The Crusader Newspaper Group

Space travel of the rich and famous illustrates elitism and misguided priorities

Vernon A. Williams

What baby-boomer didn’t imagine what it might be like to travel in space? Those of us who grew up during the first manned space flights, first orbits around the earth and moon landing, marveled at the prospect of conquering the final frontier – outer space. No one can blame anyone for fantasizing what such an experience might feel like.

Having seen that the future did not shape up quite like the fantasy concepts portrayed in television shows like “The Jetsons” and more dramatically “Star Trek” – or cinematic blockbusters like the “Star Wars” anthology – reality set in, and the whim of space travel faded into oblivion.

But in the ever-evolving world of new words and phrases, here is one for your vernacular consideration…SPACE BOURGEOISIE. This would be defined as: “the class of fabulously wealthy individuals possessing resources sufficient to finance recreational, non-exploratory space travel as a means of self-gratification or indulgence with no scientific, social or redeeming value.”

Hate to be a buzz kill, but I would be much more impressed if these billionaire space cowboys would divert more of their “spare” fortunes to homelessness, hunger, care of the aged, veterans’ needs, retiring student debts, health care, environment, childcare, rebuilding blighted communities, and increasing scholarships for underrepresented populations.

Call me crazy, but I’d like to see fewer six-figure luxury vehicles, multi-million-dollar mansions, and yachts with quarter billion-dollar price tags. Yes, they have a right to be rich and to spend their money however they choose. But those of us on the outside looking in also have a right to our opinions.

Yes, they support numerous charitable concerns. But obviously the need is far greater, as is their capacity to give.

Can the ridiculously affluent solve every problem? Of course not. But what a difference their resources could make if they sacrificed a few ridiculously high-priced extravagances to funnel some of the awkward excess to those most in greater need.

How can we as a society be comfortable with the upper one percent of upper-crust American wealth increasing their worth by 300 percent during the pandemic while the minimum wage has been the same nationally, $7.25 an hour, since 2009? Not only has the cavernous gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ grown deeper or wider, but fewer are seriously addressing it.

Okay, if you feel we don’t have a right to even suggest how the filthy rich should spend their money, here’s one final consideration. How about requiring them to pay taxes like you, me and other hardworking Americans? If society enjoyed the full benefit of their fair share of taxes, we might have far less need to even discuss their charitable spirit.

With 63 percent of Americans living from paycheck to paycheck, most face financial ruin if confronted with an unexpected $500 expense.

Space traveler Richard Branson, owner of the Virgin Group, earns $22 billion a year – a pittance compared to Amazon magnate Jeff Bezo, who this week rocketed into his own space playground as the richest man in the world at $200 billion.

It was only a short while ago that Amazon was considering locating a huge outlet in an urban area of the United States. Everyone was desperate for the opportunity to be considered. Chicago, Gary and Indianapolis all got into the pool of hopefuls. Of the three, of course Gary is in most dire economic straits. That investment could have literally revitalized Gary and Northwest Indiana.

The mayor and local politicians made an open plea for consideration. It would have been a financial coup for what was once the “City of the Century” before the devastating collapse of the steel industry in America. And it made logical sense as Gary has access by water, land and air.

What an opportunity for the world’s first trillion-dollar corporation to demonstrate incomparable compassion and vision; to choose not the most alluring spot but the city most in need of such a blessing. Jeff Bezo could have won hearts, enhanced lives and demonstrated a level of corporate citizenship unmatched. As the most successful company on the planet, Amazon could afford to invest in Gary’s possibilities.

But it wasn’t to be. No crying over spilled milk because Gary officials are moving aggressively and strategically with much more hopeful and effective plans for sustainable economic growth. But it is worth noting that Amazon missed a golden opportunity to be a game changer – focusing on what they could help accomplish right here on earth rather than wasting time and money in space. So much for that episode.

Again, there is still the matter of paying taxes equitably. While all Bezo tax returns are not public, in 2007 and 2011, Bezo reportedly paid NOTHING, not one red cent, in income tax despite the fact that he owns a $25 million home in Medina, Washington; a $23 million Washington, D.C., mansion; an $80 million Manhattan penthouse; and a record-setting $165 million Beverly Hills palace. He is in the process of building a $500 million yacht.

You get the point. These billionaires definitely have the resources to change the face of the world. It is not unreasonable to expect them to exercise more humane use of their vast fortunes. No matter what they are doing, or have already done, there is a need for them to do much more because they are much more blessed than most.

One sterling adage has endured generations and remains as true today as ever. That is, quite simply, “To whom much is given, much is due.”

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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