HyperNormalTimes

Written by our Director of Equity Advisory, Jeremy McKeown, the HyperNormalTimes provides in-depth and considered long-term commentary on major macroeconomic and market-shaping themes.

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August 20, 2023

The Space Race Moved South of Richmond

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They were building a Ferrari for every launch when it was possible that a Honda Accord might do the trick. Elon Musk.

A country and western song launched on YouTube eleven days ago by a factory worker from Farmville, Virginia (population 8,000), has had 26m views. With 1.5m likes and 110,000 comments, Rich Men North of Richmond has elicited a visceral response, with many leaving highly personal accounts of their struggles with daily life. The song, powerfully sung by Oliver Anthony, is an anthem for people Hilary Clinton denounced as deplorable.

Anthony rails against the people North of Richmond, Virginia’s state capital (an hour’s drive from Farmville), pointing towards those in Washington, DC (a further two hours north). These Rich Men North of Richmond, who he says “just wanna have total control Wanna know what you think”, are fomenting torment among his people with “old souls” struggling in an era of modernity. Anthony’s anthem goes on to cover Jeffery Epstein, low wages, high taxes, obese tax scroungers, and the value of the dollar. He doesn’t hold back.

Regardless of what you think of Anthony’s messages, the reaction from both the left and right means Rich Men North of Richmond has served its purpose as a protest song. As such, the song exposes, if not fully articulates, a political divide that mainstream political parties have been slow to recognise, that change is afoot. A small-state counter-culture is taking shape around the globe. (See Sweden, Italy, Spain and Argentina for details).

An uprising is underway against what anarchist and political author Michael Malice calls the Cathedral of modern progressive media, ivory-towered academia, woke corporations and liberal politics. Increasingly in this worldview, it is likely that the electorate will ask of those who wield power: are you North of Richmond (NoR) or South of Richmond (SoR)?

If you think this divide is solely North American, standby for the impending bitchfight between Italy’s PM, Georgia Meloni (SoR), and the ECB’s Christian Lagarde (NoR), over the right to tax Italy’s banks. An EU banking spat hot on the heels of the UK’s fight between Nigel Farage (SoR) and Nat West (NoR) regarding the latter’s regulatory overreach in pursuit of political ends.

Protest songs punctuate moments of political change. The Specials (SoR) marked Britain’s Brixton and Toxteth riots with their haunting Ghost Town in 1981. A decade earlier, Marvin Gaye (SoR) protested the harshness of US ghetto life in the Vietnam War years in Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler). His first line, “Rockets moonshots, spend it on the have nots,” was more widely appreciated than the Gil Scott-Heron (SoR) hard-hitting poem to music, Whitey On The Moon. “I can’t pay my doctor’s bill. (but Whitey’s on the Moon).”

For those of us from the white middle-class West (NoR) who remember the era of the Gaye and Scott-Heron protests, however much we sympathised with their plight, we might have felt their attacks on the moon landings went too far. (Much as I love Scott-Heron’s biting lyrics, I also enjoy Public Service Broadcasting’s (NoR) retrospective of a simpler age in their 2015 album The Race for SpaceThe Other Side gives me goosebumps whenever I hear it).

Having challenged his nation to land a man on the Moon within a decade, JFK (NoR) epitomised post-war optimism in the effectiveness of government policy. And seven years after his assassination, the crew of Apollo 11 achieved his vision. But what became apparent in the following thirty years was that, apart from the advent of non-stick pans and microwave ovens, there was precious little lasting legacy from the vast Apollo expense. Apollo’s objectives had been more political than technological. (Some folk far South of Richmond widely consider it a political hoax and fake news). As Peter Theil (SoR) said, “We wanted flying cars, but all we got was 140 characters”.

However, today, sixty years after JFK’s inspirational “we choose the Moon” speech, space is finally emerging as a new technological frontier with profound implications. The main character involved in this change is Thiel’s former PayPal colleague, Elon Musk (SoR), and his privately owned company, SpaceX.

Musk epitomises all that the “Rich Men North of Richmond” despise. But, by applying his first principles thinking to the bloated cost-plus budget NASA (NoR) mindset, Musk has collapsed the cost of launching objects into space. While NASA’s primary objective long ago became subverted into a morass of precautionary stasis, Musk has rapidly advanced SpaceX’s know-how “one failure at a time.”

So far in 2023, SpaceX has accounted for c90% of all US rocket launches and is a defacto monopolist in launching low Earth satellites outside of China (NoR). Even the European Space Agency (NoR) has reluctantly turned to the Tesla billionaire to provide the launch capacity for its Galileo constellation after its new Ariane 6 rocket, under development since 2014, has “slipped” by a further three years into 2026.

The cost to launch a low Earth orbit satellite hardly changed from the 1960s until 2015. It was in the range of $10,000 to $100,00 per kg. (in constant 2020 US$). SpaceX’s Falcon 9 reduced this cost by more than 90% to c. $1,200 and expects the launch of Starship to drop this cost to nearer $50. While there are c5,000 LEO satellites today, Starlink alone plans to launch more than 40,000 over the next decade. Estimates suggest that there will be a swarm of over 150,000 communication and observation craft circling the Earth by the early 2030s.

This network of low-latency satellites will power the world’s infrastructure, inform its citizens and provide it with the technology to transform humanity. Combined with AI, this internet-of-things will challenge the “old souls” South of Richmond to keep up. The Rich Men North of Richmond “who just wanna know what you think” will be desperate to keep up too.

However, the failure of NASA and The European Space Agency to keep up with a rich man of Boca Chica, Texas, doesn’t bode well for a fully state-controlled rerun of Whitey on the Moon. The new race for space has witnessed a polarity shift around Richmond, Virginia. To the North, most of the Cathedral’s attention is on what Musk is doing to their favourite social media app. The real struggle ahead won’t be with X but with SpaceX.

Jeremy

Ealing

(North of Richmond, On Thames)

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