I know why Jeff Bezos has a big plan with Boeing to build and run a business park in space: The project, named Orbital Reef, will be completed around the middle of the present century, and it will likely make Bezos more money than this galaxy has ever made stars.
But we can also be certain of this: The "seasoned space agencies, high-tech consortia, sovereign nations without space programs, media and travel companies, funded entrepreneurs and sponsored inventors, and future-minded investors" who Bezos expects to want a piece of Orbital Reef will not materialize, and the place will be as empty as a WeWork. What will Bezos and Boeing do at this point? The answer, of course, is build another business park in space.
Blue Origin and Boeing unveiled plans to develop a commercial space station called ‘Orbital Reef,’ which will be operated as a ‘mixed use business park.’ Read more here: https://t.co/HkgovH0IrW pic.twitter.com/nfPucT9ld7
— Reuters Business (@ReutersBiz) October 26, 2021
It might sound like I'm taking a piss on this project, but I'm not. I'm dead serious. There are two things that space park will do for the billionaire and his class: One is provide a non-state spatial fix for the the massive absorption of an enormous amount of surplus capital. This is why the dominant part of the billionaire class is so committed to the privatization of space programs.
"More than one client has told us if Elon Musk were to become the first trillionaire ... it won't be because of Tesla," analyst Adam Jones said, according to The Guardian. "Others have said SpaceX may eventually be the most highly valued company in the world—in any industry."
Though SpaceX is privately held and will remain as such until the Mars Colonial Transporter is routinely shuffling passengers to and from the planet, it is currently estimated to be worth around $200 billion.
The state cannot be separated from capitalism. There is no universal measure of accumulation without it. We call this "universality money." But the state has other important functions for a capitalist economy, one of which gave it a great deal of power in the second half of the 20th century. This function lies in providing massive ways of removing capital from the system of capital accumulation. In the US, the Interstate Highway System provided this service for capital surpluses in the 1950s. NASA did the same in the 1960s, and the military continues to do this to this day.
Though capitalism cannot function without this capital disposal service — just as a city cannot survive without the utility of waste management — capitalists have always disliked its classic provider, the state, an institution that, for its own survival, cannot afford to ignore class conflicts — or, put another way, politics.
Dealing in the realm of the political means that capital disposal can just as easily go to space or to weapons of mass destruction or to areas of society that reduce class conflict, such as the removal of student debt, universal health care, public housing, and the like. But privatizing space removes a considerable part of the politics of capital removal, and the class character of the economics of endless accumulation can be intensified without democratic checks.
But the space park will surely flop. Bezos knows this. So does Boeing. So, is this project just about blasting excess capital into space on the de-politicized terms of capitalists? Yes. But it's also about making more capital from expended capital. How this will work in 2050 is easy to understand. When the Orbital Reef has no business, it will make business by building another Orbital Reef in space.
The great 20th economist Michal Kalecki explained this logic in this way:
Let us suppose, as often happens in the United States, that two competing railway lines run between two cities. Traffic on both lines is weak. How should one deal with this situation? Paradoxically, one should build a third railway line, because then the first two lines will transport the materials and labour to build the third line. What should be done when the third railway line is built? Then one should build a fourth and a fifth. This is paradoxical because undoubtedly it would be better to undertake some other investment near the first two railway lines rather than build a third one. But it perfectly illustrates the laws of development of the capitalist economy as a whole.