He was followed by people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, who saw wealth as a tool, and who resolved to give that tool away when they were done with it. Other wealthy people emulated them, signing pledges to give their wealth back to the commons, because everything we have is merely borrowed from our time and must be recycled when we’re gone.
Over the 15 years, however, a new kind of billionaire has emerged. They’re malevolent, not benevolent. Some of their fortunes, like that of Elon Musk, are self-created. Others, like that of David Sachs, are built using other peoples’ money. Still others, like Harlan Crow, just inherited their wealth.
But this new class of billionaire is uninterested in their fellow citizens. They see wealth as a means with which to both obtain political power and maintain it even after they’re dead. They now control our courts, they fund our elections, and they think they’re better than anyone else.
Billionaires are now threatening the very structure they built.
There’s a bargain to capitalism. You can make as much money as you want, but you’re subject to the law. In the best capitalist systems, this makes you subject to the will of other people. You’re not an emperor, not a god, just another human being like the rest of us.
Thanks to Citizens United and dark money, too many of today’s billionaires have decided the bargain is no longer in effect. They reject democracy, reject the whole concept of legal constraint. They seek to replace it with something that looks a lot like feudalism, of bread and circuses, and the war of all against all from which modern society emerged.
Wealth is a responsibility. Wealthy people die. Even if today’s wealth makes this planet uninhabitable by man, the world will continue to spin, the damage of the Anthropocene will cycle out, and mother nature will recover in some form.
Maybe that’s why we never found any extra-terrestrials. Maybe wealth makes societies crazy and provides nature with the ultimate veto against spacefaring.