Wednesday, April 25, 2012

capitalism's last frontier is no more

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"the need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. it must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere"

                (Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto)

While Marx was no fan of capitalism, the one thing he did admire about it was its dynamism and thus its ability to spread. This is best illustrated by the fact that capitalism has turned from a fad practiced in the west to the globally dominant economic paradigm within three centuries and despite it's almost fatal flaws, will remain so for a long time to come.

But the need for expansion and growth, crucial to capitalism as economic and social system, has taken the business of capital accumulation (forgive my Marx) to strange places, none stranger than space. It was announced today that the Seattle based company Planetary Resources has drawn out plans to extract resources from asteroids such as gold , platinum, and water, when broken down into its constituent properties (oxygen and hydrogen) can be used to make rocket fuel.

The plans to extract resources from asteroids have been backed by Google heads Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, film director James Cameron and former presidential candidate Russ Perot. The plan to extract resources from asteroids are ambitious but with the investment the plan will surely attain, it seem certain to be realised but there is one problem : asteroids are one of earth biggest existential threats.

Furthermore, there is a low likelihood of the venture making a profit as there are astronomically high costs in travelling to asteroids, never mind the actual the production of tools required to detect then extract resources from asteroids.But the venture into resource extraction in space is not about just making profits (well it is but...) but the dream of making 'science fiction into reality', another frontier man has surpassed. 

But the irony of this dream is the fact that most major science fiction novels and films have a rather negative view of corporations. The science fiction genre has been prolific in portraying a world where corporations represent an all encompassing evil hellbent on making a bean regardless of who gets hurt whether its blade runner, The Minority Report, or even James Cameron's contributions to film in the 'Alien' sequel or 'The abyss'.

In sum, the exploration of space was a source of wonder for anyone sought to look beyond the planet we inhabit and marvel at the universe of which we are a small part but in the space of five decades space exploration has gone from being 'one large step for mankind' to a potential one way chuckle to the bank for any CEO with the nerve to large handle the costs space exploration require. People who may look upon news like this as progress and another testament to man's enduring ingenuity are, in some respect, right but this should be an issue as many towns, cities, and nations have been subject to the same process and now, unfortunately, space will become its new epicenter    

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