a species.

Ultimately, however, these billionaires are not contributing to reaching beyond. We've been to space before -- in fact, the first space pioneers went further into space than any of these billionaires. Over half a century ago.

Their money would have been better spent on putting together new space telescopes or probes to look further afield, actually reaching for what's next, rather than reaching for familiar ground and taking themselves to the edge of the Earth's atmosphere -- to say nothing of the fact that it was largely for the sake of PR/spectacle.

Musk less so -- as another poster has said, SpaceX seems well-intended and useful.


The quote is wrong. Antarctica is next. Then the moon. Then the bottom of the ocean.

But all these places are desolate of life and not even resource rich, so there is little point to go there. Mars is like this as well. It's not like you are colonizing a rich continent like America.


For in space infrastructure (that has the potential to bring immeasurable energy and resources long term) anyways available outside the Earth gravity well is a valuable resource, even just for stuff like radiation shielding.

There are two main disagreements I have with this point. They’re values based, so I don’t expect to change your mind, but to give you some perspective on why people roll their eyes at these stunts:

1. I don’t think we should be looking towards “what’s next” when we have plenty of more pressing issues to solve here and now. I’d rather we more equitably distribute resources so everyone has food, healthcare, and housing before we start trying to colonize mars.

2. I would rather the money be spent in a more democratic way. I don’t want to let a few people decide “what’s next” for me, let’s redistribute that wealth and let the public decide what’s most pressing.


I love the West Wing but "pioneered the West" is a really interesting way to frame Columbus and Spain and France and Britain and ultimately the US doing what they did in the 17th-20th centuries.

I keep seeing people make this wild assumption that we're going to somehow terraform Mars and make it habitable. If Earth becomes so uninhabitable that we literally need to find another planet to live in, the question I'd ask is, "why couldn't we save an already perfect planet where we and everything we rely upon evolved?". At what point does earth become so fucked up that we look at Mars and think "Hmm, that looks like an option"

I'm sorry but no one has yet to explain to me how humans are going to treat Mars so much better than we have the Earth. Earth has near unlimited resources and Mars doesn't. The human species will only ever live on Earth on a permanent basis and we will absolutely survive as a species. The Earth will just be a much worse and very inhospitable place for a very very very long time.

The thing is "we" won't get to mars with billionaires trying to go to there it will be their kids and the people they pick.

>It's how we get to the moon and Mars and how we survive as a species. It's what's next.

The moon and mars are both ridiculously unsuitable for human life.

Why on earth would that possibly be an option rather than making even a cursory attempt to slow or stop the destruction of our perfect planet?

It's a ridiculous idea. How could anyone think this was a worthwhile endeavor?


This is different than humans polluting and crushing the whole ecosystem for it's greed. It will be better for other species if it try to reverse at least what it can instead as we are the cause. Humans are the literally the worst thing in universe. It will also be better for all species if humans die out asap.

"What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it all the rest are not only useless but disastrous."

I agree, I think another way to put it is would you rather have your tax dollars spent on advancing rocket technologies (via NASA or equivalent) or would you rather have Bezos spend his after-tax dollars on it. Put like that, it's not a tough decision

Except that both companies are competing for govt money. SpaceX is already serving NASA

blue origin was funded with 0 tax payer dollars as far i can tell.

Guess you didn't hear how they sued the govt because they lost the NASA contract?

https://www.theverge.com/2021/4/26/22404528/nasa-bezo-blue-o...

and they have already taken tax payer dollars https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-awards-launch-servic...


Hasn't there been many years where Bezos paid no taxes?

I'm not a Bezos defender, but he pays taxes -- his effective tax rate is lower because most of his money is tied up in stock that has appreciated but he has not sold yet. When he needs cash (to fund Blue Origin, for example), he sells stock, and pays long term capital gains like everyone else. He probably owns multiple houses etc, and pays property and school taxes like everyone else also.

And it's worth noting that they have overtaken a wildly expensive, ineffective government program and built a competitive industry, driving down the cost of getting a kilogram into Low Earth Orbit by 44-fold already.


Everyone knows that if Earth climate destabilizes then life on Mars or the Moon is science fiction. We need the Earth's climate to stabilize and that requires lowering consumption and population.

Being on the moon or mars isn't helpful if you still need all your supplies to come from the earth.

The survival of our species depends on us being able to keep ecosystems running, and we can do that on earth.


That quote is referring to the history of Europeans, not humanity.


Many non-europeans have been pro-expansionist.

We ruin what we have and move on.

The problem with the West Wing, was that it added a pompulus romantic sheen to subjects that arguably didn't deserve it.


They can do whatever the hell they want after they've paid their taxes. That is the consternation, not that going to space is somehow bad.

They have paid their taxes. Increasing stock prices is not income.

They’re not exploring, they’re creating private, for profit, ventures. Your comparison doesn’t hold.

No offense, but this is a tad outlandish and completely ignores the people who are actually working to get us there. It's not Bezos or Musk, though the latter exploits his PR acumen incredibly to make it seem like he invented modern space travel himself.

We won't get to Mars with a bunch of private-money capitalists competing. Much like in the 50s and 60s, it's going to take a concerted effort of government sponsored and driven research.


Aiming high is all well and good when you got problems at home settled. For too long we've been avoiding fixing those problems which aren't intractable such as homelessness and poverty. If we can supposedly do both like the article mentions then why aren't we?

What if ending poverty was next, that would be cool, and then Mars?

they arnt government entities, their ventures arnt built by multitudes of government workers sharing technokogy.

this is like saying a book store on every corner should replace libraries.

shitty equivelence,


>It's how we get to the moon

We already did that. Why not just support NASA?


Because something like VTOL rockets can only be innovated by a private company focused on unit economics and scale economies.

Government is good when the public externalities are large, the private benefit is small and there's an extremely large capital requirements.

This is not the case any longer for rocket tech, and so it makes zero sense to have the government do it. It'd be like asking the government to make smartphones, which is an obviously ridiculous proposition.


> Because something like VTOL rockets can only be innovated by a private company focused on unit economics and scale economies.

I don't think anyone is proposing that government employees (or politicians) actually design the rockets themselves. The question is, can governments oversee and fund the development of innovations like VTOL rockets? And the answer to that question is "yes"[0].

As for why innovation in that field stopped, and had to be picked up again by private companies, I think it's worth asking whether large companies have undue influence over the sorts of projects that governments choose to pursue.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_DC-X


> Because something like VTOL rockets can only be innovated by a private company focused on unit economics and scale economies.

What? That makes no sense. We already had a reusable vehicle for space flight. We've had it for decades now. It's called the Space Shuttle. NASA developed it in 1981. Just support NASA and science for the public good. Do you really want a handful of billionaires in control of space exploration? They do it for their own benefit not ours.


Privatization spurred tremendous increase in efficiencies. SpaceX rocket material is much more fuel efficient, significantly more re-usable. Even the blue origin rocket landed on it's feet yesterday.


Because NASA can't get funding unless the right Congresspeople can spread the pork around their districts.


NASA is the one making those Moon/Mars missions actually happen. Companies like SpaceX or Blue Origin are just vendors that help NASA to have greater flexibility and do more with less. It's the same reason your company is able to move faster by leveraging pre-built solutions like Stripe/Twilio/Okta/etc. instead of re-building every one of those services in-house.

NASA is beholden to congressional funding, and congress is supposed to act in the interest of their constituents.

Even if we assume everyone is rational and the system works as-designed, NASA must work to keep each state and even district within that state happy. That means hundreds of small contracts and explosions of complexity in order to do some of the work in each state.

NASA's mission designs for the last 50 years have been a mess of complexity and ridiculously expensive, and rarely happened as a result. Only now with the commercial contractors are things starting to change.


Sadly NASA didn't do what people in the Age of Exploration did, namely settling there.


>and we pioneered the West

The west was already fully populated.


Getting to Mars won't help us survive as a species.

Mars is a barren rock that is less desirable for human inhabitation than even the most remote land regions on Earth (such as the middle of the Sahara desert and the middle of Antarctica). Mars has no atmosphere, its mean surface temperature [1] is about the same as the average daily low temperature in winter at the south pole [2], its surface gravity is about 38% of Earth's [3] which can lead to muscle and bone atrophy, and it receives about 44% as much sunlight as Earth [4] which makes it harder to grow crops and can cause seasonal affective disorder.

In other words, if it were desirable to live on Mars, people would already be living in the middle of Antarctica.

What about mining resources from Mars? The problem with that is that it's prohibitively expensive due to the fundamental laws of physics. Getting stuff (e.g. equipment) to Mars requires escaping the gravity well of the Earth ([5] is a nice visual), which requires 225 kilograms of fuel per kilogram launched [6]. Sending things back is cheaper, and things like fusion engines would help, but it still takes a lot of energy and it's always going to be cheaper to mine on Earth.

Computers have gotten exponentially better over the past few decades because we've learned to make them smaller and more energy-efficient. Space travel hasn't because there are immutable requirements in terms of how much energy you need to do it.

Planet Earth is by far the best place in the universe for the human species, and I don't see that changing in the next millennium. It's really tailor-made for us (or rather, we are tailor-made for it). The best use of resources right now is towards making life on Earth more sustainable.

[1] https://www.space.com/16907-what-is-the-temperature-of-mars.... [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Pole#Climate_and_day_and... [3] https://phys.org/news/2016-12-strong-gravity-mars.html [4] http://tomatosphere.letstalkscience.ca/Resources/library/Art... [5] https://xkcd.com/681_large/ [6] https://www.extremetech.com/extreme/279947-nasa-wants-to-mak...


So much about your comments strikes me the wrong way. The meaningingless faux-inspirational second paragraph first of all. The empty platitudes about "exploration". You say "It's how we survive as a species. It's what's next.". No!! We are facing massive problems due to overindustrialisation, overproduction, misalignment of incentives basically. We should focus on the (comparatively easy, but still very hard) task of keeping our planet habitable, and to find ways to conduct our affairs in a sustainable manner, rather than dream of idiotic outlandish ideas of Mars colonization...

And you say:

>I personally don't care that these billionaires are spending their money on vacations to orbit.

See, that's where the whole problem lies. The problem is precisely that our current economic system allocates massive amounts of power to these people, and therefore allocates massive amounts of labour and resources to their vanity projects. The problem is that it concentrates power in a disastrous way. Like it allocates talented engineers to ad-tech and yacht-buliding rather than water purification projects or renewables. Like it allocates thousands of people to staff 5-star hotels to serve the whims of 10 or 20 billionaires and saudi princes, which could be serving 10000 children at daycares or 10000 seniors at nursing homes. Etc etc.

I guess what I mean to say is this, and I apologise for the off-topic tone that my comment took: the insane thing to me is how you simply take this very arbitrary, very non-natural way of organizing economic activity and production, and accept it as completely inevitable, in fact you don't even stop to be critical or skeptical of it, hiding it beneath the simple phrase "I don't care how they spend their money". The true triumph of neoliberal capitalism seems to be making itself look as natural and inevitable as the air we breathe.


Government protected monopolies and intervention to centralise corporations has created these megacorporations ruled by some of the most ruthless in our society. What we really need is de-centralisation, artisan ingenuity, and more free-spirited independent-thinkers who make decisions based on their ethics. Large corporations can make decisions where no one really feels responsible for the negative results. Small corporations would make people feel more invested in he end results, community, ecological results, etc.

I think you answered yourself with your choice of West Wing quotes:

> And we crossed the ocean, and we pioneered the West

You really, REALLY aren't selling this the way you think you are by calling it the natural continuation to Europeans "pioneering" the Native Americans, especially given current events [1]. Let me put it this way, selling Mars exploration as a repeat of one of the world's most famous genocides (a blueprint for the holocaust no less [2][3]), really doesn't resonate with me lmao

[1] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-57592243

[2] https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2017/03/nazi-germanys-am...

[3] https://time.com/4703586/nazis-america-race-law/


> It's how we get to the moon and Mars and how we survive as a species.

No, it's not we. It's them: billionaires and their friends. Other people will never go to the moon and mars because billionaires are using their money to lobby politicians in order avoid taxes and get more subsidies at our expense.


> Other people will never go to the moon and mars

Oh, they will. Someone should build the colony. Someone should do the work to maintain and grow the colony, etc.


That is the romanticized version. The history of man is exploration, expansion and exploitation. Destroying everything nice in its path. We destroyed other species, our own species if they looked different, and finally we have all but destroyed the planet. Rather than staying on that path maybe a better approach for humanity is compassion, kindness and helping each other out.

Having said that, I'm totally okay with billionaires spending money on such activities as it puts money back in the economy. The more the better.


> as it puts money back in the economy

That's the rich people hoarding cash theory.

They don't hoard any cash. All of it is invested in the economy. Even "cash" deposits in the bank are, as the bank loans out a multiple of those deposits.


> They don't hoard any cash.

Instead they spend it on lobbying politicians (or becoming politicians) to pass laws that make it easier for them to make money at the expense of everyone else.


They don't do a very good job of it. For example, Washington's Congressman Jayapal introduced legislation to wreck Amazon (headquartered in the state and which drives a big part of the state's economy). Amazon also proved to be completely ineffectual at stopping Seattle from passing an "Amazon Tax" (yes, the politicians even called it that).

Rich people hoard bitcoins, now.

The money they paid for the bitcoin went into the economy.

Or into stocks. Or into existing real estate. Or into existing "NFT" arts. Or into any other bubble. When you print money, rich people can get price to inflate without any trickling down.

Getting to the moon and Mars won't save the human race, Earth is where life can be sustained. Humans cannot reproduce in space, on the moon or on Mars because gravity has a strong and vital role in gestation in mammals. Beyond that, these other locations are quite inhospitable (radiation, temperature, pressure, etc), more inhospitable than pretty much anywhere on Earth.

If we can't make it work here and end up destroying the ecology of Earth, upon which we depend, there's no reason to think we'll survive on the moon or Mars.


FYI, there’s actually gravity on the Moon and Mars. We haven’t done studies to determine if it’s enough G for successful propagation of the species.


Yeah of course there's gravity, there's gravity in space too. I'm saying it won't be enough.


Have we done studies to show this conclusively? If not, I would think that getting to the moon would be important in order to perform those studies.


I don't believe the moon and Mars are end goals, just steps along the way.

>I personally don't care that these billionaires are spending their money on vacations to orbit. It's how we get to the moon and Mars and how we survive as a species.

Really? Which billionaires personally funded the Apollo program? The progress of our species shouldn't have to rely on the fickle preferences of one person, their enormous wealth should be taxed and the money should be used for programs like NASA and its benefits which help all of us.


But the reality is that competition really does drive innovation.

In the past few years we've seen SpaceX get reusable boosters working, a mission to the ISS, etc. Though people like to diminish blue origin's accomplishments due to not hitting orbit they were able to land their reusable booster on the first try too.

In a short amount of time we've seen tremendous progress in bringing down the costs of launching. It's frankly inconceivable NASA would do the same.

I have a few friends that have spent years at JPL and the amount of bureaucracy, waste, and red tape they had to deal with all went away when they started working at SpaceX and then Blue Origin.


The fundamental problem is that NASA's funding is tied to politics and not a business model. Both Democrats and Republicans gutted NASA over the last 15 years and essentially killed any chance we had at even launching basic rockets. The SLS was the last serious project NASA tackled and it was shuttered.

Private space exploration has brought us innovation at a pace NASA could have never delivered because it always had to be pessimistic and scared of funding cuts if anything ever failed.


SpaceX raised about 6 billion in total, NASAs budget is 23 Billion/Year -- why did NASA lose the ability to get people to space?

You can blame whatever you want, but at the end of the day - they're failing.


Didn't they just land a robot on mars? Maybe they aren't failing but have different priorities. People marvel that SpaceX docks with the ISS but the existence of the ISS and the people on it is taken for granted at this point. How did they get there before SpaceX?

Space Shuttle and then Soyuz.

>It's frankly inconceivable NASA would do the same.

It's only inconceivable because we refuse to fully fund NASA.


NASA has so many entrenched issues from being a primarily political organization. even if you fully funded them, I wouldn’t expect the level of innovation as elsewhere.


You would be surprised to learn that history is littered with examples of the fickle preferences of one person impacting the trajectory of the human species.

Also I'm curious why you think that a government is better suited at spending money. From what I've seen this leads to lobbyists doing all they can to curry favor and secure contracts despite the fact that they deliver a sub-par product.


Lobbyists are paid for by private businesses, to win contracts which will be poorly performed by privately owned contractors.

OTOH the US Government, with programs run by publicly paid employees: went to the moon, built a ton of dams, including the Hoover and Grand Coulee, electrified the Tennessee Valley, built the interstate highway system, etc.


Can you come up with any projects the US government has done successfully in the last 50 years though?

The internet?

The Affordable Care Act website, despite the initial difficulties, is a pretty impressive feat. That said, the issue for me is that people parrot Reaganisms blaming the government, without stopping to consider cause and effect or history. The US Government was intentionally stripped of it's capabilities so private sector oligarchs could gorge off the public dole, and that's where we are at today. The solution is to rebuild those capabilities, not to surrender completely.

"Great Man history" is a troublesome way to interpret the past and neglects many other forces that shape our society and planet:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_man_theory


Ignoring the influence one person can have is equally troublesome.

Suppose Constantine never converted to Christianity. Suppose Genghis Khan had been injured before conquering Asia. Suppose Louis the XVI had reformed the French government. Sure some other ruler would probably have embraced Christianity or some other ruler would have conquered Asia but history is fundamentally a sequence of events and minor changes, like a strong ruler in one place or another, can have massive downstream impacts.


>Suppose Constantine never converted to Christianity

What about the changes in wider Roman society that allowed for Constantine's conversion to have a large impact?

>Suppose Louis the XVI had reformed the French government.

Would those reforms have been carried out by the nobility? Would it have been enough to satisfy the peasants?

Focusing on "great men" is a far too simplistic view of history and it ignores the impact that each of us have on history as individuals.


"Great men" create Focal Points[0] (or, if you believe in great men, Schelling Points) around which societies and lines of history converge. It's probably equally true, though, to say that societal dynamics have within them focal points which allow certain men (and women) to become great.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Focal_point_%28game_theory%29


Guess what? The government has decided that NASA isn't important. If they're taxed more, that doesn't magically send money to NASA.

The government has had first dibs on space for a very long time, and they've done nothing with it. Talk about taxing billionaires until you're blue in the face - whether you do or not has no effect on NASA. There's plenty of money to put towards it now, and it's not a priority.

I'm glad that billionaires are taking up an important cause for the future of our species when our government is failing to do so.


NASA is still doing the hard/interesting stuff, but now that there is a market that can more cheaply/rapidly work on creating the rockets/vehicles to get payloads where they need to go they can focus more on the actual missions.

Likewise, NASA has always chosen "buy" over "build" where applicable (like contracting out spacesuit construction to major textile manufacturers). If they'd done everything in-house, that means fewer resources where it matters. Public-private partnerships make NASA more effective, not less.


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