Posted on December 27, 2022 Posted by John Scalzi
(Photo: The Royal Society, used under Creative Commons. Additional photo editing by me)
If I have a wish coming out of 2022, is that this is the year — eventually – when the myth of the supposed skill and virtue of billionaires is buried in a shallow tomb by the river. 2022 was full of examples of people having more money than meaning, losing a good chunk of that money and gaining no additional meaning in return. Our most prominent trio of silly poster kids for this concept includes Mark Zuckerberg, who has taken his company’s stock plummeting in pursuit of a social media revolution that no one wants, including the people behind it. manufacture; Sam Bankman-Fried, who proved the Ponzi scheme is alive and well and simply changed its name to “crypto”; and, of course, Elon Musk, who has proven both incompetent and more than a little flashy this year, and whose antics are actively destroying two businesses — Twitter and Tesla – and should be deeply grateful that a third (Space X) has long-term government contracts. As I write this, Tesla’s stock price is down 9% on the day. I’ve heard rumors that Bill Gates made a lot of money these days by shorting the company’s stock. If that’s true, at least someone takes advantage of Tesla; it’s not Musk or the shareholders of the company.
I’ve been feeling vaguely satisfied with the Billionaire’s Reward this year since Kaiju’s Preservation Society, Travel By Bullet and Three robots: exit strategies all about imbecile billionaires to a greater or lesser extent. TR:ES called Musk by name, which a lot of Muskovites grieved me for, but time vindicated me and the episode because everyone now seems to agree that given the practical tact of Musk on Twitter, he’s the last person anyone would want to rely on to get us all to Mars. As for Bankman-Fried, several plot points from Travel by bullet mirrors what is really going on at FTX and Alameda Research so closely that I feel like I should sue him and some of his party friends for plagiarism, not that they have more money. But the thing is, I’m not a great diviner; I just understand that it’s easier to get rich when you have family money and/or are actively committing fraud.
Bankman-Fried is screwed; he will spend a lot of time at Otisville prison camp or something similar. Musk will probably be fine financially, because even though he’s no longer the richest man in the world™, he has more than enough room to get by. But the idea that anyone who doesn’t actively kiss their boots still considers them a genius, or even competent, is laughable. As for Zuckerberg, well, bless his heart, he and Meta seem determined to take the Sunk Cost Fallacy concept to MySpaceLand.
(Oh! And also: Ye, aka Kanye West, who went completely anti-Semitic this year and because of it went from being a billionaire on paper to – well, whatever it is now, being a billionaire is safe.)
(Oh! Oh! And also Donald Trump, who is currently selling NFTs made with stolen art, whose tax returns show he’s better off having no money than having it, and who paid lower taxes over the past five years than almost all other Americans, because, on paper anyway, he’s a broke loser.)
In all cases, more or less significant damage was caused.
Which, well: Good. Being a billionaire is not a virtue. It doesn’t have to detract from his humanity (others may disagree with me on this), but it doesn’t speak well of anyone. Either, and valuing billionaires for being billionaires is absolute bullshit that has very clearly done more harm to the world than not. Musk and Trump and Ye and Zuckerberg and Bankman-Fried and any other billionaire don’t deserve your respect just because they’re rich, and the fact that people gave them respect because of that money allowed them to cover their other ethical and moral deficiencies. , which are numerous and which continue to harm our society.
If 2022 sees the beginning of the end of the mindless billionaire cult, I will consider that a victory. We can use all the victories we can get, in 2023.