Entrepreneurs who become billionaires took a lot of risks, found huge success, and acquired fortunes that should last for generations. Some people take issue with those roughly 800 Americans (0.0000024 of the population) – pointing out how much greater compensated they are than the employees who actually do the work.
They have a point, as the $112 trillion held by billionaires is more than twice the total wealth of the bottom 50 percent of households combined. Ownership of professional sports teams, $200 million yachts and private island playgrounds reinforce the image of the overpaid, spoiled, out of touch, mostly male, 99% white, elite.
Often, though, those same billionaires do plenty of good for the rest of us: giving to the arts, sponsoring university buildings, funding medical research, contributing locally and nationally to those in need.
Many signed The Giving Pledge to contribute a majority of their wealth to charities upon death, including Warren Buffett, who will (eventually) give away 99% of his net worth. Heck, the cofounder of Duty Free Shoppers – now 90-year-old Charles ‘Chuck’ Feeney – took it a step further, giving it all away while living, donating more than $8 billion, which left he and his wife $2 million in their retirement nest egg.
Then there are the three dreamers who envision a new frontier… colonization of faraway places. Richard Branson soared to an altitude of 53 miles on July 11. Jeff Bezos took it further this morning… past the Karman line that divides earth’s atmosphere and space. Elon Musk put down a deposit on Branson’s Virgin Galactic – although he’s said to be staying grounded, focused on reducing space transportation costs.
Exploration is expensive. Columbus’s journey would cost $40 million in today’s dollars. The Mercury-Apollo program totaled $280 billion in 2021 dollars. The U.S. spends $3 billion yearly to support the International Space Station. Yet, exploration may be etched into the core of humanity… dating to the first caveman who decided to cross that flowing stream and see what was on the other side of the hill.
On July 20, 1969 – 52 years ago today – Neil Armstrong took his ‘one giant leap for mankind.’ Years later, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, Walter Schirra, who was seated next to Walter Cronkite on CBS for that historic event, wrote: “Moon and back. We did confirm a round trip from the very beginning. And ‘moonandback’ is one word. No hyphens. No commas.”
I know where I was that Sunday at 9:56 p.m. Texas time. Something tells me my yet-to-be-born great grandchildren will watch even more amazing achievements in space.