IN THE EARLY 15th century many of the Portuguese voyages of discovery around Africa and into Asia were financed by Prince Henry of Portugal, whom historians dubbed “Henry the Navigator”. When Christopher Columbus sought finance for his planned westward voyage to the “Indies”, he first turned to the king of Portugal before achieving success with Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Monarchs financed explorations because they believed such trips would boost their power and their treasuries.
In the 21st century corporate executives have become deeply involved in adventure and exploration. Sir Richard Branson of Virgin and Jeff Bezos of Amazon have just travelled to the edge of space. Elon Musk of Tesla has developed the SpaceX programme and is talking of the eventual colonisation of Mars. Messrs Musk and Bezos competed for the contract to operate future Moon landings. Mr Bezos even offered to part-finance the project.
In itself, this is a remarkable development. Sixty years ago, when the space race was between America and the Soviet Union, few could have imagined that individual businessmen would ever have the resources to enter the fray. The shift says something about the extremes of wealth in the 21st century.
The resemblance to absolute monarchs does not stop with exploration. Like past rulers, modern tycoons build…