What Martin Shkreli Says About America

I’ve mentioned Martin Shkreli a couple times here, posting some of his tweets.

Martin Shkreli’s popularity is evidence we’re in a ‘smartist era’, where people’s intellectual contributions are more important than their character flaws. The synthesis of wealth and intellectualism is a defining characteristic of post-2008 America, culturally and economically, and few embody this synthesis more so than Martin Shkreli. Shkreli, the son of Albanian and Croatian immigrants who worked as janitors, built an entire pharma ’empire’ using only his intellect, becoming not only rich in the process but a STEM ‘celebrity‘ revered (and also loathed) by many.

Here is Shkreli’s first video in his popular series on ‘Investing and Finance’, watched by thousands. And as part of the synthesis, here is his equally popular video series about chemistry, a complicated STEM subject which, by virtue of his profession, he is an expert on. In today’s economy and ‘social cycle’, intellectualism signals credibility and authenticity, and hence a higher social status. It wasn’t always that way:

In earlier decades – the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s, especially – nerds were bullied or simply ignored. Fast forward to 2008 and beyond, from teens taking selfies on Snapchat and Instagram donning faux glasses to 30-somethings sharing on Salon, Daily Elite and Vice personal embarrassing moments of social awkwardness, we’re all becoming nerds and weirdos now.

As evidenced by the popularity of these videos and his Twitter account, Shkreli’s followers aspire to be smart, rich, and successful as he is [1] – not poor, naive, and angry like a Bernie Sanders voter, a Mizzou protester, or a ‘Black Lives Matter’ demonstrator.

Through self-improvement and personal finance, millions of millennials looking to improve their lives instead blaming others or expecting a handout, as well as taking control of their financial future in our uncertain economy. An an example of dwindling social safety net and the necessity of self-sufficiency, the Social Security trust fund is projected to be insolvent by 2030:

Although Social Security will probably be thrown a lifeline or modified to keep it running much longer than it should, the current trajectory of entitlement spending is likely unsustainable, with lower payouts in store for the future.

This shift in mindset, from one of dependency to one of self-sufficiency [2], is in large part motivated by millennials’ disaffection with Obama over his unrealistic campaign promises of affordable healthcare, an abundance of good-paying jobs for everyone, and less student loan debt. After the failure of OWS, rather than fight the rich in an exercise of futility, many millennials aspire to be like the cognitive and financial 1%, as embodied by Martin Shkreli, Elon Musk, Warren Buffett, David Tepper, or Peter Thiel. From Scott, Utilitarians, The Rational Middle, Scientism, and Liberals:

Also, the post-2013 SJW backlash has to do with a disillusionment among millennial Obama voters over the failure of liberalism. From 2008 to 2012, there was much optimism by the left over Obama, which soon faded. OWS, for example, went nowhere. And student loan debt is still higher than ever, and the job market still sucks for many millennials despite record high profits & earnings. Millennials realize that leftism isn’t working – it hasn’t lived up to its expectations… In light of the failure of OWS and the disappointment of Obama, many millennials realize that it’s more productive to emulate the rich and successful than waging class warfare and holding class envy.

But of course, just by looking at the number of ‘re-tweets’, Bernie Sanders is still wildly popular among many millennials, but now, unlike in 2008 or 2012, at least more millennials are seeing the light.

[1] assuming he doesn’t go to jail for securities fraud, but on Twitter he seems optimistic that he will prevail

[2] A caveat is explored in Why Millennials Are Still Living With Their Parents, in which forgoing ‘location independence’ for long-term financial independence may be advantageous:

A generation ago, all too many people were caught up in the idea of independence as in location independence, but millennials care more about financial independence, even if that means living with parents longer to secure a better financial future by using the saved money & time to buy a home, invest in stocks, or learn high-paying skills. Stock and home prices have risen markedly since 2011, and will continue to do so; why make other people rich when you can be doing so yourself?