Dennis Tito Shoulda Been Our Space Tourist

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A lot of folks have mocked Dennis Tito, the billionaire amateur astronaut, for writing a check to live out his dream of space travel — and even more people have criticized the cash-starved Russian space program for accepting his $20 million for an uncomfortable seat on the international space station.

But I believe that in Dennis Tito we may have stumbled on a formula to cure many of the ills that plague our world and that the Russians, far from being inept, are showing us the true meaning of capitalism. The idea is simple: Let filthy rich amateurs pay through the nose for experiences they would not otherwise be able to have. And it will benefit all the rest of us. Call it the Tito Plan.

How do we pay down the deficit, for example? Put it another way: how much would Bill Gates pay to be President for a day? We could allow a different billionaire to pay to be President for one day a week — or maybe every day for the few hours that George W. is in the gym. That would be serious money by the end of the year, and it would go straight to alleviating the deficit.

Yes, we might restrict the President for a Day from issuing executive orders or declaring war or firing cabinet members, but why can't he greet the Girl Scouts, welcome foreign ambassadors, and give the odd speech — the kind of ceremonial things that mostly make up a President's day anyway? And like being an astronaut (remember, we've sent chimps and retired senators into space), there are no real requirements for the job. As far as I can tell, the constitution says nothing against renting out the Presidency for a premium rate.

We can solve the Hollywood writers strike overnight with the Tito Plan. Instead of paying screenwriters millions of dollars for their mostly sophomoric work, the studios could get multi-millionaires to pay them big bucks to produce their equally jejune screenplays. And why not have billionaires pay to star in the movie itself? This way, the studios would be able to make a profit even before the film starts shooting and then avoid all that tricky accounting to show that it lost money. And like being a President or an astronaut, being an actor doesn't require any particular credentials either.

The Tito plan would allow sports teams in small cities to spend more on their rosters. Sure, the Yankees make money despite an obscenely high payroll, but what about the clubs in smaller towns? Why shouldn't the penny-pinching Kansas City Royals, for example, allow Billy Crystal to pitch the first inning for $100,000 or give some multi-millionaire baseball-player-wannabe three at-bats for the same price? They don't win many games anyway; and who knows, the fans might really take to it. I've been at basketball games where the crowd yells loudest when the guy at half-time misses the million dollar half-court shot. It's the same sort of thing. It's a little like "Survivor," only the participants pay to get on the show. It's really an alternative tax for the wealthy — a tax, unlike every other, that they're very willing to pay.

And why exclude the media — another profession that requires little to zero credentials? The CBS Evening News is the lowest rated news broadcast and can't be doing too well financially. Why not auction off the anchor chair for one night a week to some multi-millionaire who wishes he were Dan Rather? In fact, it couldn't be more anxious-making for viewers than watching old Dan himself. Maybe that's how they should find Dan's successor — give it to the highest bidder; that might even make Viacom happy.

In a hilariously self-righteous editorial the other day, the New York Times criticized Dennis Tito for having invented the "the most offensively elitist form of eco-tourism yet devised." Sorry, Dennis Tito has invented the most democratic form of ultra-capitalism yet devised. Let people pay what the market will bear to live out their fantasies. We'll all be richer for it.