Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Elon Musk Jeff Bezos. Photo: Seattle City Council, CC BY 2.0 ; Richard Branson. Photo: John Mathew Smith & / CC BY-SA 2.0; Elon Musk. Photo: The Royal Society / CC BY-SA 3.0. Licenses linked at bottom of article

In space, no one can hear you scream with rage at the hubris of self-indulgent billionaires, writes Sean Ledwith

Next week, Amazon boss and notorious tax dodger, Jeff Bezos, plans to become the first billionaire in space as his Blue Ocean company’s rocket, New Shepard, is launched from the US’s first space port in New Mexico. Last weekend, his fellow parasitical plutocrat, Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic, took off from the same location in his own orbital pleasure barge named VSS Unity. The two men are now locked in a grubby squabble over who should actually be classified as the first billionaire in space – a moniker they obviously intend to claim with pride but which will be a badge of shame in the eyes of most of the human race.

My spaceship is bigger than yours

Branson’s flight ascended to 59 miles above the Earth’s surface but fell short of the 62 miles that marks the Karman line – the recognised boundary between our atmosphere and space.  Last Friday, Bezos waspishly tweeted that Branson’s craft was actually little more than “high-altitude plane” with “airplane-size windows”, in contrast to New Shepard which boasts “the largest windows in space”. Branson, ever conscious of publicity, had fast-tracked his launch after Bezos’ announcement on 7 June that 20 July would be the target date for the Blue Origin launch.

Not to be outdone, the third member of the extra-terrestrial toys for billionaire boys club, Tesla boss Elon Musk, has booked his SpaceX vehicle in for a launch into orbit in September. The three men, each appropriately with an ego the size of a small planet, have varying conceptions of how they see their respective ventures playing out in the future.

Musk is the most delusional of the three, with his talk of colonies on Mars and turning the human race into a “multi-planetary species”. Bezos, only marginally less unhinged, talks about large structures orbiting the Earth which ultimately could accommodate one trillion human beings and serve as the primary homes for humanity rather than the planet itself. Branson’s notion of one-off space jaunts looks moderate in comparison to the over-excitable fantasies of the two Americans.

Brave new world?

What unites them, however, is a breath-taking arrogance and disregard for the situation of the bulk of the world’s population for whom such notions are not even worth thinking about amid a daily and grinding battle for survival. Bezos conducted a shameless public auction for a ticket to ride on his craft; bids started at $4 million and ended with the money-to-burn winner pledging $29 million.

The three men like to flatter themselves that they are fearless and swashbuckling pioneers of a brave new world but the reality is they collectively personify the upside-down priorities of a mad economic system that is accelerating towards a cliff-edge of climate change, poverty and war.

Vanity projects

As Bezos, Branson and Musk fritter away billions on vanity projects in space, the planet they seek escape velocity from is groaning beneath the weight of a multi-level crisis created by the super-rich ruling class of which they are the most egregious examples.

Coronavirus has now claimed four million victims and most of the world’s population are still at the back of the global queue for vaccines. The World Bank estimates 270 million people are affected by malnutrition. With their combined wealth of $400 billion, how many of these calamities could be alleviated, along with global inequalities in education and healthcare, if the three egomaniacs were more concerned with this planet rather than other ones?


As Branson merrily cruised in the upper atmosphere last week, hundreds died in Canada and the Pacific North West as a heat dome unleashed deadly temperatures up to 50C. The jaw-dropping spectacle of the ocean literally on fire due to a ruptured pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico encapsulated the brazen disregard the world’s elite have for the future of the planet.

The three plutocratic space cowboys like to greenwash the images of their respective companies but the UN recently estimated 15% of carbon emissions are created by the richest 1% of the world’s population. There is no way grandiose plans for extra-planetary exploration will ever come to fruition as long as the class represented by these three men remains in control of human affairs.

Star wars

If climate change or pandemics don’t wipe us first, imperialist war probably will. These plutocrats like to pose as freewheeling entrepreneurs, cut loose from the dead hand of state control. In fact, Musk and Bezos have received billions of dollars in subsidies from the US state in return for their cooperation with Nasa for the purposes of militarising space. Musk was recently handed a $3 billion contract by Congress to help develop missile tracking satellites; Bezos’ political cronies kicked up a fuss and he was promptly handed $10 billion!

The Pentagon perceives private sector billionaires as integral to the development of the armed Space Force announced by Trump in 2019. The US is paranoid about China’s accelerating space programme and is determined to take the new cold war between the superpowers into orbit.

If we are to stop these parasites and others exporting the insanity of capitalism into space, it will be necessary to seize control of their wealth on this planet first.

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Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters

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