Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Marvin the Martian

Recently, Holman Jenkins, in his Business World column in the Wall Street Journal, wrote a piece entitled "Tesla is a Compliance Company." His point was that Elon Musk's electric car company is not based on an entrepreneur identifying or creating a market for a product or service and then getting rich, or at least make a living, by supplying that product or service (the traditional free-market route).

He maintains that Tesla generates cash flow by exploiting the system of Gubmint subsidies (carrots) and mandates (the club stick) designed to get us to buy electric cars and save the world from the alleged menace of global warming, and I agree. But that's not what I want to talk about.

I went looking for Mr. Musk's incentives and motivations. Is he in it for the money? Mr. Musk made his first fortune when he and his brother put together a web software company called Zip2 (that no longer exists) and when it was sold off he pocketed $22,000,000.  Personally, I would've retired at this point and assumed the lifestyle I was born for: rich dilettante.

You see, regression therapy has enabled me to discover that I was kidnaped by gypsies as an infant from my wealthy but dissolute family that ultimately refused to pay my ransom (it's complicated) and I was eventually won by my "father" in a poker game in the Gem Saloon in Deadwood, SD.

When he sobered up the next day he realized his mistake. Being a house painter with a large family and a modest income, the last thing he needed was another kid to feed. But his wife (my "mother") and some of his other kids thought I was cute and convinced him to keep me. But that's not what I want to talk about.

Mr. Musk, now a nouveau riche techie, spent about half of his first fortune to become a co-founder of what eventually became PayPal. When the smoke cleared this time he walked away, at the ripe old age of 32, with $165,000,000. But that's not what I want to talk about.

A few years later Mr. Musk invested in, and eventually gained control of, Tesla Motors. To stay busy during the interim, he created SpaceX, a company that delivers supplies to the International Space Station via SpaceX designed and built rockets. But that's not what I want to talk about.

What I want to talk about is why Mr. Musk started SpaceX. It wasn't because he's one of those moguls that can't ever make enough money. It was to fulfill a dream. He believes, as do I, that to survive man needs to find a way to colonize other planets.

 This is not original to him, and certainly not to me -- any number of other dreamers have come to the same conclusion by varied paths for various reasons. Mr. Musk, however, decided to do something about it. The purpose of SpaceX is to lower the cost of, and advance the technology needed to, eventually, colonize Mars. How cool is that!

A theoretical reader erupts. "COLONIZE MARS! Have you lost your mind Pufendorf! (a former nom de plume...). We're up to our ass in alligators because someone forgot to drain the swamp and you want to... ."

"HEY, hey! settle down," replies the Pufenator, in a forceful but nevertheless gentlemanly tone.

Let me explain.

I believe that individuals (as well as personkind for that matter) function best, are more alive, more -- human -- when they are striving for goals, large and small. I also believe that having shared goals takes some of the edge off of our endless struggle to get along with others. This applies to our relationships with snifficant others as well as to all the other kids on the playground.

Mr. Musk wants to go to Mars (and beyond) because, as the Discovery channel never seems to tire of pointing out, there are no shortage of potential catastrophes capable of providing us with the same fate as our late lamented friends, the dinosaurs.

Also, what if the reason we've yet to be contacted by another race, in a universe large enough to make even a Super Sized WallyWorld look small, is because it's common for a given species to be obliterated before they can spread to another planet?

I want to go to Mars and beyond because there's something in it for almost all the kids on the playground and any goal that can pull people together in these fragmented times is certainly worth consideration.

Gaia worshiping climate warriors, cricket eaters, and tree huggers would welcome a chance for Mother Earth to rid herself of some of her ungrateful parasites.

Far right, freedom obsessed wingnuts could live on a planet that features limited gubmint, where the locals get to create all the rules not specifically mentioned in the Cosmic Constitution (crazy huh?). When Texas was a country people from the US in need of a geographical cure could paint GTT, gone to Texas, on their houses and discretely vacate the neighborhood. GTT could now mean gone to Tralfamadore.

There's never a shortage of people who want to get out of Dodge.

And if you elect to stay you could help tear down all the abandoned houses in your neighborhood and fill the empty lots with gardens, already a popular pastime in certain areas of Flyoverland.

Have an OK day.

[P.S. Gentlereaders, for 25¢ a week, no, seriously, for 25¢ a week you can become a Patron of this weekly column and help to prevent an old crank from running the streets at night in search of cheap thrills and ill-gotten gains.

If there are some readers out there that think my shtuff is worth a buck or three a month, color me honored, and grateful. Regardless, if you like it, could you please share it? There are buttons at the end of every column.]

©2015 Mark Mehlmauer   (The Flyoverland Crank)

If you're reading this on my website (where there are tons of older columns, a glossary, and other goodies) and if you wish to react (way cooler than liking) -- please scroll down.