Planetary Resources; Astronomical Wealth—The Poor Need Not Apply

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Early 20th century comic caricature of John D. Rockefeller, as Emperor of rail and oil. Public domain.

A new company has appeared, named Planetary Resources, with speculated intentions that the corporation shall be especially involved in asteroid mining, attempting to relieve the rare earth element bottleneck that has been speculated shall eventually come.

On the one hand, it is an excellent idea—the using of resources not used or competed for by other organisms—as an alternative to using terrestrial resources that indeed are contested by other living beings. It is an excellent step forward in terms of conservation of the Earth.

However, there is a thought that may not be considered by the less-cynically minded (bless their quaint hearts!), one that can be deduced by reading their public announcement:

“[...] the company will overlay two critical sectors – space exploration and natural resources – to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP. This innovative start-up will create a new industry and a new definition of ‘natural resources’.”

Economically, and ethically, it shall present a problem of sorts, depending if your point of view is one that isn’t psychopathic. At this moment, the world needs far less rich persons. As anti-capitalistic as this statement may be, it is nonetheless true true. And so, when they state that it would add “trillions of dollars to the global GDP”, they do not mean that the wealth would be spread amongst all humans on Earth. The wealth would be spread among investors, around owners and executives. This potential influx of “trillions of dollars of GDP” would not increase the purchasing power of the 90% of the world’s population, let alone the lower half. The disparity between the poor and the rich and their taxation rates, especially concerning Western countries at this moment in time, and specifically the United States, is the highest it has ever been since the oil, steel, and telephone booms of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Were there to be an asteroid mining boom, worth many trillions of dollars, the new Rockefellers of the 21st century would not be a welcome presence among the masses. The world does not need billionaires and trillionaires, who, even at their superficially most benevolent, funding and founding universities, colleges, museums, and theaters, to not appear to be misers or robber barons (as they most certainly were), still restrict the purchasing powering of the rest of humanity: there is only so much GDP to go around. If billionaires have, it necessitates that others do not have.

What the world needs now is not trillions of more dollars to the global GDP. GDP isn’t a problem with the majority of persons living on Earth; the problem for those in Greece, in Spain, in Portugal, in Detroit, in Flint, is individual purchasing power. If, say, the global GDP is 8 billion dollars, and 1 person has one billion dollars, and the other 7 billion have 1 dollar each, how does that help the world, help the poor, the less affluent, help their families, help make ends meet and survive? You cannot eat iron, or iridium, or any other raw element. By making the statement that they made, that, when properly read between the lines:

“…the company will overlay two critical sectors – space exploration and natural resources – to add trillions of dollars to the global GDP”,

it becomes understood that this public announcement is not a rally behind the average human, but a screaming call to investors, hedge fund managers, and bankers, to invest billions of dollars for even larger financial returns. And you, reading this article, are not invited, even if you would like to think you were.

Political cartoon of John D. Rockefeller holding the White House in his palm. Public domain.

The monopoly that may be created by venturing into this untapped and uncontested resource, before it is (possibly) artificially taken down and apart by the courts, may prove to be too late a course of action. AT&T, Exxon Mobil, Microsoft—all remain behemoths of corporations even after their parent companies were divided due to a monopolistic control of the market, or after massive fines and concessions. And, after all, with control of the resource, and control of the market, the corporation may price-fix as it wills, for there is no competition. And they may arbitrarily withhold resource merely to inflate the price. Pandora’s Box is not a box, but a vast and open expanse of space, free molecules, and agglomerations of matter. To think that a company or enterprise would not be brash enough to stake a claim on the surface of Mars for resource exploration is stupidly naïve; they certainly would, and my prediction is that they certainly shall.

I am in favor of space exploration, both dimensional/scientific exploration and resource, but at this point in time I support resource exploration only in theory. The world needs a greater moral standard, a far, far greater moral standard, and greater application of said moral standard, before they begin a venture such as this. The need to find a relief resource of rare Earth elements is a fairly important one, and one that should be addressed, but the risk of a stellar monopoly forming, and creating a few select persons the first trillionaires, seems to be to be too massive a risk to take. No single tailless monkey should be allowed to accumulate that much wealth, that much power. As much of a supporter of space exploration Carl Sagan was, I dare say he would not support this. Is the world ready to have its first trillionaire, while there are still those that die and starve somewhere on the same planet? This is not a question of, “if we can”. It is a question of “if we should”.

Is your iPhone worth such ceding of power? In the United States, at least, corporations are considered persons, and money is considered speech. Are you ready for Fascism, when corporations take over government, merely to further their own profit margin, and their own financial and political interests, regardless of the interests of others, of individuals, or of the people? Are you ready? If you believe it to be happening presently, as we speak—that politicians are already bought through “political donations”, that politicians are already bought by being hired by the exact same corporations they were supposed to be regulating while in political office, being offered generous salaries as “consultants” and “advisors”—imagine the power—the financial and political power—that the first trillion dollar corporation shall have. Do you believe they will be benevolent? Is Google benevolent? Is Facebook? Is Apple benevolent? Is General Motors? Is Exxon Mobil benevolent? Is British Petroleum? Is Koch Industries? Is Halliburton/KBR benevolent? It’s all about the money; and where money is involved, and you don’t have it, you are out of luck.

Planetary Resources shall make their public announcement Tuesday, April 24th, 2012.