The Biggest Con: ‘Billionaires are worth their keep’

Conservatives think that billionaires have earned their enormous wealth because it’s the measure of how good they are (their net worth is somehow a measure of their contribution to society), or because it indicates that The Almighty One or “God” has blessed them with it.

Progressives cannot believe that a billionaire is 1,000 times better than a millionaire, or a billion times better than a person whose net worth is $1, or is infinitely better than a person whose net worth is zero — and that a billionaire is more than infinitely better than a person whose net worth is negative (whose debts exceed the person’s assets).

Conservatives think that progressives are driven by jealousy, and progressives think that conservatives are driven by psychopathy.

But what’s the truth about billionaires?

Here’s a relevant case-study:

On 19 November 2022, the cover of New York magazine featured the face of Sam Bankman-Fried, the former crypto-currency whiz-kid who now was just the latest Ponzi-scheme genius; and over that photo was emblazoned the headline “SBF: The Virtue Was the Con”. Inside was their lengthy feature-story, “Sam Bankman-Fried pitched himself as a humanity-saving crypto genius. Then he spent other people’s money to save himself.” A section of it was titled “Wait, But Weren’t His Parents Law Professors? The Stanford genius bubble that birthed SBF.” It opened:

If you go to Crystal Springs Uplands School, it’s both difficult to truly succeed (as in exceeding expectations) and difficult to fail. You know the kind of place. The floor is so high, the net is so secure. You’re born with a feeling your intelligence is a gift to society, a confidence that you can do no wrong. Everyone’s parent is either a Stanford professor or a tech mogul or Steve Jobs, whose son attended the school at the same time as Sam Bankman-Fried, who graduated in 2010.

“There was one kid who was like the youngest global chess champion ever when he was, like, 11 years old,” one SBF-era alumnus of Crystal Springs Uplands School told me. (This was Daniel Naroditsky, class of ’14.) “Another girl from the school just made it into Forbes. She’s like 28 years old. She raised millions of dollars for a start-up.” (Ellen Rudolph, class of ’12.) Starting here, how could you rise so high that you ever impressed anybody? How could you fall with enough force to crash through the gold-mesh safety net?

And yet, even here, SBF was special. These were the days of grand tech optimism. Facebook introduced the “like” button in SBF’s junior year. Google still used its motto “Don’t be evil.” By age 14, SBF was reading up on utilitarian philosophy — the idea that one could use data and rationality to deduce right action, defined as producing the most good for the most people. (The means of getting there don’t matter.)

Sam Bankman-Fried with Tony Blair and Bill Clinton at the Crypto Bahamas event
Sam Bankman-Fried with Tony Blair and Bill Clinton at the Crypto Bahamas event in 2022

“He always seemed like a wunderkind,” the alumnus said. Everybody knew he was “that type” — the type to be the next Zuckerberg or Jobs. Sure, he was weird, socially awkward, lost in his own universe. But whatever. That was expected for “one of those super-genius, mathematically minded kids.”

SBF was born into this world literally at the Stanford hospital to Stanford Law School professors. His father, Joe Bankman, wrote two leading casebooks on federal tax law. His mother, Barbara Fried, spent her days thinking about the intersection of law, economics, and moral philosophy; she specialized in risk and harm. (Her publications include some now-unfortunate lines like, “But a world in which everyone is maximally risk averse is a world none of us wants to live in.”) The family lived on the Stanford campus when Sam and his brother, Gabe, three years younger, were children.

SBF was figured to become a self-made billionaire, not one who had been born to the billionaire-class. Not one who had inherited it instead of was earning a billion dollars.

SBF’s co-founder of his operation was Caroline Ellison (no relation to Larry Ellison). She was subsequently profiled at SportsKeeda’s “Is Caroline Ellison related to Larry Ellison? Family explored as Sam Bankman-Fried’s ex is arrested in FTX fraud case”. It found that:

Caroline Ellison is the daughter of MIT economists Sara Fischer and Glenn Ellison. However, she is not related to billionaire business magnate and former CEO of Oracle Corporation, Larry Ellison.

Caroline Ellison is the daughter of American economists Sara Fisher and Glenn Ellison. Her father is Gregory K. Palm (1970) Professor of Economics at MIT similar to her mother, who is also an economist at MIT.

Ellison grew up in the suburbs of Boston and attended Newton North High School. She represented the US in the 2011 International Linguistics Olympiad and earned a National Merit Scholarship in 2012.

Her father reportedly coached her math team when she was in middle school. Ellison graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 2016.

During her time at the university, she consistently scored in the top 500 students at the Putnam Competitions in 2013, 2014, and 2015, respectively.

Both of them had been born and bred as up-and-comers, not born as billionaires.

The New York magazine article documented that they attracted, as their investors, billionaires’ children, like flies. After all: not many of those individuals had performed even nearly so well as Fried and Ellison, at what were considered to be relevant (to billionaires) competitions, in academia.

There is an article online, “Youth, Fame, Beauty, and Fortune: These Ladies Have it All”, which profiles 64 female billionaires, especially young ones, and most of them had inherited their wealth, but some of those were considerably adding to it by creating ventures of their own. The photos of them that accompany each of the 64 profiles show them to be extraordinarily good-looking as a lot, and some few of them to be already extraordinarily successful as entrepreneurs. Perhaps some of these had been classmates of or investors with Sam Bankman-Fried and Caroline Ellison. However, even if some of them lost a portion of their fortune in SBF’s Ponzi-operation, they are wealthy enough to stand a good likelihood of continuing their existences as being billionaires.

The tech-investor and conservative blogger, and former Republican U.S. politician, Ron Unz, had headlined on 11 March 2013, “How Social Darwinism Made Modern China”, and he argued that “Social Darwinism” is “meritocracy,” and that the thousands of years of compassionless economic hardship that the masses of the Chinese people had experienced and which had caused most of them not to survive until childbearing years and thus ‘inferior’ ones not to reproduce, has produced, as a race, Chinese people who are now destined by natural selection (‘Social Darwinism’) to be stronger competitors than the (presumedly more soft-hearted, and compassionate) populations in The West are. Perhaps he assumes that whereas in The West there has been charity for the poor, China’s aristocrats drove a much harder bargain with their masses; and, as a result, today’s Chinese are naturally superior (presumably craftier and harder-working), as a lot, than the residents in other countries are. (On 1 April 1983 — 30 years earlier — he had written the first draft of his “Social Darwinism and Rural China”; his 2013 racial interpretation of what’s now happening in China builds upon that racial interpretation.)

Since it’s normal for a conservative to emphasize zero-sum games over win-win or positive-sum games, while progressives emphasize positive-sum games over zero-sum games, I would counter Unz’s evidence, by simply adding to it (to the extent that Unz’s evidence is valid, or even relevant, or even true) that the longstanding communistic, and now more socialistic, economy in China has changed since 1980. Marxism, or dictatorial socialism, in China, has increasingly become replaced by a form of democratic socialism there. This new China has a strong win-win-games emphasis, which means that China’s leaders during recent decades have been focusing more on this than on zero-sum competition, and so have been building up a social-welfare state in which billionaires are allowed but are not permitted to control the Government. (China’s new model is more a form of cooperationism than of communism.) In The West, the billionaires do control the Government; and, so, it serves them better than China’s Government serves its billionaires; but, because China’s Government is concerned about advancing the entire public, and not merely about benefitting their billionaires, China’s system of public education, and the rest of the social-welfare state, are racing now past The West’s, and especially past the now increasingly conservative and thus dog-eat-dog America.

Unz alleges that social Darwinism (which is something that Darwin himself actually never believed in; he advocated only a biological theory; Herbert Spencer applied it to society, but Darwin himself never endorsed Spencer’s social ‘Darwinism’) somehow explains China’s remarkable economic surge during recent decades. However, I believe that social ‘Darwinism’ (which is simply dog-eat-dog, and preference for zero-sum over positive-sum games) reigns more in America than in China. I believe that this American preference for zero-sum competition, more than anything else, explains why America is losing to China in the economic rankings; and I believe that this preference comes from America’s billionaires, who are virtually 100% supremacists: they want America to control all countries. As Obama said, ONLY America is indispensable, all other countries are dispensable. America’s post-1944, and increasing, emphasis upon zero-sum games (what Unz calls “social Darwinism”) is what is producing America’s decline, and China’s increasing emphasis upon positive-sum games (win-win) — China’s cooperationism — is the chief producer of China’s recent successes. China isn’t seeking America’s decline, but is benefitting from it — and America’s billionaires (many of whom blame China for it) are causing it.

The idea that China is increasing its economic performance relative to the U.S. because China is, or ever was, more dog-eat-dog than America is, seems dubious, at best, and maybe even is ridiculous at worst. And, in any case, it ignores the difference between zero-sum games and positive-sum games, and pretends that all “games” are (and are ONLY) zero-sum (win-lose).

Why, then, are cons such as that being constantly spread? Why is conservatism constantly spread? It serves the billionaires. It ‘justifies’ their BEING billionaires. It ‘justifies’ the existence of such an unequal wealth-distribution. It ‘justifies’ their society’s existing supremacism — its relative absence of cooperationism.

Billionaires are NOT worth their keep. So, they pretend the opposite. But it’s not true, and they don’t want the public to know that it’s not true. In fact: America’s billionaires are actually driving America’s decline. China is not. Since America’s billionaires control the U.S. Government, the U.S. Government is blaming China for America’s decline.

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.
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