It’s not the worst thing to have the private sector involved

As the world’s richest man flies his Blue Origin rocket into suborbital space, here on Earth calls are growing to tax the rich and let Amazon unionize. Billionaire Jeff Bezos has faced strong criticism after Tuesday’s flight, for which he thanked Amazon workers and customers who “paid for all of this.” Bezos traveled to the edge of space just days after another billionaire, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, took a similar trip on a Virgin Galactic spacecraft. “The richest and most powerful people in the world are turning their eyes away from the planet and to the stars,” says Paris Marx, a writer and host of the podcast “Tech Won’t Save Us.” “We need to question whether we should be dedicating so much resources to this kind of grand vision of a future that may never arrive,” Marx says. We also speak with journalist Peter Ward, author of the book “The Consequential Frontier: Challenging the Privatization of Space,” who says billionaires who have monopolized large sectors of the economy are seeking to do the same for space infrastructure. “It’s not the worst thing to have the private sector involved. It’s just it can’t be where they have complete control,” Ward says.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show with a look at how the world’s richest man completed a 10-minute suborbital flight aboard his Blue Origin spacecraft Tuesday. Jeff Bezos spoke at a news conference after his crew landed.

JEFF BEZOS: I want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer, because you guys paid for all of this. So, seriously, for every Amazon customer out there and every Amazon employee, thank you from the bottom of my heart very much.

AMY GOODMAN: The billionaire Amazon founder Bezos’s remarks drew sharp rebuke. Washington Congressmember Pramila Jayapal tweeted, “If Amazon paid its workers fairly and did not fight unionization, workers would not be funding the expensive hobbies of billionaires. They would be taking care of their families and living dignified and fulfilling lives.” Jayapal also noted that the 11-minute “joyride” cost over $2.5 million a minute. “Yes, it’s time to tax the rich,” she said.

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union that tried to unionize Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, also responded to Bezos’ comments thanking Amazon customers and employees for paying for his spaceflight.

STUART APPELBAUM: These are people who put their lives on the line during the pandemic and did not receive adequate support from Jeff Bezos. In the middle of the pandemic, he even cut people’s wages, when he didn’t need to. People are being forced to work in conditions where their health and safety is not being adequately protected. There is so much more Jeff Bezos should be doing for his employees.

AMY GOODMAN: Bezos rocketed into suborbital space with his brother, as well as an 82-year-old aviation pioneer named Wally Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen of the Netherlands, who was his first paying customer. Daemen is the son of Joes Daemen, the CEO and founder of hedge fund Somerset Capital Partners. It’s unclear just how many millions Daemen paid for the seat.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. In St. John, Canada, Paris Marx is with us, host of the podcast Tech Won’t Save Us and writer whose article in Jacobin is headlined “Leave the Billionaires in Space.” And joining us from the U.K. is journalist Peter Ward, author of the book The Consequential Frontier: Challenging the Privatization of Space.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Paris Marx, as you watched the richest man on Earth rocket away from it for just a few minutes, talk about your thoughts.

PARIS MARX: Yeah, it was — first of all, it’s great to join you, Amy and Nermeen. It was wild to watch that, right? You know, for so long people have been criticizing this, have been saying that it’s not something that we should do. But to watch this, the richest man in the world, a man who admitted after his flight that all of his wealth comes from the workers who, you know, work for Amazon, who have been underpaid, who have been mistreated for so, so long, and then to compare that with the stories that we’ve been seeing in recent weeks about, you know, the fires in British Columbia burning a whole town to the ground, the wet-bulb temperatures in Pakistan, the flooding that’s happening in Europe, it’s just wild to put these stories next to one another and to see that at a moment when we have so many crises, even beyond the climate crisis, that we need to be dealing with, that the richest and most powerful people in the world are turning their eyes away from the planet into the stars.

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