“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” – Leonardo da Vinci
On 27 May 2020 millions tuned in, via traditional news channels and online sources, waiting in fervent anticipation to watch an historic SpaceX launch. Why historic? The company, working with NASA, was set to launch its very first passengers to space, potentially announcing a new era of human spaceflight. The launch is the last major milestone for SpaceX to achieve in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program – the concept that private companies could succeed in sending people to space.
Unfortunately, the launch was called off due to inclement weather. But today, Saturday 30 May, we have the next window in the late afternoon/evening (in South Africa). Let’s hope this time it all comes together, and we’ll bear witness to history playing out in front of eyes. What is necessary to bring about such a truly ground-breaking event? It’s all about the ideas.
The philosophy adopted by people in a given country to a large part determines the dominant strand of politics, and the politics has a very material effect on people’s quality of life. There’s a clear strand, from holding the right ideas, and reaping the rewards of the right ideas and actions, and on the other hand reaping the rewards of the wrong, immoral ideas.
Statism and collectivism dominate South Africa. The COVID-19 lockdown provides the latest example of the strong, authoritarian leanings of the government. And indeed, many people supported the lockdown, ignoring the stripping away of freedoms in the interest of fighting against the virus, as though the two are diametrically opposed.
The state interferes in people’s businesses and lives in so many ways that it becomes difficult to list all the examples. Underpinning it all is the belief that the party, or the state, is supreme over the dreams and goals of the individual, and that it rests on the state to provide all sorts of things for people. This always necessarily requires exorbitant levels of taxation and discourages wealth creation and investment.
While the United States has been slipping in terms of individual and economic, freedom in recent years, it still stands as a bastion for many people, from all over the world. Implicitly the US is seen as a place where you have a better chance to achieve success than you might have in other countries.
Countries that adopt the right policies, countries with strong property rights, lower taxes, a robust understanding and infusion of the rule of law in political institutions; these countries attract the best, and the best, in various ways, create and innovate and push forward. You should ask the question of your country: Does my country seek to encourage growth and creation, or is it simply obsessed with redistributionism and destruction?
Now, of course, you need the resources to go with the ideas; you need to convince others to invest in your ideas. But most crucially you need a certain worldview, at least in a broad sense. You need to understand that, through using your reason, through using certain tools and innovations in technology and science, it is possible for man to build a rocket, to take him where many can only dream of going. A successful launch on Saturday will be symbolic of man’s ability to triumph.
Trade, entrepreneurship, value, and wealth creation – these are still largely prevalent in the US, but strongly on the decline here in South Africa. Many large corporations have accepted that they can only ‘win’ by currying government favour – an inevitable result of an ever-growing central government, with its tentacles in every part of the economy. And even from a school and university level, we demonise and attack capitalism and wealth creation at every single opportunity. We don’t teach people that it is good and right to want to succeed, and then we wonder why someone such as Elon Musk leaves the country of his birth and heads overseas. Indeed, even in the US, some states are more authoritarian than others. Despite some of my personal problems with how he has acted in business in the past, Musk’s successful act of civil disobedience was deeply gratifying to see.
The country of your birth has no moral claim on you. If you come to realise that the values pushed by the government run contrary to your conscience, the only ‘duty’ you have is to your own life and your own future happiness. Unfortunately, some countries are becoming more insular, restricting immigration, but I trust those who welcome immigrants will be those that thrive more in future decades than others.
It has taken about six years for SpaceX to reach this point. Years of planning, investment, and work. And sure, this is a ‘public-private’ collaboration, but the fact remains someone had to have the idea, and the drive, to start pushing toward this goal, and to get the buy-in from others.
Are we to walk with our eyes turned skyward, looking for opportunities to trade, build, and improve our lives, or are we to stumble along, with our eyes always aimed downward, afraid of the world and the chances it represents, so terrified of trying because we have been pummeled into accepting whatever path or role the state has determined for us?