Tech Billionaires Are Actually Dumber Than You Think

By Sonali Kolhatkar, the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute. This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

In mid-September, for just a few days, Indian industrialist Gautam Adani entered the ranks of the top three richest people on earth as per Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index. It was the first time an Indian, or, for that matter, an Asian, had enjoyed such a distinction. South Asians in my circle of family and friends felt excited at the prospect that a man who looked like us had entered such rarefied ranks.

Adani was deemed the second richest person, even richer than Amazon founder Jeff Bezos! A Times of India profile fawningly quoted him relaying his thought process in the early days of his rags-to-riches story. “‘Dreams were infinite but finances finite,’ he says with engaging frankness,” according to the profile. There was no mention of the serious accusations he faces of corruption and diverting money into offshore tax havens, or of the entire website, AdaniWatch, devoted to investigating his dirty deeds.

Adani made his money, in part, by investing in digital services, leading one economist to say, “Wherever there is a futuristic business in India, I think… [Adani] has a stronghold.”

The moment of pride that Indians felt in such an achievement by one of their own was short-lived. Quickly Adani slipped from second richest to third richest, and, as of this writing, is in the number four slot on a list dominated by people who have made money from the digital technology revolution.

In fact, ranking multibillionaires is a meaningless exercise that obscures the absurdity of their wealth. This year alone, a number of tech billionaires on Bloomberg’s list lost hundreds of billions of dollars as the gains they made during the early years of the pandemic were wiped out because of a volatile stock market. But, as Whizy Kim of Vox points out, whether or not they’re losing money or giving it away—as Bezos’ ex-wife MacKenzie Scott has been doing—their wealth remains insanely high, and most are worth more today than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are they doing with all this wealth?

It turns out that many are quietly plotting their own survival against our demise. Douglas Rushkoff, podcaster, founder of the Laboratory for Digital Humanism, and fellow at the Institute for the Future, has written a book about this bizarre phenomenon, Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires.

In an interview, Rushkoff explains that billionaires worry about the end of humanity just like the rest of us. They fear catastrophic climate change or the next pandemic. And, they know their money will likely be of little value when civilizations decline. “How do I maintain control over my Navy Seal security guards once my money is worthless?” is a question that Rushkoff says many of the world’s wealthiest people want to know the answer to.

He knows they ask such questions because he was invited to give private lectures by those who think his expertise in digital technology gives him unique insight into the future. But Rushkoff was quietly studying them instead and has few flattering things to say about these wielders of economic power.

“How is it that the wealthiest and most powerful people I’d ever been in the same room with see themselves as utterly powerless to affect the future?” he asks. It seems as though “the best they can do is prepare for the inevitable calamity and then just, you know, hang on for dear life.”

Rushkoff explores this tech billionaire “mindset” that he says has resulted in a generation of people who are “almost comedic monsters, who really mean to leave us all behind.” Adani is a perfect example of this, having invested in the very fossil fuels that are destroying our planet. He has large holdings in Australia’s coal mining industry and has sparked a massive grassroots movement intent on stopping him.

The admiration that some Indians feel for Adani’s ascension on Bloomberg’s list of billionaires is based on an assumption of cleverness. Surely, he must be one of the smartest people in the world in order to be one of the richest? Elon Musk, the world’s wealthiest man by far (with twice as much wealth as Bezos), has enjoyed such a reputation for years.

Those who are invested in the idea of merit-based capitalism can justify the unimaginable wealth of the world’s richest people only by assuming they are intelligent enough to deserve it.

This is a façade. Rather than smarts, the wealthiest people on the planet appear to be rather small-minded idiot savants who share a common disdain for the rest of us.

After being around tech billionaires in private, Rushkoff concludes that they are invested in “this notion that they really can, like puppeteers, kind of control society from one level above,” and that this approach is “different than the era of Alexander the Great, or Caesar.” If the question that vexes them most of all is how, in a disastrous future, will they control the guards they hire to protect their hoardings, then our economic system is a farce.

“Even if we call them genius technologists, most of them were plucked from college when they were freshmen,” says Rushkoff. “They came up with some idea in their dorm room before they’d taken history, or economics, or ethics, or philosophy” classes, and so they lack the wisdom needed to oversee their own perverse amounts of wealth.

Having spent time with many tech billionaires, Rushkoff worries that “their education about the future comes from zombie movies and science fiction shows.”

Billionaires are not simply drawing their wealth from a vacuum. According to data from the World Economic Forum, “the world’s richest have captured a disproportionate share of global wealth over recent decades.” This means that, if you were rich to begin with a decade or two ago, you are likely to have seen your wealth multiply by a greater amount than middle-class or lower-income people.

Not only are tech billionaires undeserving of their wealth, but they also are fleecing the rest of us—and fantasizing about hoarding that wealth in the worst-case scenarios while the rest of humanity struggles to survive.

The danger is that if society valorizes such (mostly) men, we are in danger of internalizing their childish, selfish mindset and giving up on solving the climate crisis or building resiliency on a mass scale.

Instead of relating to them, we ought to feel sorry for a group of people so cut off from humanity that their vision of the future is a very lonely one.

“Let’s look at these tech-bro billionaire lunatics. Let’s laugh at what they’re doing… so they look small rather than big,” says Rushkoff. He thinks it is critical to adopt the perspective that “the disaster they’re so afraid of looks entirely manageable by more reasonable people who are willing just to help each other out.”

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. fresno dan

    I think billionaires understand the system much better than most people – which is why so many people think it is a meritocracy – they attribute billionaires success to inovative thinking instead of a manipulation of government. Bezos’s wealth can be attributed to the fact that Bezos convinced (or bribed) the government that it was just TOO DIFFICULT to figure out sales taxes. It was an astounding advantage. Amazon is nothing more than an updated Sears and Roebuck…
    Tax-free shopping was a delight for customers, a vital competitive edge for the company — and a hemorrhaging wound for state government.

    1. griffen

      Yep being a tax cheat certainly helped pave the path to glory and fortune for Bezos. I have to wonder how many that avail themselves of Amazon offerings are aware of that small anecdote. And as to the difficult part of the sales tax, that is what entry level GL accounting personnel are hired for. It can be mind numbing work I’m sure. I worked with a colleague whom I think did just that role or task for a large footwear or clothing company. The laws for New York were insane.

      Off topic to FB and META, their poor performance in the equity markets was being discussed. Mark has not reached the ripe age of 40 yet! I had thought he was at least early 40s. He has now lost his top manager / executive peer as Sheryl Sandberg officially left this week. Sad times for META!!

      Last comment, the rich or just insanely wealthy just ain’t like you and me. Not that it was ever true. I do believe Warren Buffet seemed likely to still drink regular Coca Colas and probably eat Dairy Queen blizzards.

      1. lyman alpha blob

        Tax laws are nuts, but my much smaller company of 200 or so people manages to deal with it. We have always had quite a few work-from-home employees even pre-pandemic, and my understanding is that having an employee in a certain state constitutes a “presence” in that state for the company and thus a tax liability. It’s a small liability in those cases, but something we still have to deal with. Just glad I’m not the one who has to figure it out – talk about soul crushing.

        Really like to know who Bezos paid off to avoid paying taxes for so many years. He wasn’t a mogul who owned half the US back in the late 90s and yet still manged to get away with it.

        1. ChuckyChubber

          I thought that at the time, when you bought something out of state, it was your personal responsibility to pay the sales tax to your local authority when you filled your return. So, rather than Amazon doing something wrong, it was technically The American People who were committing tax fraud.

          1. Starry Gordon

            Long before Amazon, the better-off could travel outside the state or city where they lived to avoid or reduce their taxes. The authorities looked the other way because many of them were also better-off, or received donations from the better-off, so class interest was involved. Bezos, then, was simply following an established practice. Early attempts to tax internet sales excited the passions of the better-off people who owned computers, evidently an important political resource. That’s how he got away with it. We can also note in passing that the beat goes on: sales taxes are regressive, that is, the poor pay more in general.

    2. digi_owl

      I am to this day astonished that USA has not adopted the VAT system, and instead cling to adding a sales tax during payment.

      1. Oh

        These crooks will find a way to cheat even with VAT. Instead of the VAT system that penalizes the consumer the Billionaires need to be taxed at 90% on all income including their stock market gains. Failure to comply will be jail terms.

    3. Jackiebass63

      Sears is where they now are because they failed to recognize mail order was the any business ,once you lose your customers it is difficult to get them back.

      1. John Zelnicker

        Jackie – That’s really quite ironic since they had a huge mail order operation for decades.

        1. Carla

          Yes, in fact “Sears Catalog” houses were quite the thing in the early 20th century, and Sears became a mail-order company in the 1890s, initially selling gold watches!

          I recall paging through and ordering from the 3-inch thick Sears catalog in the 1960s and 70s… It had become known nation-wide as “the Wish Book.”

          1. k

            In the ’60s, Sears had 2 catalogs. The big thicker one which came in the spring, and the smaller Wish Book one which came in the fall with Christmas merchandise, toys, fall/winter clothing, things from the big catalog that they thought people would give as gifts, and new things that weren’t in the main catalog.

      2. HotFlash

        Ditto Eaton’s and Simpson’s here in Canada. They bit big into *MALLZ!!!* and, therefore, real estate. I know b/c my next-door neighbour was secretary to T. Eaton Co.’c controller, that’s CFO in old-speak, during the ’70’s and ’80’s. The T. Eaton Company had built its business on care for customers, “Goods Satisfactory or Money Refunded”. That done without quibble, and I have read accounts by people who lived through the depression as to how they would “buy” a carpet or a dress or something on Friday, have their anniversary or wake or whatever party on Saturday, and return the item on Monday. The lady who told that story said she was sure that Eaton’s knew what was going on, but they did it to help people during a tough time. Eaton’s was also sought-after as an employer and In 1970 was the largest employer in Canada after the Federal government. Their actual motto was, “The Greatest Good to the Greatest Number”.

        By 1980, the Eaton family was into its third generation. Timothy’s grand-kids had no care for the business (although comfy with the $$$), were at odds with each other, and certain members were, um, pickled much of the time. They did manage to agree back in the 70’s on the purchase of a table for the boardroom that cost as much as a middle-class house did at the time. Effectively rudderless, the company drifted at the whim of consultants and MBA’s, enlivened by the occasional meddling and/or obstruction by the family. The rest is history ( per the Canadian Encyclopedia). Wikip’s got an article, too, but I no longer trust those guys.

    4. YankeeFrank

      Musk makes his money from the govt teet as well: the gaming of “green” subsidies made Tesla possible.

  2. Henry Moon Pie

    Nate Hagens did an interesting interview of Rushkoff on The Great Simplification podcast. Rushkoff seems to think that the best hope to avoid disaster is to convince the billionairies, who he concedes run politics, to change their ways. His exposure to these people has convinced him that the best way to do that is to ridicule them. I wish him good luck. It would sure be an easier way out of this. But I’m not optimistic. I think they’re too crazy to change.

    1. YankeeFrank

      Have to disagree that billionaires run politics. They influence the politics that helps them get richer (like tax policy) and they go along to get along with the rest of it. And the pool of billionaires does not have the same agenda and never will as their interests (getting even richer) don’t all align.

      Its good that billionaires don’t control politics since they are mostly monomaniacally focused on profit. On the other hand, politics these days is run by those monomaniacally focused on power so I’m not sure its an improvement.

      1. Henry Moon Pie

        Fair enough. Let me de-hyperbolize my point. Would any policy be enacted in the United States (or any other neoliberal country) concerning which the consensus of billionaires was against it? Would any policy around which the billionaires have coalesced fail to be enacted?

        It’s very true that all billionaires don’t agree on everything. The oil-and-gas boys don’t seem real friendly with the tech types. But both agree on a lot of things: low wages; low taxation; ruinous foreign policy aimed at supporting their businesses; privatization of all.

        Fifty percent of the world’s wealth is held by 80 families. The half they don’t own is so widely dispersed (think middle class homeowner) that its holders have no significant political power. Those 80 families give or take 20 or so, call the shots.

        1. Keith Newman

          @Henry Moon Pie, 8:42am
          Whatever the exact mechanisms, the US is ruled for its economic elites and not for the rest of the country. The talk of “democracy” is fluff to distract people from this reality.
          See the study by Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page, “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination […], but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy.”

          1. Henry Moon Pie

            And at a more basic level, who calls whom during our “representatives’ ” Dialing for Dollars every afternoon?

          2. Carla

            @Keith Newman — thanks so much for the link! I had read about the Gilens and Page study but not hunted down the actual article.

            I sometimes bemoan how much time I spend on Naked Capitalism, but too often overlook how much time Naked Capitalism saves me! Another reason my modest support of this blog is such a worthwhile investment.

    2. flora

      It’s always worth while to point out the emperor has no clothes. The mockery must be getting under their skin considering their growing demand to silence voices that disagree with them.

      Off with her head!

      1. Henry Moon Pie

        You may be right. I saw an interview of Gates the other day by Ari F-ing Melber. It was sickeningly lovey-dovey smooch fest until decided to play a journalist on TV and asked Gates a slightly tough question about his agricultural enterprises. The look that came over Gates was really something. He’s not a fellow who has his ideas challenged very often.

    3. Bugs

      That’s interesting because I once met a DPRK refugee who told me that the most effective way to rid the country of the Kim dynasty was to ridicule them in public. Funny how human behavior works.

    4. PlutoniumKun

      In early Irish societies (and this was probably common in the Celtic lands) the biggest fear of rulers was satire from poets. It was considered that the humiliation from a popular rhyme or ditty that highlighted any shortcomings (I guess now we’d call them memes) would be nearly impossible to live down. Needless to say, poets were responsible for ensuring that this idea stuck.

      There is something to be said for the power of having a negative meme or notion attach to someone – all politicians know this can be fatal (the right has been better at this – see how successful they’ve been at undermining progressive politicians in the UK and US through mockery). Arguably, Neil Kinnock is the prime example of a potential leader destroyed by well targeted mockery.

  3. John R Moffett

    Money is a drug, and these people are pitiful addicts. They only know how to leverage money to make more money, and they can’t do anything else. They don’t know how to do anything else.

    1. YankeeFrank

      I can’t imagine having tens of millions and wanting more. But then I’m not a capitalist.

      1. Starry Gordon

        One of my past colleagues did very well manipulating real estate, and one day I ran into him by chance and while comparing notes he told me he was “worth over ten million now.” (And this was when a million dollars was serious money.) Yet he still had a job. I told him if I had that kind of money I would never suffer employment again, but he said, “You say that now, but you’re much better off than people on welfare, or with crap jobs, and could probably get by with a lot less and not work at all, yet nevertheless you work. Whatever you have, you want more.” I reflected that this was mostly true and resolved to consider it an addiction problem. One of several.

    2. Anthony G Stegman

      At this point in time in human history making money is all that matters. It isn’t just billionaires pursuing more money. There is a cottage industry focused on advising middle class people on how to make more money via side hustles. In capitalist societies your only real worth as a human being is directly correlated to how much money you have. Everyone knows this. The entire system, top to bottom, is sick and perverted. Billionaires are the most prominent symptom, but they aren’t the disease. Capitalism is the disease.

  4. jefemt

    Less to do with intellect as it does with compassion, arrogance, a value system, and thorough lack of education in basic biology and ecology?

    The earth is a closed loop. All species are interconnected. All have a legitimate right to exist, the dominion of man notion should be cast off as a load of horse apples.

    All problems on the earth are created by humans. Solutions to humanity’s problems might lie in nature, and not all emanating from Bill Gates mind.

  5. The Rev Kev

    I think that it was Jimmy Dore that said some time ago that once you become a billionaire, you drop 10 IQ points. I have seen nothing to counter this idea. A smart billionaire would be grounded by having a good, smart wife but how many like Bezos dump the wife that helped them build their fortunes in order to marry a young dolly-bird that knows better than to criticize them?

    And consider this. Suppose that a law came out that said that every billionaire was never allowed to make one cent more for the rest of their lives. Ever. How many of them could spend all their money then before they died of old age? More so since most of them are old anyway? So if the purpose of those billions is not to afford things, it must then be about feeling personal power and/or status – which means no amount of money will be ever enough. And that is really dumb.

    1. Cetra Ess

      It makes sense to me. Consider – when you reach this level of wealth you’ve essentially attained what would be “God Mode” in gaming vernacular. In god mode there’s no challenge, no difficulty, nothing to get the blood pumping or the brain working, everything is done for you.

      I strongly recommend a rather horrifying youtube piece called: Le Bristol, au coeur d’un grand palace

      The first 3/4 is about the insane, absurd, jaw-dropping, lengths this hotel goes to keep it’s clientele happy, and this is typical of the industries catering to the extreme wealthy that not even a piece of lint can be out of place, not a speck of dust, not even a whiff of any disagreeable scents, must touch these people, intrude on their bubbles.

      The last 1/4 of the video is very sad, we get to meet the extremely wealthy clientele – and they’re empty shells of human beings. The owner of the hotel has an able body but is clearly not present-to-hand after a lifetime of this.

      I think we should be afraid of reaching this particular hell.

  6. Ghost in the Machine

    I wonder if they plan to take a doctor with them into the bunker? And a maintenance person? Will they share in the hoarded comforts or will they also be shock collared? Maybe not the doctor, they could secretly poison the billionaire. The maintenance person could also cause problems. Maybe they could program the shock collars to cause death upon their death. Kind of a variant of the pharaohs being buried with their servants. That was the pharaohs right? Well, this billionaire bunker stuff is hard! They are, indeed, idiots. What a farce our ‘meritocracy’ is.

    1. Michael McK

      In The Parable of the Sowers, and The Parable of the Talents (2 books, 1 scenario), Octavia Butler delves into ‘Slave collars’ among other dystopian themes. She deals with tough subjects and definitely has the best take on Vampires. I highly recommend what work of hers I have read.

  7. Mark Gisleson

    And this ignores Leslie Wexner about whom Whitney Webb has written a great deal.

    I think it’s a mistake to assume billionaires are free range nerds. I’ve always thought it fair to ask if Jeff Bezos really owns the Washington Post, or if he’s just a wholly owned subsidiary of the CIA doing business in the USA?

    It would help explain how he dodged all those sales tax requirements. One thing I learned in politics is that when something happened that really upset me, it was usually after the people I worked for met with people I didn’t know and then made decisions they couldn’t really explain. Those were the moments when everything went wrong and after which nothing ever got better.

    Mic and camera up our legislators like highway troopers and record everything 24/7. Anything less is not due diligence, not when our laws are at stake.

    1. Henry Moon Pie

      Remember the origins of the CIA. They were born of money with the purpose of protecting money.

    2. flora

      Thanks, Mark. The link’s sub-title summation adds a bit of color to Diane Johnstone’s recent column posted earlier here at NC. From your link’s sub-title:

      “The following is an adapted excerpt from Whitney Webb’s upcoming book, One Nation Under Blackmail, which examines the network behind Jeffrey Epstein and traces it back to the merging of American organized crime and intelligence beginning in the early 1940s. ”


      Diane Johnstone’s article:

      DIANA JOHNSTONE: Omerta in the Gangster War
      September 28, 2022

      1. JBird4049

        I just ordered the two volume set of 700 pages. It looks like an interesting read, but I am not sure that I am up for such a sewer dive.

  8. Adam

    I don’t think this is particularly dumb, what would you expect them to be doing? I think their way of thinking becomes more understandable, viz. the feeling powerless, if you adopt a systems-of-systems view of the world. Even if you have the most of anyone, most everything is still outside your control. Especially as we understand that true wealth lies in information, access to secret technology. Money can get you a lot, but it doesn’t actually give you a need to know anything inherently and so it will not let you into core decision-making.

    I think the takeaway from this article should be that there is a line of common interest between little people and even billionaires. The point is that humans are becoming less necessary to each other. The question is why we want to keep each other around when we threaten each other and increasingly are making tools that make people obsolete or at least unnecessary. The systemic logic fully changes with something like a general nano-technology breakthrough. And who would know if such a changeover did happen? Only core decision-makers, probably.

    As I would say it, if the “war logic” continues to operate, it won’t end until only one person is alive, or maybe none. The paranoid logic of fearing that the other will harm you will lead to you seeking to harm the other. It’s the Hobbesian trap, I think they call it. And in fact this is always operative. Economic and social systems work to mitigate the corrosive effects of mistrust.

    In a way, you have to look away from the problem in order to solve it. Once you are suspicious, it is difficult to fully alleviate your suspicion. It will drive you to want to control and know everything about someone or something, and it’s not possible. And, will alienate you so that the trusting relationship you wanted is no longer possible. This necessitates, essentially, distraction, and downward in terms of logical typing. This is why you want to dumb people down. So that they will not become suspicious, so they will be trusting and go along with social policies.

    The double bind is that on the one hand this is manipulation. On the other hand, this is essentially how you get groups of people to do things. If people did not believe in their convenient fictions, then maybe all hell would break loose.

    The issue is in the changeover, you can think of it as a cognitive revolution in each individual. And the cognitive sphere is important here, because the answer to these billionaires is that they will control their guards through nano-machine biotechnology in their brains, most likely. But then the problem is, who will be controlling them? In fact I think we need to be careful of an intra-elite cognitive war which ends in the centralization of decision-making within the core group itself. This could also involve mutual checkmating positions, where everyone’s mind is full of nanobots and proper decision-making is no longer possible among the elite. In other words, these billionaires are stupid because they should be worried about those above them and how they themselves will be controlled.

    I am trying to answer the question of the farce of our system by saying that social systems in a way have to be a farce, the stories involved have to function at different logical levels in order to allow for more householder type of citizens as well as more bureaucrat type administrators, as well as apex decision-makers. The deception and farce of our economic concepts (I don’t think capitalism even really exists, I have taken to the term “semio-stratocracy,” or rule by warfighting concepts) arises from the fact that ideology is just what you use to mediate the social emergency.

    The only way not to have this farce is for everyone to know everything. I think eventually (post-)human society will have complete transparency. Or there will be one or zero people left making decisions. The problem is that complete transparency is an issue. It feeds into the problem of conflict between states, and again the problem of people getting indignant about what the state has done, i.e. secret state histories. I think the kind of thinking which can address this problem is understanding about the fact that power is a paranoid game, and that many deceptions and brutalities have been committed in the name of maintaining the order–such as it has existed–that has allowed for all of our “private” lives. And also that the problem of distrust between people, including states, is a pernicious problem which it will take a cognitive revolution to solve.

    1. Redolent

      @Adam…liked your evolving take on the social sciences. Your ‘power as a paranoid game’, aptly summarizes this piece by Rushkoff. The ‘farcical stories’ that societies imbue with fictional ideology ….true enough. My college Sociology, years ago, may have used the terms; ‘The conflict perspective’, or perhaps ‘divide and conquer’. I need to peruse a ‘current college textbook’ to look into these evolving social sciences, as I am intrigued by your reference to nano-biotechnology and ‘semio-stratocracy’. Thanks.

      1. Adam

        I play a bit fast and loose with concepts, but I am trying to combat conceptual ossification. “Semio-stratocracy” is my own invention. The nano-biotechnology reference I got from reading the NATO reports on cognitive warfare, which claim that “augmented soldier” programs are in the works. The document also mused about using nano-drones to get to important influencers. I don’t know how realistic that is/at the moment. That’s surely part of the cognitive war, of course. But I’m generally looking toward the “trust problem” at the highest levels.

        Ah, so “semiocracy” is a term coined by Barthes and used by Baudrillard. And also by this NGo ODIS-ODISSEE in France. I couldn’t get them to engage me in dialogue, though. It refers to rule through signs and is a term that these semiotics-based thinkers used as a possible alternative to “capitalism.” The same Baudrillard books where he uses the concept also include references to “neo-capitalism,” so for him I think they are somewhat used interchangeably.

        Stratocracy is simply military rule, it is used to describe what we typically think of as military juntas. I would claim that all governments are dominated by the military interest, and even the idea of social peace or democracy can function as a weaponized concept. But I don’t have a typical resentful attitude about that, I can just see the problem of maintaining legitimacy.

        I just a comment on Reddit which said people like me who can empathize a bit with the powerful are deluded or “can see the anti-social element in themselves” and I suppose the latter applies to me. But I think there is just something anti-social or antagonistic at the heart of society. Our peaceful times and norms are built up in the shadow of these empires based on conflict. So being against conflict and wanting a better system imo should mean understanding why “divide and rule,” for example, is used. It is a form of discourse management and distrust management. Even if pitting groups against each other causes distrust, I think it’s hard to see where true trust comes from, other than having a common enemy. In the concept of “spiritual warfare” among some Buddhist groups, the “enemy” is self-ignorance. I think if we eschew scapegoating and fight self-ignorance, we wind up in a place where we don’t think these billionaires are idiots.

        Maybe here is a point of convergence: they aren’t as high-level as they think. Or as we think! We think that if you have a billion dollars you are on the inside of the club. But it’s really not like that, the hierarchy and inequality in terms of information is much higher. The upshot could be that they are still trying to keep this old power-game going, when we are headed for either a change in logic or else a meat-grinder that no one will really survive.

  9. TimH

    Tech Billionaires Are Actually Dumber Than You Think

    Saw the lede, had to check that I’d wasn’t on Salon due to massive clickbait alert siren that went off…

  10. spud

    Meritocracy on Trial
    It undermines equality and the common good.

    Surveying the American scene again today, Sandel finds not only that procedural liberalism has failed to a disastrous extent—bringing the country almost to the verge of chaos and collapse—but that this failure was engineered by liberal politicians themselves, acting on the wildly erroneous assumption that by pursuing the goal of meritocracy, they were engaged in bringing about a more egalitarian economic order. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, he points out, set the stage in the 1980s, purveying dogmas about the magic of the free market.

    But center-left leaders like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton—whether out of political self-interest or genuine conviction, or a mix of both—accepted the basic argument that markets were the best mechanism for achieving the public good, so long as their negative effects were mitigated by compensatory social programs. And the main social program they had in mind was better access to education. Whenever the subject of inequality was raised, their habitual recourse was to the principle that improved educational opportunities were the solution to the problem.

    This new breed of liberal politician, whose foremost exemplar would turn out to be Barack Obama, engaged in what Sandel calls the “rhetoric of rising.” If the United States was—or at least was on its way to becoming—a meritocracy, then anyone who worked hard and played by the rules could rise in the social order “as far as their talent could take them.” There were a number of problems with this concept.

    The first was that many people who “played by the rules” found their prospects worsening: The advent of globalization eradicated virtually half the factory jobs that had sustained the American working class for generations, and nothing was being done to replace them. Another problem was a concomitant financialization of the economy, which diverted resources from the production of tangible goods into the arena of financial speculation, of which the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009 was one obvious result.”

    offshore tax havens are a direct result of free trade: the pathology of free trade is being exposed

    Today’s global rich are increasingly stateless, detaching their money from nation states and conventional representations of ownership to hide and preserve it. A global oligarchy is growing — and it does not bode well for everyone else and the planet.

    free trade enables the plundering of the wealth of nations, especially hurting the world’s most poor and vulnerable populations. It allows wealthy individuals and corporations to dodge and evade their tax responsibilities, shifting obligations onto those with fewer resources. It empowers criminals, deadbeats, and kleptocrats

    in 1983 there were only 15 billionaires in the u.s.a., under bill clintons free trade, billionaires have ballooned into more than 615, and under free trade, this is happening globally

    The costs of a secretive ‘wealth defense industry’ of shell companies, offshore tax havens, and empty luxury condos
    When oligarchs and ultra-wealthy around the world game the system to hide riches in Boston and other cities, everyone else pays.
    By Chuck CollinsUpdated April 1, 2021, 11:55 a.m…

    “Here’s how bad it has become: In the early 1980s, Forbes magazine started its infamous list of the 400 wealthiest individuals in the United States. In 1983, there were only 15 billionaires on the list, and the total combined net worth of the richest 400 people was $118 billion. In March 2021, there were more than 650 US billionaires, holding combined assets exceeding $4.2 trillion. In contrast, the bottom half of all US households — 165 million people — have a combined wealth of $2.4 trillion. This is because the bottom fifth of US households have zero or negative net worth, and the next fifth have so few assets they live in fear of destitution.”

  11. Portia

    “How is it that the wealthiest and most powerful people I’d ever been in the same room with see themselves as utterly powerless to affect the future?” he asks. It seems as though “the best they can do is prepare for the inevitable calamity and then just, you know, hang on for dear life.”

    It is against capitalist credo to do anything that jeopardizes your profits. My big frustration is, how is it that these few people are not stopped from doing whatever it is that is making them prepare for inevitable calamity? Nimbyism for the Earth, throw off the slavery of apparent choice, which is really no choice. Removing incentive for destructive behavior–I think it will only work by individuals protecting themselves from the greedy a-holes.

    1. Henry Moon Pie

      I take some solace when I realize their power and privilege depend on a system that’s as stable as it is complex, yet all our financial, political and economic systems are out of kilter, all within a context of the Earth acting very un-Holocene. What makes me angry is that some silly respect for symbols and outworn narratives gives that group great power (on MoA, psychohistorian calls it the God of Mammon) to make impossible any move toward the future. Preservation is all they know. They are blind to the future, yet our communal blindness to their impotence (that word ‘ll get ’em mad ;) ) still grants them a veto power over making any kind of necessary change. They’re even seeking to regain that bit of power lost to them when something of a labor shortage came about by calling Sheriff Fed to put down the upstarts, and we listen like they’re wise wizards. They’re good at making money. That’s it. So if we worship money, fine, we should bow down to them. But if we don’t, we should be ready to do the opposite of what they want. And making money is a talent often correlated to being completely oblivious to the social good. They should be the last people we listen to, but still we grow quiet when E. F. Hutton speaks. And neither Jamie Dimon nor Bill Gates measure up to John Houseman (video) (that’ll get ’em mad too) .

      1. Portia

        I think we need to stop engaging with destructive behavior and go around it. There is something to be said for sneaky living. Surely I have found ways to do this, and write off the abuse I get for not participating. There is too much co-dependence and acceptance of the promised gilded cage. You will own nothing and be happy, or you will owe nothing and be happy?

  12. Mikel

    “Let’s look at these tech-bro billionaire lunatics. Let’s laugh at what they’re doing… so they look small rather than big,” says Rushkoff.

    I’ve been doing my part!!

  13. .Tom

    Douglas Rushkoff was on True Anon podcast recently talking about this same topic. It’s was hilarious. He claimed that his frame of reference in this book was inspired by Liz and Brace. Check it out.

  14. Lex

    Nah, I’ve always thought they were idiots. And when looking at what they’ve done or listening to what they’ve said without the assumption that they’re rich because they’re very smart (that’s not how people get rich), they’re clearly idiots.

    They can’t guarantee the loyalty of their security nor can they even guarantee the loyalty of their class. They’ll end up trying and succeeding at assassinating each other because to retain their wealth in the scenarios they see will require operating as essentially organized crime groups. Stock options and borrowing against stock value for cash flow is likely going to be problematic. They’re so dumb that they’re envisioning a dystopian future with only a few changes to their material conduction and societal context, which is not how any of this works.

  15. ChrisRUEcon

    M –> C –> M’ never required “smarts”, only M … and those that have M also have control of the mechanisms that make M’ a near 100% certitude – crooked valuations, market-manipulated financialization etc. Once again, Uber has made billionaires out of some while never turning a profit.

  16. drumlin woodchuckles

    A younger relative of mine was once qualified to fly helicopters and he did quite a bit of it. I remember him telling me at one point years ago that he had been approached by the representative of a group of people who were supposed to be building a survival fortress community on the top of a mesa they owned and the only way up or down would be by helicopter. Did he want to be their helicopter pilot?

    I suggested that he not take the job. They sounded like a group of people who wanted to use 21st century technology to revive a 13th century social order and impose it on the land and people right around their mesa-top fortress. He ended up not taking the job. Maybe it was something I said.

  17. Savita

    Fairly sure it was on NC I read the dilemma for a billionaire in a ‘ bug out to a bunker’ scenario was the weak link of the aeroplane pilot. The pilot wouldn’t wish to go unless they could take their family with them and get to survive in the bunker, too.
    TimH: clickbait title, ha! Well its a lazy title at least. Remember in school we would be chastised for using the word ‘dumb’ to indicate low intelligence when its definition is ‘mute’.I saw a youtube series about the the end days of society recently. One hypothesis, based on various media examples, was that many of the public face billionaire CEO’s were simply actors.Not responsible for achieving the success of the company and not in control of it. The video asked, how can Musk run SO many companies and still find time to get stoned on Joe Rogan and damage his commercial reputation? And, I’ve never thought he was smart let alone a genius. I haven’t seen any evidence to substantiate the suggestion. Another hypothesis in the video was, these mega corporations like FB, Amazon, Tesla, are wholly government owned. Not private. Of course NC readers could tear apart such an assertion. The point of the video was explaining how thick the layers of deception run and how stage managed our perception.

  18. Wukchumni

    This is probably immature of me, but check out the illionaire advisor’s name…

    “Dick Pfister, CEO of AlphaCore Wealth Advisory, said his clients — who generally are worth between $1 million and $15 million and are often planning for retirement or budgeting on a fixed income — are starting to be more proactive with budgeting as ‘stock, real estate and bonds have all gone down together,’ affecting their assets. ‘It’s taken them a little bit longer to feel the pain but it’s starting to affect them too,’ he said.”

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