Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Fifty years ago today, this country was looking up--even the sky was no limit

by Larry Geller

Google DoodleI was a mere teenager when Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the planet—the first human to journey in space—50 years ago today.

Media coverage was mixed. If you can imagine a world without Fox News, still, there were those who lamented the fact that it was the Soviet Union that put a man in space, and not the USA. Just as the Soviets showed us up by launching the Sputnik satellite, they did it again with even greater impact with the Gagarin launch and his subsequent hero’s tour of European capitols.

Once again, though, the US economy benefitted. For me, of course I was going to become an engineer. There would be a bright future ahead. Gagarin’s flight helped boost the US economy. The country reacted positively. We looked towards a brighter future based on rededication and a desire to compete and win.

Fast forward to today. Our country lags behind China industrially. Forget space vehicles, that era may be over. Besides, there is not much US economy left to stimulate. Most auto workers have punched out for the last time. Corporations (GE most recently in the news) have learned to make record-setting profits while hiring fewer Americans, and paying no taxes.

Corporate power has never been stronger. It has benefitted by not requiring American jobs. Why make something here that can be purchased from China for a fraction of the cost?

It’s also a myth that corporate success creates jobs anyway. Corporate success creates only more corporate success, including higher and higher CEO profits. But jobs are not required for that. In truth, they never were. Where in the US Constitution does it say that corporations must create jobs? When there was no other way to make something except by hiring people to do it, workers were a necessary evil. A recent variation on this theme is that voters are have become only a necessary evil. Keep them jobless, dumb, and entranced and corporate politics remains in power.

The planet that Yuri Gagarin circled was very different from the one we have today. Looking just at the economy, space flight no longer inspires. When people are struggling to find jobs and hang on to their homes, they understand that space travel is a flight of fancy. Besides, the next space vehicle could well be made in another country. Who knows which one. We have no money to throw away on the moon. It fits that the space shuttles will fly no more. We couldn’t afford them anyway.

Fifty years ago the first spaceflight was a triumph for humanity. Our job today, though, is to prevent our economy from sinking.  We’re hardly working on it. The revolution is taking place in the mid-East, folks, not in Detroit.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.


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