Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are two of the richest men in the world, and while both are clearly brilliant titans of industry, neither of them achieved that status without multiple handouts from the government. Musk’s Tesla and SpaceX have received nearly $5 billion in government aid over the years in various forms—grants, environmental credits, tax breaks, discounted loans, and more—while Amazon received more than $3.7 billion in taxpayer subsidies at the federal level alone.
Recently, the two men have been competing for another taxpayer-funded contract—a NASA grant to put astronauts on the moon.
Last month, it was announced that Musk’s company, SpaceX would be awarded the contract after their bid came in at almost half the cost of Bezos’s Blue Origin’s offer.
After the loss, Blue Origin and a third company in the running filed protests with the Government Accountability Office, but it seems that the review process may be bypassed thanks to the actions of federal lawmakers who are now angling to help Bezos receive a $10 billion contract anyway.
A Heck of a Bargain
That’s right. Since Bezos lost the bid, lawmakers are scrambling to make a second grant, in addition to the contract awarded to SpaceX. To make that happen they’re working to pass an amendment to the Endless Frontier Act—legislation meant to increase scientific research and technology funding.
The amendment was added to the bill by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), who happens to represent the state where Blue Origins is headquartered.
While the third company, Dynetics, would technically also be in the running for the new pot of cash, most seem to believe Bezos would be a shoo-in for it.
Despite its massive price tag, the legislation is being moved rapidly through Congress and appears to have broad bipartisan support.
“A [Senate] procedural vote last week passed by a 71-27 margin,” The Intercept reports, "and Senate Democratic leaders are eyeing a Thursday vote for final passage, after which it would need to move through the House of Representatives.”
Disclosures show Blue Origin spent $625,000 lobbying the Senate between January and March of 2021. Reports show that $50,000 of that went to a team of lobbyists that focused on the moon landing program. All in all, that’s a heck of a bargain in exchange for a $10 billion government contract.
Corporate Handouts Are Not Capitalism
Though the notoriety of Bezos and Musk is drawing attention to this particular handout, this is really just rank and file behavior for Congress, which spends much of its time doling out tax dollars to billionaires and corporations.
The federal government alone spends roughly $75 billion a year on subsidies to private businesses, and that’s only scratching the surface. Boeing gets billions of dollars from states and Congress. Under the initial stimulus package of 2020 The Cheesecake Factory got $50 million. Nike has received more than $2 billion. On and on it goes.
There’s no easy way to fully measure the dollar amount of corporate handouts across federal, state, and city budgets—much less the amount of corporate welfare given via other means like selective tax breaks or regulatory favoritism.
As Charles Koch once said, “Subsidies and mandates are just two of the privileges that government can bestow on politically connected friends. Others include grants, loans, tax credits, favorable regulations, bailouts, loan guarantees, targeted tax breaks and no-bid contracts.”
Corporate welfare is a form of cronyism, and it is a direct attack on free market capitalism. It allows the government to pick winners and losers and it is flatly wrong—ethically and economically.
In her seminal novel Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand wrote, “When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing—When you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors—When you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you—When you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice—You may know that your society is doomed.”
When the government interferes in the market it limits competition, often rewards people for bad business practices, reduces consumer choice, stifles innovation, and forces taxpayers to fund products and programs against their will. It is a complete perversion of a free market system, and the fact is neither Bezos or Musk should receive public dollars for their space exploration desires.
It’s time we stop bailing out billionaires.