People are starving, Jeff
We can’t have nice things because Jeff Bezos wants to go to space
by gillian massie and sara birrell
On July 20, Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of wildly successful online shopping service (and dystopian megacorporation) Amazon, dropped $5.5 billion to be launched into space.
The billionaire extended the opportunity to two companions, Bezos’ brother and an aviation expert from Texas. The space shuttle launch was broadcast on live television and when they were done the passengers and crew members popped champagne on the launch pad. The entire shuttle blasted off and landed in 15 minutes (only around four of which were actually spent in “space”). Space shuttles are being advertised as a new form of tourism that could be an actual vacation opportunity for the ruling class in the near future. However, the titanic cost of Bezos’ rocket ship ride has raised questions about whether it is an ethical choice, considering the rapidly increasing inequality around the globe and the amount of fossil fuel emissions required for a single vanity launch.
There are a lot of places that money could have been better spent (we actually can’t think of a worse way it could have been spent) and we’ve broken down some of the financial issues that could have been solved if the public kept that money and NASA simply yeeted Bezos into the Sun pro bono.
Canadian students owe, on average, $26,075 per person in student loan debt. Around $75 million of that debt is held by Saskatchewan students, who owe more on average than other Canadian students and who are more likely to graduate with so-called “large debt” – amounts over $25,000. While that debt has the power to reduce the quality of life of many of the people who are saddled with it, Bezos’ space bux could have paid it off 73 times over.
Devastating forest fires across Canada and the Pacific northwest (largely caused by late-stage capitalists like Bezos) have caused millions of dollars worth of damage and left scores of people homeless. In B.C alone, $95 million has already been put into fighting fires in 2021. According to B.C statistics, the total cost over the last 10 years is currently at $2,865,600,000, an amount that places a huge economic burden on the public but is only slightly more than half of what it cost for Bezos to go to space for significantly less time than it would take to read Kropotkin’s Conquest of Bread.
Canada’s ongoing colonial project is evident in the crisis of clean water on First Nations reserves. While estimates vary, in 2017 the parliamentary budget officer estimated that it would cost around $3.2 billion to get clean water on every reserve in so-called Canada. That’s not even close to what Bezos spent to do something that’s only impressive to humans under the age of seven. It’s just a sliver of the budget for the bald space man. He could throw in Flint, Michigan and still not be spending as much as he spent on his environmentally destructive post-divorce midlife crisis.
There’s also the rising inequity in the housing market. Housing prices in Canada have risen more in the past decade than in any other country in the world. And while many people manage to scrape by, spending 30 per cent or more on rent, hundreds of thousands of Canadians are homeless. A rough estimate from the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness puts the cost of housing every Canadian at about $3.7 billion. Jeff Bezos could literally end homelessness for less money than it cost him to take a joyride into what scientists consider, “sure, technically space, I guess.”
But maybe Jeff wants to distribute his hoard a little closer to (his) home. Amazon has 1,335,000 employees worldwide. It’s well known that they work in grueling conditions, going entire days without breaks, famously peeing in bottles, wrecking their bodies so that Bezos can steal the value of their labour and leave them with almost nothing. That $5.5 billion could have been spent giving $4,000 lump sum payments to every Amazon worker on the face of the Earth. And while that’s not quitting forever and retiring on the beach money, $4000 would have done more good in the pockets of ordinary workers than it did launching Bezos into what – I can’t stress enough – was barely space.
The opportunity to go to space is once-in-a-lifetime, and only few will ever experience it. It leaves a sour taste in ones’ mouth when you think of all the devastating problems that the money frittered away on making rich people feel cool could solve instead. And Bezos is just one billionaire who has entered space. Richard Branson completed his first launch nine days prior in New Mexico. Far from being aspirational or laudable, the billionaire space race makes very clear that these men are rich because others have been made poor.