Carl Sagan, who spent his career in search of extraterrestrial intelligence, was apparently hard-pressed to find it here on Earth.
The famed astronomer made a case for socialism in a 1989 interview on CNN with billionaire television mogul Ted Turner when asked simply, “Are you a socialist?” A clip of their exchange has gone viral on Twitter with more than 100,000 likes and more than 3 million views since Sunday night.
“I’m not sure what a ‘socialist’ is,” Sagan, who died at 62 of cancer-related pneumonia in 1996, responded. “But I believe the government has a responsibility to care for the people.
“I’m talking about making people self-reliant, people able to take care of themselves,” he continued. “There are countries which are perfectly able to do that. The United States is an extremely rich country, it’s perfectly able to do that. It chooses not to. It chooses to have homeless people.”
What it means to be “homeless” varies from country to country, according to the global Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which includes the US and 36 of the world’s wealthiest nations. But even some of those with the most encompassing definitions boast rates well below our own — 0.17% in 2018 — such as Poland with 0.08% in 2019, or Norway with 0.07% in 2016.
“We are 19th in the world in infant mortality. Eighteen other countries save the lives of babies better than we. How come?” Sagan asked, rhetorically.
Today, the US ranks even lower, at 47, in infant morality rates, according to World Bank data — with approximately 6.5 newborn deaths per 1,000 births as of 2019.
“They just spend more money on them,” said Sagan. “They care about their babies more than we care about ours. I think it’s a disgrace.”
For his part, Sagan isn’t making a case for “pro-life” legislation. Indeed, in his posthumous 1997 book “Billions and Billions,” he addressed the controversy, eventually concluding that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which would prohibit abortion in the last trimester, “[struck] a fair balance between the conflicting claims of freedom and life.”
Talking to Turner, Sagan also criticized an expensive yet largely unsuccessful missile defense program dubbed “Star Wars,” initiated by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. The program would later be compared with President Trump’s $15.4 billion plan for a new outer space-based military service branch, the Space Force.
“Just look at what something like ‘Star Wars,’ ” said Sagan. “We’ve already spent $20 million on it. And if these guys are permitted to go ahead, they will spend a trillion.”
“Think of what that money could be used for: to educate, to help, to bring people up to a sense of self-confidence,” he added. “To improve not just the happiness of people in America, but their economic standing, to improve the competitiveness of the US compared to other countries. We are using our money for the wrong stuff.”