June 11, 2021

The Billionaire Space Race and Beyond

The Billionaire Space Race and Beyond

With people back to dining out, going to concerts, movies and traveling again, more than 40% of Americans have now gotten fully vaccinated. In many states, the percentage is much higher, thanks to incentives like amusement park tickets, free donuts, and even a lottery in Ohio offering five $1 million cash awards for people who got their shots.

Here in New York, which followed Ohio’s lead with a vax-and-scratch program of our own, and which was once the epicenter of the outbreak, we had the lowest seven-day average positivity in the nation this week after 65 days in a row of decline. And President Biden just announced he’s sending 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to other countries that need it, which means there’s more good news to come.

Now, with the COVID-situation somewhat under control, let’s take a break and see what else is happening in the world.

While the rest of the population was watching Netflix, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos spent the last few months getting ready for a space race. Bezos is planning to take off on July 20 on his company Blue Origin’s spacecraft. Not to be outdone, Sir Richard is supposedly planning his own space flight ahead of Bezos, over the July 4 holiday weekend. Looks like they’re throwing down the gauntlet to Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Talk about executive travel! Boys and their toys.

In other news, some of the biggest internet web sites in the world, including Amazon, Reddit and Spotify, got knocked off the internet this week, following a technical glitch at Fastly, an infrastructure site involved in keeping them online. They were back up, for the most part, within an hour, following a lot of frustrated venting by users (how’d you like to have been the social media chief or customer service leader for any of those sites during that hour?). Let that be a lesson to all of us: if it can happen to the big guys, it can happen to anyone. And with virtually all businesses dependent on the web (as we’ve all seen during this past year), every company needs backup systems (and then some) and a contingency plan in place to protect itself.

Speaking of technology, Big Tech companies are bringing holograms to work. They’re saying that by adding 3-D representations of the participants to video calls, it’s less taxing on employees’ mental stamina. I wonder if it’s possible to get hologram fatigue. Maybe the next big idea will be meeting around the conference room table.

With the gig economy becoming a bigger influence as the economy reopens, the seemingly never-ending battle about whether rideshare drivers should be independent contractors or employees is simmering, as well. At the moment, Uber and Lyft are arm wrestling political opponents who want to put the drivers on payroll and backing laws that would let drivers unionize but remain contractors. Something tells me this matter is going to drag on for a while before someone hits the brakes.

Meanwhile, rideshare services could be facing other headwinds. Many services like these that were once quietly “underwritten” by venture capitalists are now raising their prices, with Uber and Lyft rides costing 40% more than a year ago. And just this morning I read about American Airlines investing in a flying taxi service. The world is certainly changing rapidly.

My guess is that more people accustomed to clicking for car service on average salaries will be going back to basics like riding the subway or even walking, so they can afford their lifestyles without taking on a side hustle driving for Uber themselves. With the economy opening up more every day, we’re going to see a flood of more exciting splurges to spend money on, like live concerts, ballgames and nightlife, and seeing people live and in-person again. Take that holograms!