On Tuesday, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos became the second billionaire in as many weeks to sort-of go to space.
The world’s richest man spent several minutes in zero gravity on Tuesday aboard a rocket developed by his company Blue Origin. Going to space, or almost-space, is not, in itself, anything new—Alan Shepard became the first American to leave the atmosphere 60 years ago; four different current or former United States senators have been up there since. Perhaps the most striking thing about Bezos’ efforts is how low the bar has been set that a joyride that lasted shorter than a bathroom break at Amazon can be seen as an international news event.
It’s easy to be cynical about all of this, but in fairness, no one could put it more cynically than Jeff Bezos.
After he landed safely, the newly minted spaceman sat for an interview, and sounding somewhat punch-drunk off the thrill of the experience, summed up the whole fair in a very concise way.
“I also want to thank every Amazon employee and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all of this,” he said.
— Dan Linden (@DanLinden) July 20, 2021
Yes, that’s…that’s just about it. Tuesday’s launch was depressing less because of the spectacle in West Texas than because it’s tough to find the error in Bezos’ statement. It was a tremendous collective effort principally for the benefit of one person—an “interestingly shaped” manifestation of the broken political economy that made Bezos possible. This is the end product of all that sweat and sacrifice—of delivery workers peeing in bottles, of warehouse workers staring at propaganda about their boss while they take a shit, of people doing manual labor for $15 an hour, of humans getting injured at his factories and then being forced into a Kafkaesque company healthcare system, of Amazon employees working to hide their co-workers’ injuries, of economic concentration and runaway inequality, of a tax system that is designed to allow someone to become the world’s richest person while sometimes paying no income tax at all.
“Awesome!” Bezos shouted, trying to catch a skittle in his mouth 52 miles above the ground. “It’s so good.”
-Jeff Bezos catching a skittle with his mouth in space pic.twitter.com/aLu9NEotfh
— Brennan Murphy (@brenonade) July 20, 2021
This is where all the money went.