This week saw two billionaire-led initiatives compressed into just a single week: the September 14th Apple Keynote event, lead by billionaire Apple CEO Tim Cook; and second, the Space-X Inspiration 4 launch, led by billionaire Elon Musk, which yesterday successfully landed. These were huge events garnering tens of millions of views online, and making headlines everywhere. Such viralness agrees with earlier posts about old, left-wing cultural institutions being superseded in relevance and popularity by private enterprise, whether viral YouTube stars or billionaire-backed product launches and space programs. This same week, Norm MacDonald died, who was sorta a cultural mainstay of that old era, and his death signified the closing of that chapter.
I predict in the coming decade this trend of the ‘billionaire era’ will accelerate. Space launches and product launches, live-streamed to millions, will be weekly occurrences, between Blue Origin, Apple, Amazon, Space-X, Tesla, and Virgin Galactic. Meanwhile, Washington will be as sclerotic and ineffective as ever. Political gridlock will be the norm for years, decades to come as neither side is able to make much progress. The repeal of section 230, which many conservatives seek, or the reining-in of ‘big tech’, will likely never come.
The upside is that the private sector is more efficient than the public sector, which means more choices for costumers and possibly higher living standards overall. Instead of only Hollywood, TV networks, and colleges dictating the cultural agenda, people can seek their own outlets, such as on social media or chan sites, or choose their own entertainment, such as YouTube, podcasts, or multiplayer online gaming. The ability of such antiquated left-wing cultural institutions to retain a captive audience, with all this new competition, is diminished.
There are two ‘performing arts’ centers nearby. I cannot recall them ever being open. They just sit there seemingly vacant and unused. Those are our formidable left-wing institutions in action (or I guess inaction). In contrast, Amazon is always open. Space-X and Blue Origin are constantly innovating and both recently had successful manned launches. NASA has not had a manned launch since 2011. Movie theaters, too, which are closed most of the time, yet YouTube is always open.
When the Berlin Wall fell, people watched it on one of a handful of networks, those being CNN, CBC, NBC, or ABC. They read about it in the NYTs, or one of a half-dozen or so newspapers that dominated at the time. But as popular as the ‘marvel comic universe’ is, the combined market valuation of Disney, plus all the major media networks, both print and TV, is still only about half of Facebook’s valuation (and this cannot be explained by Facebook stock being overvalued, which it is not). This does not even include YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, and TikTok. YouTube alone is probably more valuable than all of legacy media combined.
But the downside is that the left having control of the private sector, means still having to play by their rules. Alt-tech is supposed to be an alternative, but in all too many instances it is inferior in many respects: poor user interface (4chan), not enough users (gab, rumble), susceptibility to being hacked or shut-down (such as Parler and Epik), etc.
Perhaps Twitter wishes it can purge Ben Shapiro and others, but provided one does not broach certain topics (you probably already know what they are), you can get away with quite a lot before they terminate you, if at all, especially if you have a verified account. Twitter and Facebook know that they have to maintain a sort of pretense of impartiality, or else they risk blowing their cover by banning too many conservatives or the wrong type of conservative. Hollywood, MTV never had to cloak their bias under veneer of impartiality.
On a per-view basis, conservative media is more profitable than the liberal media (‘blue collar professionals’ have a lot more disposable income than adjuncts, career-feminists, and single-mothers), so this means social networks have a direct financial incentive to not become total left-wing echo chambers. ‘Fake news’ in terms of ad-clicks and page views is more profitable than the ‘real news’ (even though the latter is fake in many respects too).
Billionaires obviously have the potential to disrupt politics. Ross Perot’s 1992 presidential bid still goes down as the most successful third-party placing ever. In 2016 Trump ran, and against all odds, won, and he got 10 million more votes in 2020 despite losing (or having the election stolen, depending on who you ask).
However, the US political system is designed in such a way as to limit how much any one particular individual can accomplish, whereas in the private sector it’s the opposite. So Bezos can build the greatest online store in the world and Musk can build the greatest space company and car company in the world, but if they were to try to get into national or even state politics, all that brilliance would get them almost nowhere. Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton were born for politics, but someone who is impatient with inefficiency and mediocrity and cannot compromise, would fail. Trump’s business and branding expertise seemed to be of little use once in office although it was that same expertise that helped him win.
I think at best all billionaires can do is throw roadblocks at the inexorable march of liberalism and the ‘status quo’, not reverse it. Cultural institutions, like old technology, can become obsolete and irrelevant, but ‘politics as usual’ is forever.