One of the most important, least understood stories of this year has been Al Gore's reluctance to endorse anyone. (Picture from The Atlantic, originally taken by the World Resources Institute under a Creative Commons license.)
There are all sorts of theories, but only one theory makes sense.
He has better things to do.
As I wrote in November, Al Gore is focused on market solutions to the War Against Oil. He has learned, through his work on An Inconvenient Truth and all the opportunities which flowed from it that the power of money can actually be greater than the power of government. He has also learned that money follows credibility.
During 2007 Al Gore signed some very, very interesting deals. He signed deals with venture capitalists, and hedge funds. The core of those deals was that Gore, and people working with him, would go through all sorts of alternative energy proposals, not just those in the market, but those seeking market funding and those still in the labs. He would offer his considered opinion on the validity of each idea, helping to make sure that capital flowed efficiently toward ideas which made the most sense. And he would profit from that.
Today, in 2008, Al Gore is the go-to guy in the War Against Oil. His quiet blessing of a deal can cause money to flow. His quiet dismissal of an idea could close the cash spigot. He is busy educating the world's capitalists on their most efficient allocation of resources, aimed at making all those things he talked about while in government come true in the real world.
Al Gore has learned how to spin the straw of fame into the gold of
influence, and from that to distill the elixir of enormous profit and
societal change. (Picture by Sarah Friedman for Fortune Magazine. That's John Doerr, Rice '73, to Gore's left.)
This is heady stuff. Moreover, this is important stuff. It is vital that the world's money men find wisdom through which to direct their investments in alternative energy, because there is so much interest in the field that a ton of money is bound to get lost. Al Gore has developed that wisdom, both inside government and outside it.
Al Gore, in 2008, is a king in New York.
Al Gore has learned, in 2008, that it is better, and more powerful, being a king in New York than being President of the United States. The President makes about a quarter-million a year, and is hamstrung by all kinds of political forces in what he can do. A king, on the other hand, has an unlimited capacity for making money. He is bound by no one but himself in making decisions. Others can choose to ignore his advice, and they may not in fact be punished for it, in any way.
All he has to do in order to remain a king is to be right, most of the time. Not even most of the time. A venture fund may have 1 big hit out of every 10 investments. If Al Gore can hit above the Mendoza Line he's a genius.
In all our coverage of business and business issues, we often ignore the idea of a win-win. Most business deals, in fact, are not win-lose but win-win. The whole idea of a business negotiation is to get both parties seeing the result as favorable, at least as something they can live with. It's not about me crushing you. It's about me outmaneuvering you, because my decisions end up working better in the market.
It is good to be a king.
Besides, this is not an either-or argument. In order to run for President, Al Gore would have had to build an enormous political infrastructure around him starting in early 2007. He would have placed his entire future at risk, and would not have been able to follow-up in any way on the success of his book, and his movie, in the marketplace. He would have been stuck eating rubber chicken, rather than caviar. And the result might have been just what Hillary Clinton is dealing with now, a race representing the past against the future, a race you either win or you lose.
Why bother? New York needs Al Gore. Washington can live without him. New York can reward Al Gore in ways Washington can't. The worst case scenario in the 2008 election is that the Republicans win. Where would that leave Al Gore? As the prohibitive favorite in 2012, with plenty of time to make enough money so he could literally self-fund a new race for the White House, should he choose to engage.
Any other result is great for Al Gore. He has no problem, as a businessman, dealing with either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in the White House. They would certainly give him access, and respect. They would certainly seek his counsel, perhaps through back channels. And counseling through back channels is a comfortable way to wield power. Because every back channel contact enhances your power, no matter its result.
A lot of people involved in politics like to complain that money wields the power, and they're right. The power of capital is much greater than the power of any one government in our world. Governments continue to ignore this fact at their peril. The Big Shitpile may be more than any Federal Reserve can overcome.
Right now the mightiest economic force in the world is not the
dollar, or the yen. It's the oil barrel. If you control a barrel of
oil, or its equivalent, you have power. Al Gore's advice, and the
investments he helps direct, are aimed at producing literally unlimited
barrels of oil, in the form of geothermal energy, wind energy, solar
energy, hydrogen, and the systems needed to drive the new economy.
As a private citizen Al Gore has the power to profit from that change few men have. He has earned the right due to diligent study over many years, and constant advocacy of alternative energy technologies. So who will be more powerful in January, 2009, the President of the United States or Al Gore?
Regardless of your answer to the previous question, who will be wealthier?
I hope Al Gore gets awfully rich. I know that if he does, the War
Against Oil will be won. I have a lot more confidence in the future
with Al Gore directing alternative energy investments on behalf of Wall
Street titans than with Al Gore eating rubber chicken and dissing
Barack Obama or John McCain.
You should feel the same way. What Al Gore is doing is what's best for him, best for Wall Street, and best for humanity.