With the passing of one of America’s all-time greats last month, story after story trickles out as America remembers Neil Armstrong. In a fascinating Business Insider article last month, Robert Johnson details how Neil and his fellow Apollo 11 astronauts dealt with the fact that they were virtually uninsurable. Given that their future plans included climbing into a rocket-ship, strapped to literally tons of rocket fuel, and being hurtled into space with the objective of landing on the moon, it was nearly impossible for these men to buy life insurance.
As any responsible husband and father would, the astronauts desired to provide for their families, in the all-too-likely event that something went wrong and they never returned. But what could they do? As Johnson reports, the astronauts made approximately $17,000/year back then and a life insurance policy would have cost them nearly 3x that amount each year. So Neil and the boys did the only thing that they could. They called up their SEIU representatives and demanded that they be given the “basic human right” of a life insurance policy. They even hinted that they would be forced to delay the launch of the Apollo spaceship if their “utterly reasonable” demands weren’t met.
Politicians, sensing some hay to be made, flocked to the issue. They pointed to the Armstrong and Aldrin households and asked NASA leadership who among them wanted to deliver the message to the families that their father and husband had died and left them homeless and penniless. Petitions were circulated, calling for the immediate levy of a tax on every wealthy American, in order to raise the funds necessary for the life insurance premiums of the Apollo 11 astronauts (and all future space explorers, while they were at it…) When pundits questioned the wisdom of purchasing such extravagant policies for men who had volunteered for the dangerous mission, they were quickly painted as heartless, bourgeois lackeys for the upper crust.
Of course, I jest. This isn’t the course which those men took. Instead, they took envelopes and pieces of paper which had images of the moon on it and they autographed them. Hundreds of them. They had to start more than a month before the launch because NASA policy enforced a strict quarantine during the lead-up to the launch. Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins spent hours signing these autographs and putting stamps on them. They then gave them to a friend, who mailed them on July 16, 1969 – the day Apollo 11 launched. These pieces of paper were signed by the men who went to the moon and were postmarked on the day that they left. It was a brilliant concept, because their value would skyrocket in the event that the astronauts met an untimely end, and the families would be able to live off of the proceeds of their sale.
Thankfully, the autographed cards were never needed. The Apollo 11 mission was a resounding success and the men returned home to their families, safely and bedecked in acclaim and honor. What’s striking is the difference between the mentality of those three government employees and the mentality of so many public sector employees today. The Apollo 11 astronauts used ingenuity and the free market to provide what the government failed to supply. They didn’t abuse their position as the lynchpins of the entire Apollo 11 mission in order to shake the American taxpayers down for untenable benefits (the inflation-adjusted cost for their insurance policies in today’s dollars would be $312,130/per policy). And they didn’t view life insurance as a “basic human right” and demand a “fair” benefits package. They instead relied on their own ingenuity and the mechanisms of free market capitalism.
What is increasingly clear to those who are paying attention is that today’s public sector unions aren’t interested in the welfare of the American taxpayer or of the nation as a whole. They don’t mind if their demands are financially untenable or even logically impossible; see the recent demands made by the Chicago Teachers Union of a 30 percent raise over two years, followed by a 25 percent raise over two years, from a school district already $1 billion in the red for next year.
The union leadership doesn’t even care about the rank-and-file union members, as they repeatedly sign contracts and influence legislation which harms union workers, as long as the union itself gains power. They care for one thing and one thing only: their pocketbooks.
As is the case in so many issues facing us today, Americans must choose between two different paths for the future of this country when it comes to dealing with public sector unions. Will we continue to be held hostage by these crypto-fascists as they spend our children’s’ future prosperity? Or will we allow the free market to work as it should, rewarding ingenuity and innovation while punishing inferior results?
Some days the return of America to the pinnacle of freedom, prosperity, and innovation seems to be more insurmountable than successfully sending men to land on the moon. Thankfully, we can rest assured that even Herculean tasks of that magnitude are indeed possible, for those courageous enough to begin.
“There can be no great accomplishment without risk.” – Neil Alden Armstrong