Arianespace is the French company that fires off huge rocket ships blasting great big things so far up into the sky that they don’t come down again. Or, to put it in bland corporate language, Arianespace is the world’s leading commercial satellite launch provider.
And the corporation provided me with an excellent satellite launch. I was invited by my friend Aaron Lewis, Arianespace’s director of media and government relations and former staffer for congressman Dana Rohrabacher, longtime chair of the House space and aeronautics subcommittee.
Aaron and I—and about 70 engineers, scientists, and executives involved with the rocket and its payload—flew to the Centre Spatial Guyanais, the European spaceport in French Guiana.
Here, with the Ariane 5, was progress incarnate. Progress is impossible without the three elemental human activities identified by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations: pursuit of self-interest, division of labor, and trade. Therefore progress cannot be made except through the exercise of market freedoms.
The market freedoms may be exercised imperfectly, like my own exercise program. But the triathlon of capitalism must be run, swum, and cycled in some way, shape, or form. Otherwise progress comes to a halt. Venezuela. Cuba. North Korea. Q.E.D.
Arianespace pursues self-interest. It may have gotten its startup funding with French government and European Space Agency money, but it’s no NASA. Arianespace was always intended to make money, and it does. More than half of the commercial satellites in orbit today were put there by Arianespace’s rockets.
Division of labor remains an undifferentiated muddle in Congress. There are 500-some “key” presidential appointments that need Senate confirmation. As of June 21, 43 appointees had been confirmed. And opposition to freedom of trade is hot in the Oval Office and the House of Representatives and bothered in the Senate.
Democrats are no better. They’re pursuing self-interest by running off the lemming cliff of leftism, failing to divvy up labor while they all do the same thing—shriek at Trump—and showing furious opposition to market liberties. Charles Murray was chased off the campus of Middlebury College when he attempted to engage in some free trade in ideas.
Here are our contemporary great leaps forward:
The Internet so filled with cinders and slag that searching for information there is as much fun as sifting through the ashes of the Great Library of Alexandria.
GPS giving us directions in the manner of a New Hampshire Yankee farmer leaning on a fence rail and chewing a blade of hay. “Go on down to where old Maude Frick used to live and then turn right at the place where the barn burned down in 1958.”
Uber. If Taxi Driver gets remade it won’t star Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster, it will star Elizabeth Warren in a driverless car.
Driverless cars. What’s next, eaterless meals?
We have the means to binge-watch TV, which, speaking of eaterless meals, is as delightful as our having the means to binge-eat kale.
While wearing earbuds. They’re a sort of reverse hearing aid that block out anything worth listening to. The millennial generation’s motto is “Huh?”
You can hear millennials proclaim their slogan in the proliferation of artisanal coffee shops (although what I really need is a bar) that have replaced brick-and-mortar retail establishments because of Amazon.
Amazon has transformed shopping from a pleasurable excursion and happy social interaction into something more like going into the outhouse with a Sears catalogue to browse and use as Charmin.
Amazon also takes all the sharp, eye-for-a-bargain intelligence out of shopping. But that’s okay because we don’t need real intelligence. We have artificial intelligence—everywhere.
My toaster has a brain. What a way to kick off a gloomy Monday morning—being outsmarted by a toaster.
Then I go to work in an office cubicle rather than an office. Instead of hanging out at the water cooler gossiping, flirting with co-workers, and making sports bets, I’m overwhelmed by big data flooding my personal communication devices.
And I go home, exhausted, to a smart house. It was bad enough when the house contained nothing more than kids who were getting smart with me; now they’ve got the thermostat, the burglar alarm, and the toaster on their side.
Here’s a statistic: In a recent survey the Pew Research Center found that 43 percent of American millennials have a positive opinion of socialism. Only 14 percent of Americans over 65 harbor such a view. But if the progress we’ve seen lately is what passes for progress, who can blame the kids?
can remember when progress was exciting. My I whole family would drive out to the airport just to see jet planes take off and land. I’d get up at 6 a.m. on weekends to watch the test pattern on our new TV, followed by the farm report and Mass for Shut-Ins. Skyscrapers had observation decks on their top floors, not Russian billionaires. The introduction of next year’s new car models was practically a national holiday. H-bombs made for glorious mushroom clouds and fun fallout shelters in which to play “post office” with the neighborhood girls. Sputnik produced an excitement so strong that it led to bizarre behavior. Fourth-grade boys applied themselves to multiplication tables and long division—so besotted were we with the wonders of science. And men landed on the moon. I was a hippie in 1969 and had spent most of the past two years in outer space. But I was riveted by the Apollo 11 news coverage nonetheless.
Even prosaic aspects of progress were exciting. The glass door on the electric dryer put on a good show for a boy used to struggling to keep wet bedsheets out of the dog doo and grass clippings as he hung them on the backyard clothesline. It was all good, including the pain progress brings. A polio shot was a small price to pay for getting an infantile paralysis-panicked mom to finally let me go to the municipal swimming pool and sip from a public drinking fountain.
If we want to avoid a future full of socialists, progressives, Birkenstock-wearing women in pink pussyhats, black-clad men in Guy Fawkes masks, gender-neutral shouters of Resistance!, vegans, PETA members, Middlebury College alums, and other pests who will be starving and begging in what used to be a marketplace but has become an “Occupied” camp . . .
If we want to avoid all that, we must make progress exciting again. We need a “Big Bang theory” of capitalism.
And that was what I was getting, not in theory but in fact, from Ariane 5. Trois . . . deux . . . un . . .
And there was light, “The light of the world,” or as close as mortals can do to radiate it. Vast luminosity reflected from the low cloud cover over French Guiana and night was made day.
I could have read print so small that it would have made for a Moby-Dick pocket edition.
The Ariane seemed still for a moment, like a mother phoenix brooding over her nest of fire. Then the 2,935,000 pounds of thrust took hold. The jungle was perfectly silent for 4.1 seconds, the time it took the sound waves to reach us.
When they did it was like nothing I’ve ever listened to before. The uproar was not so much loud as deep, a swelling, a surging, a rolling more felt than heard. Sound waves are waves. It was a pounding surf of a noise.
The Ariane streaked toward orbit atop an arch of brazen fire supporting the firmament.
But, as Melville said in Moby-Dick, “There is no steady unretracing progress in this life.” And we wouldn’t call the time we live in the Age of Irony if it lacked the ironic. The progress produced by the communication satellites atop the Ariane 5 is broadband WiFi connections for luxury cruise ships. ¨