The grotesque inequality embodied by Musk, Bezos and Zuckerberg is a menace to democracy | Jeff Sparrow

The upper the monkey climbs, the extra he exposes his bottom.

So too with the tremendous wealthy.

Oxfam tells us {that a} mere 10 folks now possess extra wealth than the underside 40% of humanity – and that the richest 20 tycoons collectively personal greater than all the GDP of sub-Saharan Africa.

You’d assume that such obscene inequality would encourage the rich to undertake a sure modesty – even when just for self-preservation. But right this moment’s extraordinarily on-line billionaires love nothing greater than elevating their metaphorical posteriors for the admiration of the group.

Take Elon Musk.

Between April 2020 and April 2021, Musk reportedly made practically US$140bn.

In the US on the time, the common annual wage was about US$75,000.

In different phrases, Musk earned a mind-boggling 1.86m occasions greater than the common American: some $383m each day.

What morality might presumably justify such a disparity?

Did Musk work 1.86 million occasions tougher than everybody else? Was he, maybe, 1.86 million occasions smarter?

The previous few weeks have, quite definitively, settled such questions.

Having acquired a social community seemingly on a whim, Musk set about working Twitter through Twitter, a course of that supplied a tweet-by-tweet glimpse of his very David Brent administration vitality.

He posted a video of himself carrying a sink into Twitter HQ. He fired hundreds of workers – after which, as the location’s performance wobbled, requested a few of them to come back again. He insisted the remaining employees print out code they’d written, after which informed them to shred it. He tweeted – after which deleted – a hyperlink to a conspiracy idea concerning the assault on Paul Pelosi, even whereas touting Twitter as a information supply.

Most spectacularly, he monetised blue-tick certification, a coverage that (as completely everybody predicted) unleashed a torrent of verified parodies.

An account purporting to be the pharmaceutical large Eli Lilly promised free insulin, sending the corporate’s actual world inventory plummeting. “Pepsi” tweeted, “Coke is healthier”. A blue-ticked “George W Bush” declared, “I miss killing Iraqis” – and his pal “Tony Blair” tweeted again, “Similar tbh.”

Mario gave the finger from an “official” Nintendo account; verified Mr Bean invited customers to reap the benefits of his cunnilingus abilities.

On Thursday, Twitter employees resigned in droves, rejecting Musk’s demand for them to grow to be “extraordinarily hardcore”. Hypothesis mounted that the entire platform would collapse.

As the location descended right into a Marx Brother’s farce, Groucho’s line from the film Duck Soup got here to thoughts: “Gents, [he] could discuss like an fool and appear like an fool. However don’t let that idiot you. He actually is an fool.”

In the meantime, over at Meta (the company beforehand referred to as Fb), Mark Zuckerberg placed on the same show of concentrated ineptitude.

Not so way back, the Zuck earned an eye-watering $28,538 a minute. Enterprise Insider calculated the Fb founder might, at that stage, hand over $100 to each residing individual within the US, and nonetheless maintain greater than half of his fortune intact.

The huge gulf separating Zuckerberg from the remainder of the species maybe explains his obsession with the digital actuality world of the metaverse. When, at a latest presentation, he enthused concerning the legs of Meta’s new avatars, his pleasure recommended the blue fairy had lastly promised that he’d in the future grow to be an actual human boy.

Unsurprisingly, most conventional folks don’t wish to work within the metaverse (assume a three-dimensional, endless Zoom assembly, carried out in a nausea-inducing headset) and so, the extra Zuckerberg throws cash at digital actuality, the extra Meta’s inventory plunges. Its market worth has dropped a staggering $700bn, with the consequence that 11,000 persons are shedding their jobs.

It’s straightforward to mock the self-importance initiatives of the tech elite. It’s additionally essential.

A couple of years again, the Guardian’s Arwa Mahdawi famous that, in the event you had earned $5,000 each day from 1493 onwards, you’d nonetheless have much less cash than Jeff Bezos – even after his divorce.

The monstrous scale of world inequality renders real democracy a farce. A couple of years in the past it was reported that about 40% of Individuals couldn’t elevate $400 to cowl an emergency. Does anybody actually assume their votes give them the identical political energy as Bezos, who, in keeping with one calculation, makes US$3,715 each second?

To place it one other means, Musk shelled out {dollars} with a billion or so to spare.

Disgraced crypto-tycoon Sam Bankman-Fried
Disgraced crypto-tycoon Sam Bankman-Fried {Photograph}: FTX/Reuters

One thing’s gone very unsuitable when fundamental infrastructure upkeep appears wildly utopian, whereas the hare-brained schemes of man-child oligarchs grow to be more and more routine.

Partly, we are able to blame a media too typically susceptible to slobber over the intersection of wealth and expertise.

The disgraced crypto-tycoon Sam Bankman-Fried succeeded in parting so many traders from their cash partly due to the fawning protection he so often obtained. As Vox put it, the press portrayed SBF “as an unassuming, nerdy savant, steadily noting his down-to-earthness, his messy mop of hair, his penchant for sporting T-shirts and shorts, his Toyota Corolla.” Traders have been enamoured of the truth that he wasn’t a buttoned-up entrepreneur; he performed laptop video games throughout pitch conferences, and like different modern-day founders, his eccentricities have been taken as proof of his distinct genius.

Within the well-known Hans Christian Andersen fable, those that ignored the king’s nakedness revealed their craven servility. With its reportage of the person it dubbed the “crypto emperor”, the New York Instances went one step additional: its headline explicitly lauded SBF’s sans pants wardrobe as central to his scruffy mystique.

In actuality, because the analyst Mike Burgersburg identified, lengthy earlier than his firm collapsed, Bankman-Fried’s flaws had all the time been apparent – at the very least, to those that cared to look.

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“[H]e by no means got here off as being that vivid,” Burgersburg stated, “Like, both he’s admitting that he’s committing fraud, or saying shit that simply doesn’t make sense.”

When folks present you who they’re, Maya Angelou warned, consider them the primary time.

To that finish, the relative transparency of the web constitutes an incredible boon, offering oversharing plutocrats with all of the digital rope essential to publicly cling themselves.

As an example, Musk’s latest antics reveal simply how a lot of a bullet we dodged when his promise to land a person on Mars by 2021 didn’t eventuate: one shudders to think about an interplanetary colony ruled in keeping with the strategies at present reigning on Twitter.

The grotesque inequality that billionaires embody supplies no foundation to run a society in house. It’s much more poisonous down right here on Earth.

Jeff Sparrow is a Guardian Australia columnist