Monday, March 18, 2013

A Trip Into Space - The Desires of the Rich

In my last post, referencing the economics of a space station, I mentioned the fact that there is more money to be had fulfilling the fewer and weaker desires of the rich than the more and stronger desires of the poor.

However, I want to add that "fewer and weaker" does not translate into "worse".

The quality of a desire is not determined by its strength or commonality. It is determined -like the value of all things is determined - by a tendancy to fulfill other desires.

Bill and Melinda Gates' "fewer and weaker desires" are fulfilled by helping to cure malaria and improve education. Their interest in doing good also motivates them to conduct research into what will do the most good. Warren Buffett's interest in doing the most good motivated him to take advantage of Gates' research and donate his money to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

It is important to note that there is a distinction between desires TO fulfill the desires of others and desires THAT fulfill the desires of others. There is no intrinsic value that gives a member of the first family of desires natural superiority over a member of the second family. All value that exists is in the form of a relationship between states of affairs and other desires. An interest in space for its own sake can have value in contributing to the defense of the planet from harms even though it may not be a desire TO protect the people on Earth from the dangers of space.

A small number of billionaires are investing money in space development. This includes Robert Bigalow's investments in inflatable space habitats. Elon Musk's interest in building a reusable rocket to lower the cost of access to space. Paul Allen's interest in winning the X Prize for a suborbital and rapidly reusable suborbital rocket. Richard Branson's interest in turning this into a suborbital business. And all of the rich people who are interested in buying tickets to visit space.

Insofar as the long-term survival of the human race, future access to natural resources such as clean energy and minerals without cutting deeper scars into the living ecosystems of earth, and the very survival of the human race may depend on the infrastructure and knowledge gained from fulfilling these desires, they may well qualify as desires THAT fulfill other desires.

There would be no reason to complain about differences in wealth if those who had wealth universally had good desires. In fact, we can trust the Bill and Melinda Gates' foundation to do far more good with $60 billion than any state program can do with several times as much. The state organization would have to worry about fraud and enforcement in getting the money, and in the several special interests groups that will try to channel it from that which will do the most good into the pockets of their constituents.

Evil arises from those who have wealth but do not have good desires - or who actually have bad desires. Chief among these include the desire is to form an empire and to act like ancient Roman aristocracy or feudal lords and ladies over the "serfs" that work their estates. It can also be found not so much the presence of a bad desire but the absence of a good desire - an utter disregard for the killing, maiming, and physical destruction that results from activities that put money on one's own pocket.

Here on the negative side we can also apply the distinction between a desire TO harm others and desires THAT harm other. Here, too, there is no intrinsic value that makes a member of the first family intrinsically bad and a member of the second family morally neutral. A person cannot absolve himself from responsibility for claiming, "But I did not want to kill and maim and poison others and destroy their propery. I just did not care about the fact that it was possible." We condemn the drunk driver - not for wanting to slaughter the family that they crash into on the highway, but for the disregard evident in putting them at risk. The head of the corporation unconcerned with the potential for his products to destroy classifies him as many orders of magnitude worse than any drunk driver.

In summary, an activity that fulfills the fewer and weaker desires of the wealthy is not necessarily bad. It depends on whether those desires themselves tend to fill other desires. Desires that contribute to access to resources such as energy, and potentially to the prevention of catastrophic disasters, would meet those standards.

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