One of the worst economic miscalculations of all time ends
March 18, 2000 2:32 PM   Subscribe

One of the worst economic miscalculations of all time ends not with a bang, but with a whimper. Over 5 BILLION dollars was poured into Iridium (and $2 billion of that came from Motorola), and most of it is going to burn up in the atmosphere over the next two years as they deorbit their 60 satellites. (They have to bring them down so that they aren't a traffic hazard.)

Next time someone tries to tell you that capitalism can do no wrong, ask them about Iridium.
posted by Steven Den Beste (7 comments total)
Have you ever actually heard anyone say that "capitalism can do no wrong"? Just curious. Seems kind of strange to blame poor business decisions on an economic position; I'd be more inclined to say that Iridium screwed up.
posted by sylloge at 3:59 PM on March 18, 2000

Actually, in a different forum in which I participate we recently were invaded by someone who believes in Ayn Rand, and he does think that capitalism can do no wrong.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 4:57 PM on March 18, 2000

I believe(d) in Ayn Rand too; I just don't agree with her. (Sorry, couldn't help it. I just love that gag.)
posted by sylloge at 5:55 PM on March 18, 2000

Well sylloge - I guess nobody really says "capitalism can do no wrong" -- but people *do* say stuff like "the market will fix it" -- this despite the fact that raw capitalism can produce child labor, pollution, poverty, slavery, etc.

I was talking to some guys talking about the internet -- and they were saying that the internet economy was cool because it signalled "the end of democracy - we're in the era of meritocracy" - I'm still trying to figure out what they meant.
posted by artlung at 6:29 PM on March 18, 2000

We probably don't need to get into the hackneyed points about the horrors of life in non-capitalist societies. There is good and bad everywhere. The point is that (despite the fact that it is emphatically not true about guns), capitalism doesn't kill people, people kill people. There has been evil in feudal monarchies, industrial-communist states, totalitarian regimes, tribal societies and pretty much every other political or social arrangement people have made for themselves.

(As an aside, I reckon that now is just about the best time ever to be alive: certainly better than being a Russian serf or a slave in King Leopold's Belgian Congo in the 1800s, certainly better than being a short-lived ever-working peasant in China or central America in the 1200s; certainly better than being a villager subject to the whims of a capricious chieftain in New Guinea in the 500s or a slave to the Pyramid builders in the -2500s. IMO, capitalist activities are one of the reasons the bulk of the world no longer exists in a 99.9%-slave-to-0.1%-ruler balance.)

As to what your friends were saying, it might make more sense after having read a little of why Aristotle wasn't too hot on democracy (then again, maybe not). When I think of how phenomenally stupid most people are, I'm not so hot on democracy either. (Think of the moron drivers, the meatheads who go to bars to pick fights, the zombie-like consumers of television, the people who never read a book after leaving high-school, the xenophobes, the militia nuts, the malicious gangsta children, the plain psychopaths. I honestly don't think that they deserve much of a say in politics.)

Anyway, I still think Iridium's mistakes are Iridium's responsibility, not the fault of some abstract economic pseudo-theory.

posted by sylloge at 7:38 PM on March 18, 2000

The good of capitalism (with tongue in cheek): Iridium's failure, and the downing of these satellites, will make astronomers happy. Their highly-reflective covering had created an effect known as "Iridium flare" which is quite fun to watch, but also quite an irritation if you're looking at the actual stars.

posted by holgate at 8:58 PM on March 18, 2000

I would have thought that this was evidence of capitalism in action. The article says that people didn't like the phones or the charges to use them so they didn't buy them.

People keep telling me that capitalism is all about consumer choice and survival of the fittest so I guess these guys should have built a better product before they shot five billion dollars worth of useless crap into orbit.
posted by dodgygeezer at 8:05 AM on March 20, 2000

« Older The United Killers of Benetton   |   The most fun I've had with an applet, ever. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments