I was sitting next to a guy at dinner last night who grew up in Swawaw, Alaska.
“Where?” I said.
“Seward. Named after the guy who purchased Alaska. Seward’s Folly, they called it.”
“Oh. That’s right. The old Interior Secretary or whatever he was.” (He was Lincoln’s Secretary of State, but I don’t want you to think I remembered that right off the bat.)
And then I naturally flashed to the Louisiana Purchase, which seemed a folly at the time, too.
Only the $23 purchase of Manhattan Island has not been ridiculed among early North American land acquisitions. (And as it has been pointed out ad nauseum, if the Dutch had merely compounded that $23 at 10% instead of buying Manhattan, they’d have been much better off – 57 quadrillion 518 trillion 389 billion 164 million dollars and change is what it would have come to by now – but the fact is the Manhattan Indians did not thus invest it, and “woulda, coulda, shoulda” – the age-old chant of the Wall Street Indians – doesn’t count).
But I digress. The point is (and I had had the better part of a Sam Adams on tap, which for me is no small binge, so I was thinking freely), I was soon wondering the obvious thing: What’s the next Alaska? What’s the next Louisiana?
You laugh. But that’s just it. They laughed at Alaska, they laughed at Louisiana, and now you laugh at Mars. But think about it.
The moon is a possibility, too, of course, but I think there are already international treaties covering the moon, and I don’t want to start bullying anybody with our wealth, especially with much of the rest of the world in such financial crisis. Our friends in foreign lands could be touchy about the moon.
But Mars? Who would feel threatened if we bought their ownership rights in Mars? How many of us can even point it out in the sky? (Summer nights are filled with: “Is that Venus?” “I think it’s Saturn.” “You can tell it’s a planet because it’s not twinkling.” “Yeah, but it’s moving.” “You think it’s a satellite?” “I think it’s a plane.” “You’re moving.”)
And what a face-saving thing this could be. Rather than just give the money to the Russians or the Malaysians or whomever else we’re going to have to help bail out, why not get something for it in return – and help them retain their dignity to boot? This isn’t charity; we’re buying up something of possible future value.
I suppose we could try to buy their rights to the ocean floor or the moon – more immediately valuable things – but as I say, this could appear to be bullying. Indeed, it might be bullying. But no one particularly covets Mars in the short run.
Indeed, we might not even have to come up with all the cash. What if we bought Mars but then turned around and sold the promotional rights for 100 years to the Mars candy company? It’s a private company with billions of bucks (or that’s its image anyway), and in return for just a few of those billions, it could be the only company in the world that owned the bragging rights to another world. Mars could be, at least for 100 years (and not including the mineral and colonization rights), their planet. How are the Gummi Bear people going to compete with that?
I actually have something to say about Gummi Bears, too, but that’s another column.