"I would annex the planets if I could; I often think of that." - Cecil Rhodes
Venture capitalism is about to find itself in a new arena – space. Its existence has already started as SpaceX has begun to launch its first rockets into space. Jeff Bezos said “The only way that I can see to deploy this much financial resource is by converting my Amazon winnings into space travel. That is basically it.”[i] The rich want to get to space, and capitalists are extremely good at innovation. The development of space is inevitable and important, but the critical question is by whom.
The primary avenue for wealth creation in space will be mining. The vast number of material resources available on the nearest celestial bodies[ii], combined with the potential for strip mining, means that the first few corporations to mine in space will be wildly successful. Goldman Sachs claims that the first trillionaire will make their fortune in space[iii]. After purchasing competing rocket programs to create an oligopoly on access to space itself, these companies would quickly dwarf today’s Earthbound mega-corporations.
Once these corporations are off earth and recruit a space-based working-class, to which government will they answer? What would stop these corporate settlements from arming their borders, proclaiming themselves free from governance, and lobbying Earth politicians into the ground with their newfound billions? Current governments are running a deficit pay for healthcare; the notion that they could finance a fleet of rockets to enforce bureaucratic regulations in space is a fantasy.
If these space-mining initiatives are powered by economic democracy, humans could have access to all the materials they require. The trove of metals and minerals would be at the behest of society as a whole, eliminating the politics of scarcity. Without such scarcity, an entire upper bound for human advancement and consumerism could disappear. Under the influence of capitalism, however, the process would be much different. The space-faring miners could flood the market and bankrupt miners on Earth repeatedly. Then, they would leverage another monopoly and most likely follow in the diamond industry’s footsteps – choking out supply to keep prices and revenue high[iv].
Space settlements would exist, but their leaders would not hold power democratically. These space settlements’ only purpose would be to generate more wealth and luxury. The existence of a ruling luxury class looking to build private kingdoms is one thing, but a more insidious issue would present itself. Everything involved with the settlement – including housing, utilities, food, and return tickets to earth– would be owned and controlled by the corporation. The company would set both the workers’ wages and the cost to leave the space settlement. It might not happen immediately, but the conditions are almost inevitably going to drift towards an exit ticket being too expensive to afford. A captive workforce with no option but to accept its wages is irresistible to any wealthy capitalist. Indentured servitude has and always will be attractive to a company’s bottom line.
There’s one other problem involved with the rich and powerful holding humanity hostage in space. A society based on wealth accumulation only seeks to become more and more extravagant. The drive to explore, create, learn, and discover falls by the wayside — bottlenecked and strangled by the desire for extreme luxury. Only a society based on economic democracy will allow humanity to choose exploration and science for its own sake because sometimes, discovery doesn’t find itself in the name of wealth.
[i] Döpfner, M. (2018, April 28). Jeff Bezos reveals what it's like to build an empire and become the richest man in the world - and why he's willing to spend $1 billion a year to fund the most important mission of his life. Retrieved November 05, 2020, from https://www.businessinsider.com/jeff-bezos-interview-axel-springer-ceo-amazon-trump-blue-origin-family-regulation-washington-post-2018-4
[ii] Bonsor, K. (2020, June 22). How Asteroid Mining Will Work. Retrieved November 05, 2020, from https://science.howstuffworks.com/asteroid-mining.htm
[iii] Business, R. T. (2018, April 22). Space mining will produce world's first trillionaire. Retrieved November 05, 2020, from https://www.rt.com/business/424800-first-trillionaire-space-miner/
[iv] Nace, T. (2018, May 30). De Beers Gives In And Begins Selling Lab Made Diamonds. Retrieved November 05, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2018/05/30/de-beers-gives-in-and begins-selling-lab-made-diamonds/?sh=5d5a25694636
About the Author:
Casper Rove is a blue collar worker from Omaha, Nebraska who coaches highschool debate part-time. His free time is best spent making headway in his endeavor for sustainable subsistence farming and looking for the most pragmatic way to convert socialist thought into socialist infrastructure.