The Problem With the Billionaire Space Race, Explained

There's no better metaphor for capitalism-based inequality than billionaires competing to reach the upper sky.

The New Shepard Blue Origin rocket lifts off from the launch pad carrying Jeff Bezos along with his brother Mark Bezos, 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, and 82-year-old Wally Funk prepares to launch on July 20, 2021, in Van Horn, Texas. Mr. Bezos and the crew are riding in the first human spaceflight for the company.
The New Shepard Blue Origin rocket lifts off from the launch pad carrying Jeff Bezos along with his brother Mark Bezos, 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, and 82-year-old Wally Funk prepares to launch on July 20, 2021, in Van Horn, Texas. Mr. Bezos and the crew are riding in the first human spaceflight for the company.
Photo: Joe Raedle (Getty Images)

Like the popular subreddit “Explain Like I’m Five Years Old,” (ELI5), The Root’s “Explain Like I’m a Racist 5-Year-Old” series dissects complex subjects into language simple enough to be understood by a racist baby.


Hey Mr. Mike!

Racist Baby! How are you doing? And why are you wearing a onesie and a football helmet?

It’s supposed to be an astronaut helmet but my dad wouldn’t buy me a real spacesuit because it’ll make me fall down.


Yes, he called it a “slippery slope.” He says astronauts can see the Earth from outer space, which will make me want a globe, which will make me believe in global warming, which will make me believe in science, and only Democrats believe in science, so I’d have to study Critical Race Theory and believe that I’m a wider pressure.

I just want to build a spaceship like Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. Do you think people who build spaceships are wider pressures?

I think you mean “white oppressor,” RB. But you should know that people aren’t criticizing Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson because they’re wealthy or because they want to spend their money on going to space. It’s more complex than that.

It’s because they’re white, isn’t it? My daddy says the white man can’t get a break, nowadays. I know Black people love to steal. Did you steal all the white man’s breaks, Mr. Mike?

Don’t worry, I won’t tell. I know it’s part of your culture. Was it one of your cousins?

No, my Kid Klansman, no one is taking anything from the white man. The reason some people criticize your beloved billionaire heroes has more to do with wealth inequality and capitalism.


Are you talking about Marcus’ sister? My daddy warned me about Mark’s sis. He said you want to take the white man’s money and use it for government handouts to stitch peppers together during your bowel movements. He called it something like “sew chilis BM.”

Why are you hating on rich people? I thought you people were against hate? What’s wrong with making a lot of money?

I think you mean “BLM socialists” and “Marxists.”

But people aren’t hating on Bezos and Branson because they’re rich. While there are certainly people who believe some people shouldn’t be billionaires, it’s how they get their money and how they spend it that angers others.


But shouldn’t they be able to spend their money however they want? Why should Jeff Bezos care what anyone thinks? He’s the richest man in the world! My dad says he’s capless.

I think you mean “capitalist.”

But you’re right. So let’s look at how he got his money. He became the wealthiest man in the world by selling other people’s products on the internet. The infrastructure of the internet was built with taxpayer dollars via the Department of Defense and maintained by the U.S. government. The reason you can’t start your own business called Amazon is because of trademark and copyright laws that are policed with public funds.


Amazon also receives government military contracts and the U.S. Postal Service delivers packages for Amazon. His businesses are protected by local police forces and firefighters. Amazon’s trucks travel on roads maintained by public money and the employees receive government benefits like Social Security and unemployment.

As you can see, taxpayers are part of the reason Amazon netted $20 billion in 2020.


But you could say that about any person or any business. That’s why Amazon pays taxes, right?

Well, they don’t pay the same taxes you and I pay. For most of the last decade, the corporate tax rate was 35 percent, but Amazon paid 4.7 percent in taxes on profits of $57 billion. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, in the last three years alone, Amazon used loopholes and subsidies to avoid paying $7.2 billion in taxes.


One of the biggest avoidance schemes used by Amazon and other corporations is the stock-option loophole. Businesses essentially pay their CEOs in stock and deduct it from their taxes.

No other country allows this, which is why Richard Branson moved his company from the United Kingdom to the U.S. The company owned by Branson makes most of its money in the U.S., but Branson changed his official residence to the U.S. Virgin Islands to avoid taxes, even though he received taxpayer-funded loans for his airline.


Instead of cashing in on these stock options, billionaires get loans from banks that are insured by the federal government. This is how they stay rich without paying taxes. So essentially, taxpayers are a large part of Bezos and Branson’s wealth.

Is this Critical Race Theory because I don’t understand anything you just said. And what does any of this have to do with spaceships?

OK, my little neophyte Nazi, let me explain. It’s your parents’ responsibility to feed you, clothe you and make sure you are safe. But how do you make money?


My parents give me and my brother an allowance every week if we clean our rooms. I take out the garbage and he walks the dog. Plus, my mom gives me extra money when I help my brother with his homework.

So in this example, your parents are the government and you’re Jeff Bezos. You and your brother pay into the system by doing your chores. Those are your taxes. You earn money when your brother gets good grades. That’s your income.


If you stop doing your chores, should your government keep feeding you?

Of course they should! It’s their responsibility!

I agree. Now, your dad would probably call this welfare. But I believe it’s your government’s responsibility to make sure you’re fed, healthy and safe. Let’s go further, my little baby bigot.


Let’s say you opened a lemonade stand with your allowance money. If you stopped doing chores to concentrate on the lemonade stand you’d probably have a lot more money. You could even build your own spaceship! And your parents would save money by not paying you an allowance.

So why not just stop doing chores?

Because my mother would have to clean my room and my dad would have to help my brother with his homework, so I don’t think my parents are worried about saving $10 in allowance. Plus, my little brother would have to take out the garbage. That wouldn’t be fair to my brother or my parents!

You’re right. Someone has to take out the trash and clean up your room. And your parents have to feed and clothe you anyway. By not doing your chores, the other people in the house pay more taxes (do more chores) so you can get rich enough to build a spaceship.


Who’s gonna help you build the spaceship?

I’d build it all by myself. If I needed help, I’d use my lemonade money to pay people, like Bezos and Branson!

By yourself?

Building a spaceship and running a lemonade stand takes a lot of time and energy. How will you get to the store to buy spaceship parts? How will you get to the library to find the spaceship building books? How will you get your lemonade supplies? And where will you store your spaceship and your lemonade?


Well, my parents have plenty of food in the house and I’d pay for my lemonade startup with the money I’ve already saved from my allowance. Plus, I think my dad would give me a ride to the store and let me keep the lemons in the fridge. We don’t have Black people in my neighborhood so I’d keep the spaceship in the backyard.

So you’re telling me that you’d start your lemonade business with government money? The same government that’s giving you rides to the store? The same government that built the infrastructure to keep your lemons cold and water flowing? The same government that keeps your money safe in a house that your government provides?


And even though your brother, mother and father are putting more into the system that helped you build the lemonade business, you think you built that spaceship all by yourself?

Yes! The lemonade stand was my idea. The spaceship is my dream. If they don’t like it, they should start their own lemonade business and build their own spaceship!

You’re right. Maybe they hate lemonade stands and spaceships. Maybe your brother likes trains. Maybe mom likes baking cakes. What if the only thing stopping your brother from building his own train is that he has to spend his time taking out the trash? Maybe your mom could start a bakery if she had some help cleaning rooms.


But I can’t build a spaceship off of chore money! And how am I supposed to run a lemonade stand and build a spaceship if I’m spending all my time doing chores?

That’s why you people can’t have anything! You want to live in a sew chilis country where everyone gets an allowance to take out the trash and clean rooms! I want a capless country with lemonade and spaceships.

Maybe you’re right.

But what if, instead of making everyone pay for your capless success, you just cleaned your own room and split trash duties with your brother? What if you kept tutoring him and helped his education process? And once you started paying your fair share, your brother would be more educated, your mom could make some cakes, your dad could make the store runs and everyone could run the lemonade stand together! The lemonade stand would make more money because you’d also have cakes for sale. The extra lemonade and cake money means you could build a spaceship and your brother could build a train.


Oh, my little mini-MAGA minor, the choice has was never between a country with no spaceships and a country with one man who owns one spaceship. Just by paying your fair share, you could have a spaceship, a train, a thriving lemonade stand, a more educated brother and a happy country.

It makes a lot of sense. But if it were that easy, why aren’t we doing this?

Because some people don’t judge success by how much we have, they judge it by how much more they have than everyone else. They have been led to believe that they can only have things if they take them from someone else. The more they have, the more pressure they feel to take.


We live in a world made of people who all want spaceships and trains. But until we get rid of the people whose goal is to build their spaceships on the backs of the teachers, the room cleaners and the trash-taker-outers, we will never get to space.

Wait...they didn’t go to space, they just put the tip in? So they’re not astronauts, they’re just capless?

It’s capitalists Racist Baby.

And Jeff Bezos went to the “beginning of space” for four minutes. Richard Branson only went to the outer atmosphere. According to astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, neither man technically achieved space travel because they didn’t orbit.


It takes a publicly funded effort like NASA to actually travel to the real outer space. Also, it’s not like we haven’t been to space. They’re literally being applauded for doing a worse, more expensive, less effective version of a feat has already been accomplished. It’s as if someone invented a new kind of light bulb. But instead of electricity, it ran on wood that you had to light with a match. And it wasn’t as bright. And it only lasted for four minutes.

You can purchase one for the low price of $275,000.

Actually, my dad told me Black people have never invented anything, so you’d be the first! Maybe you people could even invent more things if billionaires paid their fair share and we got rid of the wider pressures!

No cap.



This, really, is the crux of the issue: the means in which this was possible is more horrifying than it actually happening. Sure as shit can’t blame any in this rich people space race for wanting to go to space - let’s not act like if any one of us woke up with billions in the bank in excess of what’s needed to live fancy we wouldn’t spend time and disturbing amounts of money on a childhood fancy. But we can be mad at what got them to that level of ‘fuck it’ rich - and it’s not exclusive to them, it’s in the fabric of our country’s lie of an origin story. I’m less mad at Bezos and Branson as I am mad at the McConnells and McCarthys and the Joe the Plumbers that consistently keep voting in and then legislating for the Bezos and Bransons of this country for the smidgen of hope they’d BE them one day.