Why Influence/Reach is Better than Power, Wealth, or Social Status

Imagine if like a video game you have to choose between some combination of allocation of the following attributes/abilities, but you cannot max out all of them:

1. power
2. influence/reach
3. wealth
4. social status

Power is the ability to make large, important decisions which can potentially affect a lot of people and or business, albeit indirectly, such as legislation. It’s not absolute power, but more indirect, like the President ratifying a bill after it has cleared the necessary hurdles, or a studio boss signing off on a movie. [Absolute power would be ‘easy mode’ and make the other choices superfluous. Just make yourself dictator and give yourself a lot of money and control of all media, fulfilling the other categories].

Influence/reach is how many people you affect more directly, as opposed to indirectly like power. Of all of the attributes, I think this is the best one. Because having a lot influence takes care of the other two, save for power. You can ask your followers for money (such as subscribers to a newsletter), and having a lot of influence also confers social status too.

Wealth is the most obvious or strait-forward: how much assets you have.

Social status is generally where you rank on the pecking order for your circle of friends, acquaintances, associates, etc. A Hollywood boss for example has a lot of social status, as does a famous socialite (like Paris Hilton).

Although these are correlated to some degree, it’s possible to find examples of overtly lopsided allocations. For example, an heir of an obscure but wealthy family will have a lot of wealth but be lacking in the others. A religious leader may have a lot of power but minimal wealth.

Bloggers and pundits have a lot influence/reach, and given that this is the most important or coveted of the categories, means that top bloggers/pundits like Matt Yglesias and Noah Smith have the best jobs in the world in terms of maximizing satisfaction on all dimensions by having a large audience that is receptive to their message, and with continuous positive or constructive feedback or affirmation. Plus, they make a lot of money at it too, easily in the mid 6-figures. And having such considerable influence, again, confers a decent amount of social status. Yeah, they cannot sign a bill, but who cares when they have the ears of the President’s aides, also and other important people such as academics and other top pundits and journalists. And then on the ‘right’ is someone like Curtis Yarvin, a blogger whose readers purportedly included important Trump staffers.

Another way to look at it is, how much money does it take to have a lot influence? The answer is a lot. And even with unlimited resources, the odd of success are still really small. After over 2 decades of blogging, a successful reality TV show which has run for 15 seasons and counting, ownership of a sports team, oh, and billions of dollars and being one of the most successful entrepreneurs alive, maybe Mark Cuban has finally attained something close to the influence in terms of punditry of someone like Noah Smith, who did it all for free and not even completing his graduate studies. Maybe also Elon Musk, whose tweets can dictate news cycles, but again, this this is the richest person in the world who also owns the biggest media company in the world, the most valuable car company, a private space company (I can go on…).

Or just look at revealed preferences–that is–what people actually do. I know it’s coveted because why do wealthy CEOs and and other people who we assume are powerful and have high social status write (or more likely, ghostwrite) op-eds and books? Why are they not content with just power, wealth, and social status? Because none of those things are good substitutes for the validation that comes from having a large audience that is directly receptive to your message. Sure, a boss has underlings, but this is not an audience.

But not all audiences are equal. A small Substack audience of a couple thousand astute and devoted readers is better than tens or hundreds of thousands of nameless, likely inflated or nonexistent, subscribers for TV or print media. TV appearances do not mean much anymore. CNN or Fox may claim audience sizes in the ‘hundreds of thousands’ or even millions, but how many of those viewers are for hospitals, airports, nursing homes, or hotels? How many viewers are actually engaged, like with reading, not just passively listening with the TV in the background?

Same for print media or online media. How many NYTs or WSJ subscriptions are delivered to hospitals or airports, or to abandoned addresses, non-human bot subscribers/readers, or to people who forgot to cancel or are locked in multi-month plans and do not even know they are subscribed (like AOL, which is kept alive by people forgetting to cancel)? The NYTs is known for making it very inconvenient to cancel.

Between Rumble and Twitter, Dan Bongino has a large audience in nominal numbers. Same for Ben Shapiro and others. But they have to go to work everyday knowing that no one who is actually important or influential is listening or paying attention, unlike Noah Smith, Yarvin, or Matt Yglesias. And eventually this becomes demotivating because at some point, beyond the money, you have to ask yourself “Does any of this matter?”