How the superrich have funded a new class of intellectual.
June 29, 2017 11:46 PM   Subscribe

The purpose of the thought leader is to mirror, systematize, and popularize the delusions of the superrich: that they have earned their fortunes on merit, that social protections need to be further eviscerated to make everyone more flexible for “the future,” and that local attachments and alternative ways of living should be replaced by an aspirational consumerism. The thought leader aggregates these fundamental convictions into a great humanitarian mission. David Sessions writes 3000 words for The New Republic.
posted by cgc373 (58 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
Previously on MetaFilter: Jill Lepore's dismantling of Clayton Christensen (mentioned in the link).
posted by cgc373 at 11:56 PM on June 29, 2017


If you are curious why Thomas Friedman exists, read this essay.
posted by benzenedream at 12:15 AM on June 30, 2017 [10 favorites]


Looking forward to following this thread here on Metafilter
posted by infini at 12:35 AM on June 30, 2017


not wrong. see also: art, history of
posted by mwhybark at 12:47 AM on June 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


I kept looking for concrete examples that would support the author's thesis, but there were only a couple: Brookings, Cato, that teacher training college in New York.

Thomas Friedman is a newspaper columnist and, as such, is primarily an entertainer, by the way. Anyone who takes him seriously is not at all in a position of influence.
posted by My Dad at 1:10 AM on June 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


45 is first and foremost and entertainer as well. Dismissing the power of entertainers to set the narrative and build consensus or at least consent is to gravely misunderstand American politics.
posted by Vetinari at 1:22 AM on June 30, 2017 [34 favorites]


Pffft.

Piketty. When just having money is more profitable than working for money, we go towards the Monopoly endgame. We're already halfway there and due to the exponential factor, we're almost at the point where it is done: a few hundred people own everything.

So of course they pay their cheerleaders. The people who support them. And of course empirical, scientific, factual, statistical thought is pushed aside. Well ... not pushed aside: just that those who pursue that are not paid and thus cannot continue.

The problem then, despite the article's almost optimistic finale, is that ratio, equality, fraternity, is rendered irrelevant by pure money. Money is speech, in the US (and elsewhere). Money is power.

If history teaches us anything, it is that concentration is bad for the majority.

And we have reached a point where this is now a philosophical question: what is the worth of a human? Which human is worth anything? With automation we have now reached what was theorised in the 70's but never realised until now: we have a society where the rich own everything, can pay the few to automate more and more and the majority just has no purpose.

Less and less so. Intelligence is a Gauss curve and the lowest section has a place for grunt work, but the low-to-middle section is unnecessary and that part is growing upwards as more and more gets automated. No matter the 'anti- thought leader (working to justify the rich)'.

Funnily enough, of course the people who can build, automate and do the grunt work are the ones who are actually necessary: if any group of them dies, the system breaks down. If the rich die ... the rest can keep on going.

This of course necessitates that managers, directors, leaders are still there. But from my experience I would say that those are not the rich. The rich, 90%, are just that: moneymen without leadership skills.

The concern about automation which started with the Ludites and grew in the 70's was valid. Ian Bank's (et al) conception of post-scarcity society is valid.

The problem we have now is that there is no roadmap to go from the current situation to the next. We do not have the mental/philosophical context to judge people. Universal Basic Income is but a mere stopgap which can only allow us a repreive to see what we can do with that mass of humanity which, despite the Club of Rome, we can feed/house/etc at the current moment (if we survive the current global environmental catastrophe, of course).

The only certain thing? The 1% will either lead or crumble. And it seems they will lead ... if they are smart, they have the money to form EVERYTHING to their hand: the debate, the mass-thinking, the infrastructure. They can form the future for themselves or for everyone (although why should they do that latter?)

But they are not that smart, it seems, and thus we have a problem.
posted by MacD at 1:25 AM on June 30, 2017 [24 favorites]


The one consolation is that plutocrats are terrible at spending their money. Imagine spending a fortune on thought leaders and the best you get is Thomas Friedman and Niall Ferguson.
posted by zompist at 1:28 AM on June 30, 2017 [33 favorites]


Thomas Friedman is a newspaper columnist and, as such, is primarily an entertainer, by the way. Anyone who takes him seriously is not at all in a position of influence.

I have some extremely bad news for you.
posted by atoxyl at 1:33 AM on June 30, 2017 [60 favorites]


The one consolation is that plutocrats are terrible at spending their money. Imagine spending a fortune on thought leaders and the best you get is Thomas Friedman and Niall Ferguson.

Sucks if you're doing actual research in the neo-Gilded Age and have to fight snakes for a $15.99 grant from the NSF, tho
posted by en forme de poire at 1:37 AM on June 30, 2017 [18 favorites]


Thomas Friedman is a newspaper columnist and, as such, is primarily an entertainer, by the way. Anyone who takes him seriously is not at all in a position of influence.

>I have some extremely bad news for you.


No, you have a difference of opinion.
posted by My Dad at 1:52 AM on June 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


> The one consolation is that plutocrats are terrible at spending their money. Imagine spending a fortune on thought leaders and the best you get is Thomas Friedman and Niall Ferguson.
Useful idiots are not useful despite the idiocy.
posted by runcifex at 2:20 AM on June 30, 2017 [8 favorites]


Fuck my English.

I mean, useful idiots' utility doesn't come into being in spite of their idiocy. The former is contingent on the latter.
posted by runcifex at 2:28 AM on June 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


Shills like Friedman and Ferguson are not really the deepest manifestation of the problem that Drezner pinpoints. They're creatures of think tanks and the op-ed pages, neither of which have any sort of reputation as serious havens of inquiry. What's far more insidious is how all that private money is tipping the scales at universities.

The Koch brothers, for example, have for years been pouring money into foundations and institutes that craft arguments designed to back their brand of of libertarian free-marketeering. From a recent [paywalled] CHE article about the "Eudaimonia Institute" at Wake Forest:
Rather than simply bestowing funds upon colleges for causes it regards as worthy, she alleges, the foundation seeks to use its money to foster change at institutions receiving those dollars. It offers financial inducements to hire faculty members with conservative or libertarian views, and retains influence over colleges by leaving them dependent on its largess to continue covering instructors’ salaries

A separate ad hoc committee charged by the Faculty Senate with studying the Eudaimonia Institute agreement has similarly accused the Koch Foundation of pursuing a hidden political agenda, basing such assertions heavily on the work of the journalist Jane Mayer, in her book Dark Money and elsewhere. The Koch Foundation declined last week to respond to such allegations.
There are millions of dollars sloshing around just waiting to be slurped up by people willing to write on plutocrat-friendly topics. This is a far more dangerous force than whatever a nitwit like Zakaria writes. And much as I like The Baffler, n+1, and Jacobin, we can't count on them to work against these forces. Those publications fund not a single study or lab. Their writing, insofar as it's grounded in the facts, ultimately relies on the production of original scholarship conducted within academia. It's here that the effects of private money are most corrosive.

The debate over whether we need more public intellectuals, thought leaders, or Gramscian organic intellectuals is really a red herring. These are all different manifestations of the myth of the intellectual "Great Man." The task of making a stand and interpreting the world in the public sphere is important, but it always rests on the collective edifice of knowledge slowly, painstakingly, and unspectacularly built up by less media-genic scholars. There isn't an alternative infrastructure for producing knowledge that could replace universities. If we let those become further corrupted, there's nowhere else to turn. It's fake news all the way down.
posted by informavore at 2:34 AM on June 30, 2017 [35 favorites]


There seems to be a kind of Gramsci bandwagon gaining traction recently.

E.g. Paul Mason in the Guardian, Chris Hedge with CommonDreams, etc.
posted by runcifex at 2:35 AM on June 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


No, you have a difference of opinion.

I think what I have must be a different bar for who is "at all in a position of influence." To be fair I think we are now a ways past the peak of people taking Friedman seriously.
posted by atoxyl at 2:43 AM on June 30, 2017 [5 favorites]


informavore your hypothesis is borne out by the way "Trust Us, we're the Experts" frames the issue. Has it scaled up or is it just more visible these days?

Like fake news, this tentacle is sailing across the pond and driving through the Chunnel
posted by infini at 3:04 AM on June 30, 2017


The task of making a stand and interpreting the world in the public sphere is important, but it always rests on the collective edifice of knowledge slowly, painstakingly, and unspectacularly built up by less media-genic scholars. There isn't an alternative infrastructure for producing knowledge that could replace universities.

ding ding ding winner
posted by en forme de poire at 3:10 AM on June 30, 2017 [3 favorites]


I've seen this with tobacco, asbestos and leaded fuel. Now I'm seeing it with climate change. Facts won in the end. Paying your own 'experts' didn't change the facts.
posted by adept256 at 3:19 AM on June 30, 2017 [4 favorites]



Thomas Friedman is a newspaper columnist and, as such, is primarily an entertainer, by the way. Anyone who takes him seriously is not at all in a position of influence.


The World is Flat regularly shows up on lists of "recommended reading" by CEOs. It was recommended by Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase on the same list where Rex Tillerson of Exxon recommended Atlas Shrugged and Muhtar Kent of Coca-Cola recommended The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (by Niall Ferguson).

According to Business Insider, in 2012 Dimon sent the Friedman book to all of his interns.

In the words of Oscar Gamble, "They don't think it be like it is, but it do".
posted by Svejk at 4:13 AM on June 30, 2017 [25 favorites]


Intelligence is a Gauss curve and the lowest section has a place for grunt work

Wow, this is ugly.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:24 AM on June 30, 2017 [7 favorites]


Wow, this is ugly.

Oh brave new world...

Apologies to the academics on here, to whom this is most certainly D'oh 101, but I've recently learned a new term We were discussing whether a project he was trying to make happen could go along the lines of one that another prof at another university was helming, and he said 'No, that's very impressive and laudable, but i just don't have his grantsmanship'. And you might think, as I fuzzily thought having thought about it not very much, that getting funding for academic work was a matter of Science loftily deciding on how best to advance Knowledge through clear-headed analysis and vision, and some of it is, but by god a lot of it is politics and publicity and behind the scenes thisses and thats, and you really do have to have a courtier mindset.

Which is, at heart, the same game as detailed in the FPP, but with an accountable monarch.

Embarking on my own project that needs funding from multiple sources, I am now much closer to this than I ever expected; my partner in crime has grantsmanship skills that are at least the equal of their overt and most considerable creative talents, which is what the public sees and admires. One of the problems I have is that it would be nominally appropriate to try and get sponsorship from certain large tech companies, in whose field the project lies, and it certainly wouldn't be unprecedented, but having written about these LTCs for decades I can't help but feel that taking their money would compromise things - as they have in part been responsible for the situation that the project implicitly criticises, and it has pretensions to didacticism. If someone turns around and says 'you're saying X is bad and Y is the answer, but you're taking money from people who made X happen and want to sell Z as a cure', is that answerable? Is the compromise acceptable, and would anyone to whom the project is aimed at know or care?

I'm not sure how that plays out. I know how I feel about intellectuals who've taken the career equivalent of the doctor who specialises in diseases of the rich, and it's a not entirely wholesome mix of righteous anger, impotence and jealousy, and I get the Loki-like game of biting the hand that feeds you on which so much genuinely valuable journalism (for example) relies. And yes, the facts win out in the end, because you cannot buy off or PR away the laws of physics indefinitely, but enormous amounts of damage can be done the while.

Gah. People and our primate minds. We've tried gods, we've tried reason... I expect we're going to try AI next, but really.
posted by Devonian at 5:03 AM on June 30, 2017 [11 favorites]


To be fair I think we are now a ways past the peak of people taking Friedman seriously.

This is for two reasons:

1) the "Friedman unit" mockery worked and
2) the rise of Uber has deprived Friedman of taxi driver interlocutors
posted by thelonius at 5:04 AM on June 30, 2017 [24 favorites]


The only certain thing? The 1% will either lead or crumble. And it seems they will lead ... if they are smart, they have the money to form EVERYTHING to their hand: the debate, the mass-thinking, the infrastructure. They can form the future for themselves or for everyone (although why should they do that latter?)

they can also just kill the rest of us, which is easier and less obvious through slow neglect rather than literally lining people up against a wall and shooting them. see the current gutting of health insurance here in the US for a prime example.
posted by indubitable at 5:15 AM on June 30, 2017 [10 favorites]


I had to check this was not written by the other David Sessions [R]. It would be an extraordinary view if expressed by a Republican. Goes to show that stereotypes (sometimes) actually work in real life.
posted by Laotic at 5:20 AM on June 30, 2017


The 2017 List of what CEOs are reading suggests that now is the time to buy Yuval Noah Harari futures.
posted by Svejk at 5:27 AM on June 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


they can also just kill the rest of us, which is easier and less obvious through slow neglect rather than literally lining people up against a wall and shooting them. see the current gutting of health insurance here in the US for a prime example.

In my darker moments, I wonder if we won't see precipitous but "mysterious" drop in global fertility levels in the next number of years. It will be perhaps explained away as a "confluence of environmental degradation and rising (relative to the most impoverished sectors) economic prosperity), yada yada." What it will really be is a deliberate return to Eugenics. /tinfoilhat
posted by Chrischris at 5:32 AM on June 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


I've seen this with tobacco, asbestos and leaded fuel.

I'm not sure how naming three things that killed hundreds of millions of people and ruined at least as many more lives in the process bolsters your argument that nah, brah, it's all good.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:47 AM on June 30, 2017 [7 favorites]


I've seen this with tobacco, asbestos and leaded fuel. Now I'm seeing it with climate change. Facts won in the end. Paying your own 'experts' didn't change the facts.

Tobacco, asbestos and leaded fuel all happened when we still had a government where enough members gave a shit about the public. Back when science was actually seriously considered. Today's a whole other ugly, willfully ignorant beast.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:02 AM on June 30, 2017 [10 favorites]


And the tobacco lobby, in particular, fought a very long, expensive, and ruthless withdrawal action after the facts about tobacco and cancer were already in. Climate change action requires taking on an even bigger industry, one of whose leaders is the current secretary of state, who was appointed by a president who ran (and won) in part by vowing to Make Coal Great Again.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:23 AM on June 30, 2017 [6 favorites]


The only certain thing? The 1% will either lead or crumble. And it seems they will lead ... if they are smart, they have the money to form EVERYTHING to their hand: the debate, the mass-thinking, the infrastructure. They can form the future for themselves or for everyone (although why should they do that latter?)

But they are not that smart, it seems, and thus we have a problem.


I think you've got two groups of rich folks, and they think differently. The first kind, (call them the paleo-rich) made their money in business sectors where being significantly smarter wasn't necessarily the most important thing. Coal, Real Estate, etc. The head of the company is effectively a high-level salesman, everything else is delegated. You hire the smart. Even financial trading, which you think would benefit the clever, was really hostile to quants until relatively recently.

The second kind (call them the neo-rich) made their money in sectors where smart leaders provide a significant comparative advantage. In tech, for example, smart is important. It's certainly not the only thing, and there's lots of dumb people about, but it can't simply be disregarded or delegated away. If your leader is not smart you have a real competitiveness problem. Smart gets selected for in a way it doesn't in, say, a timber company. These companies, btw, are expanding into traditional business sectors all the time, consumer goods (Amazon), transportation (Uber, Lyft), finance (Wealthfront, Betterment), advertising & marketing (Google, Salesforce).

One of these groups goes to TED Talks, contributes to the Long Now, sends up rockets for fun and profit, and thinks seriously about these problems. Their goal is to extract a disproportionate amount of wealth from the economy over a long period of time. Time is on their side. They're the ones talking about universal basic income, in favor of a safety net, making education accessible, and opening borders because that's how 1) that's how they get the best people working for their organizations and 2) they understand that this is how the rich keep the poor from declaring the game rigged, rioting, and burning the whole thing down.

The other group isn't looking that far ahead. Their goal is to extract as much wealth as possible from the economy over a short period of time. Time is NOT on their side. They're smash and grab and get out before the cops show up. Consequences aren't particularly important, and they don't really even consider them. The second generation paleo-rich are the worst, because they actually think they deserve their position, and they haven't even done anything to earn it. Trump is a classic second generation paleo-rich, as are the Waltons and the Kochs.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:29 AM on June 30, 2017 [23 favorites]


Tobacco, asbestos and leaded fuel all happened when we still had a government where enough members gave a shit about the public.

more importantly, those happened when wealth was less concentrated than today and (at least for leaded fuel and asbestos) when credible opposition to capitalism still existed in the Soviet Union (which is not saying the USSR didn't have problems of its own, but it was a counterbalance).
posted by indubitable at 6:32 AM on June 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


One of these groups goes to TED Talks, contributes to the Long Now, sends up rockets for fun and profit, and thinks seriously about these problems. Their goal is to extract a disproportionate amount of wealth from the economy over a long period of time. They're the ones talking about universal basic income, in favor of a safety net, making education accessible, and opening borders because that's how 1) that's how they get the best people working for their organizations and 2) they understand that this is how the rich keep the poor from declaring the game rigged, rioting, and burning the whole thing down.
peter thiel's disembodied head in a jar jetting around on a rocket skateboard in the far future definitely has the best interests of the rest of us in mind.
posted by indubitable at 6:43 AM on June 30, 2017 [25 favorites]


I dunno, leotrotsky. An awful lot of the neo-rich also seem to express a frighteningly-high regard for hard-core Randian ideals and policies, which can be as horribly destructive to society on a whole as anything the the paleo-rich might espouse.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:56 AM on June 30, 2017 [7 favorites]


Tobacco has not gone away, asbestos probably continues to be a useful material in appropriately controlled environments, leaded fuel was a technological requirement that needed a lot of research to overcome. Peter Thiel is actively working on the life extension (disembodied head) problem.

Tech seems to be on track (too too too slow, yes) to electrically eliminate hydrocarbon burning entirely.

The article somewhat refutes it's own thesis in the discussion of "disruption" being a Silicon Valley buzz philosophy that was fairly quickly refuted by other academics and observers.

We all need to remember that science is not religion -- is a very human endeavor (at least until 2045) but humans will ascribe religious like attributes to science because, well to tautologize, humans are human. But crazy wrong ideas will and should be proposed frequently and often, hopefully revised and shot down slightly more often. The crazy wrong will certainly skew towards the bucks. News at 11.
posted by sammyo at 7:02 AM on June 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


Krugman was originally hired on by the Times to provide his center-right viewpoints and analyses.

Then during the early Bush II years he flipped on them, like Souter previously did to his GOP sponsors.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 7:05 AM on June 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


Gah. People and our primate minds. We've tried gods, we've tried reason... I expect we're going to try AI next, but really.

What Devonian said.

(Devonian take the tech folks money, then tell'm the truth)

((make'm cry))
posted by sammyo at 7:06 AM on June 30, 2017


Ah, the neo-rich. "Gosh, if the we kill all the poors, who will buy the low-quality goods we produce in the quantities that generate profit? From whom will rentiers extract rent? Who will be left to expend their bodies and minds for our decadent aesthetic pleasures and minor philosophical differences, and will it be any fun if they have no idea that they are wasting themselves for our amusements? Golly, it's an interesting gedankenexperiment!"
posted by infinitewindow at 7:14 AM on June 30, 2017 [4 favorites]


Not to pile on, My Dad, and nthing the sentiment that Peak Mustache is rapidly receding in the rearview, but you are either very very naive or being willfully blind if you think Friedman's pablum does not influence the formation of policy at the highest level of governments and other multinational institutions.

I have presented alongside Parag Khanna at an institution you are certainly familar with, whose interventions in the world are distressingly consequential, and heard him utter platitudes about the Hybrid Age that were all but entirely content-free, that were nevertheless very impressive to the organization's senior managers in attendance. I have seen said senior managers nod sagely at these sub-Friedmanian musings, heard spoken aloud the thought that attentional and budgetary resources would need to be reallocated to respond to the putative challenges of this Age. This shit lands, as you presumably know very well.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:27 AM on June 30, 2017 [7 favorites]


I kept looking for concrete examples that would support the author's thesis, but there were only a couple: Brookings, Cato, that teacher training college in New York.

For five years, I ran the website of the college of business for a midsized private university in the midwest; an inordinate amount of my time and effort went into supporting a bunch of centers and institutes (most of which really consisted of one or two people and then some loosely-associated faculty) whose stated function was to provide thought leadership in business. In practice, all they did was fund papers and have little conferences about how enhancing shareholder value was the greatest thing, man.

Since that experience, I've noticed that every goddamned university with a business school seems to have its own little constellation of thought-leadership centers.
posted by the phlegmatic king at 7:35 AM on June 30, 2017 [9 favorites]


Climate change action requires taking on an even bigger industry, one of whose leaders is the current secretary of state, who was appointed by a president who ran (and won) in part by vowing to Make Coal Great Again.

Coal ate a 90% to 99% stock price hit and a bunch of concomittant bankruptcies. If solar goes down 75% more or so, so will oil and natural gas. Then where will the money come from for being scum?
posted by hleehowon at 7:43 AM on June 30, 2017


I've seen this with tobacco, asbestos and leaded fuel. Now I'm seeing it with climate change. Facts won in the end. Paying your own 'experts' didn't change the facts.

The facts didn't win, lawyers won. Those issues were "won" in the courts, through civil litigation.

They're still actively being won, too, they're not dead issues -- that's why you still commercials for people to contact malpractice lawyers if they've been exposed to asbestos or developed mesothelioma.

State governments saw the chance to make a lot of money off of tobacco companies, so they litigated against those companies (and won). OSHA collects on fines when companies break their regulations against asbestos handling/use. Etc. That's greed winning as much as facts, though. Greed in the service of good stuff, like funding medicare/medicaid. But still greed.
posted by rue72 at 7:55 AM on June 30, 2017 [8 favorites]


peter thiel's disembodied head in a jar jetting around on a rocket skateboard in the far future definitely has the best interests of the rest of us in mind.

I dunno, leotrotsky. An awful lot of the neo-rich also seem to express a frighteningly-high regard for hard-core Randian ideals and policies, which can be as horribly destructive to society on a whole as anything the the paleo-rich might espouse.


Oh, don't get me wrong, they're all assholes. And they're obviously all free-marketeers. But I still think there's a difference in mindset and approach that differentiates the two groups. It's the difference between Economist-style free-market liberalism (which has got its own serious and legitimate problems) and Gilded Age style kleptocracy with no environmental or food safety regulations.

And there's certainly a component of Randian techbro fuckwhistles about in the tech sector. I mean look at fucking Uber. But usually they get forced to clean up their act a bit or it ends up biting them in the ass. There's expectations of behavior. Notice Travis Kalanick got kicked to the curb for being such a douche that he actually hurt his business. That shit never happens to Trump or Alex Jones, their folks just don't give a shit.

Oh, and fuck Peter Thiel. Fuuuuuck Peter Thiel. That dude is his own kind of fucked up sociopath. He literally consumes the blood of the young to preserve his youth.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:08 AM on June 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


That's greed winning as much as facts, though. Greed in the service of good stuff, like funding medicare/medicaid. But still greed.

I beg you to attempt to engage in a thought experiment in which state governments may actually, in some small way, at some times, be attempting to protect the residents of their states from harm rather than simply attempting to fill state coffers for the sake of filling state coffers. Otherwise you are giving the game away.

Also, anyone who thinks the states "made a lot of money" off the tobacco settlements...do you really, truly, genuinely not grasp the huge COSTS inflicted on the states over the years by tobacco? If someone runs you over, so that you are unable to work and require regular nursing care, and you sue them and they settle with you for several million dollars...are you under the impression that such a person has "made a lot of money" off that settlement? The tobacco settlements provided some money for the states to engage in some programs (a lot of it that glamorous scheme of anti-cigarette advertising), but that's because it's literally impossible to go back with a payout made today and directly compensate all the people and institutions who suffered financially when Uncle Jim died of emphysema back in 1972.
posted by praemunire at 8:19 AM on June 30, 2017 [5 favorites]


leaded fuel was a technological requirement that needed a lot of research to overcome

There were bans on leaded gasoline in the 1920's, the federal government then decided that those bans were counter to the interests of the nation and prohibited banning leaded fuel.

Charles Norris, the highly respected first New York City Medical Examiner wrote paper after paper showing how dangerous TEL was. There were attempts to ban it in New York and New Jersey. Leaded gasoline was not banned in the US until 1996, 70 years later.

As to whether another anti-knock technology could have been developed besides tetraethyllead, I don't know. But whether or not it was a necessary technology, they could have prevented the immense harm to human health if they had listened to those who pointed out the dangers.
posted by Hactar at 8:24 AM on June 30, 2017 [11 favorites]


Their goal is to extract a disproportionate amount of wealth from the economy over a long period of time.

I am not at all convinced that our current crop of tech CEOs is in any way better than 'traditional' economy CEOs, although they certainly have much better messaging.

To the extent that modern TED-circuit CEOs think about the long term, it is in terms of establishing a moat-enclosed monopoly over an entire sector. They aim to ride the Zipf curve to untouchability (and possibly immortality). The idea that Uber is more focused on any human-aligned concept of the long duree than, say, the old Pacific Lumber, or the modern Siemens or BMW, is hard to swallow.
posted by Svejk at 8:28 AM on June 30, 2017 [5 favorites]


So CSpan just now had an interview segment at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Well too late to get there this year but I clicked thru just to see and woo: $3600 to listen to these Thought Leaders sit on panels, well not super rich but, really who goes to these TED and ted-like events and why? Do academics or upper executives get some serious brownie points? I mean some stuff is entertaining but it's gotta get repetitive at best.
posted by sammyo at 8:29 AM on June 30, 2017


Svejk may have answered my question. "TED-circuit CEOs", guess they're "doing deals" or at least telling the board that's why.
posted by sammyo at 8:31 AM on June 30, 2017


Can't you just look at them for free. TED talks I mean. Someone close to me gave a talk, difficult for her because she has a stutter. I wasn't there but she just said look at it on the 'net.
posted by adept256 at 8:33 AM on June 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


The second generation paleo-rich are the worst, because they actually think they deserve their position, and they haven't even done anything to earn it. Trump is a classic second generation paleo-rich, as are the Waltons and the Kochs.

Classic examples of being born on third base and then insisting you hit a triple...
posted by jim in austin at 8:57 AM on June 30, 2017 [6 favorites]


I usually think of wealth in terms of nouveau-rich and inherited wealth. Inherited wealth often carries higher prestige, but it also isolates people in ways that aren't healthy. And it magnifies personal strengths and flaws.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:02 AM on June 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


Niall Ferguson is not any pure product of think tanks and op-ed pages. He's a professor at Harvard who was educated at Oxford. That's as old-school, in the elite academia department, as you can can get. He just took advantage of his background and position, as well as associated friendships and connections in elite media and other private sector circles (hello, college friend Andrew Sullivan), to win a place in and make money via the lecture, op-ed, and so forth, circuit and the newer environment and money involved with all that.
posted by raysmj at 9:48 AM on June 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


I beg you to attempt to engage in a thought experiment in which state governments may actually, in some small way, at some times, be attempting to protect the residents of their states from harm rather than simply attempting to fill state coffers for the sake of filling state coffers. Otherwise you are giving the game away.

Also, anyone who thinks the states "made a lot of money" off the tobacco settlements...do you really, truly, genuinely not grasp the huge COSTS inflicted on the states over the years by tobacco? If someone runs you over, so that you are unable to work and require regular nursing care, and you sue them and they settle with you for several million dollars...are you under the impression that such a person has "made a lot of money" off that settlement? The tobacco settlements provided some money for the states to engage in some programs (a lot of it that glamorous scheme of anti-cigarette advertising), but that's because it's literally impossible to go back with a payout made today and directly compensate all the people and institutions who suffered financially when Uncle Jim died of emphysema back in 1972.


I'm not debating whether the state governments "deserved" the payout, just pointing out that their litigation against tobacco companies is how we got modern tobacco regulation. There wasn't some lofty debate about the facts. It was a series of court battles, and in civil court, that means a series of battles over money.

The state governments' standing for those cases was really iffy, too, because they weren't direct victims of tobacco. And there were also individuals who were bringing cases against tobacco companies for more obvious, direct, and severe harm, like tobacco gave them cancer or tobacco killed them -- and those people didn't win in court for the most part, partly because it was ultimately their own choice to smoke/chew/whatever and mostly because they just didn't have the resources to keep up a big court battle against fabulously wealthy companies in any case.

The state governments were really the only entities rich enough to be able to fight the tobacco companies over the long haul, so they were ultimately the ones who did. The reason so many states ended up getting on board and were willing to sink huge resources into litigation is because they thought they could win, and get huge payouts (and they were right). It wasn't purely altruistic. The tobacco companies were their constituents, too, so it really doesn't even make sense for it to be purely altruistic.

The point is that facts don't win out. Interests win out. Or at least they did in those examples (tobacco, asbestos). The government' interests can/will ultimately trump an industry's, but in the meantime, an industry's can trump lots of individuals'. But that's why you have to be very careful about who the governments' interests align with.
posted by rue72 at 9:55 AM on June 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


Leaded gasoline was not banned in the US until 1996, 70 years later.

According to Wikipedia, aviation gasoline can contain up to 2.12 grams of lead per gallon and it cites this 2014 source that 100 tons of lead are released into the environment every year.
posted by XMLicious at 10:33 AM on June 30, 2017 [1 favorite]


The idea that Uber is more focused on any human-aligned concept of the long duree than, say, the old Pacific Lumber, or the modern Siemens or BMW, is hard to swallow.

I'd argue that their capitalization suggests that their investors see them as much more than simply a ride-sharing app company.
posted by srboisvert at 10:48 AM on June 30, 2017


The state governments involved in the tobacco suit were not necessarily rich, unless you see Mississippi as rich, which would be rich. Miss. law allows its AG's office to hire outside counsel, however. That made the difference. Florida, which also allows this, closely followed. Not all states allow this, I believe, or their courts have limited the practice, but I'm not totally up on particular state laws here. I did find this Columbia journal article about the practice.
posted by raysmj at 10:53 AM on June 30, 2017


The idea that Uber is more focused on any human-aligned concept of the long duree than, say, the old Pacific Lumber, or the modern Siemens or BMW, is hard to swallow.

I'd argue that their capitalization suggests that their investors see them as much more than simply a ride-sharing app company.
I would argue they are definitely more than that; I have always seen them as the tip of the spear for (some of) the tech industry's movement toward the abolition of worker rights and protections for low-tier workers under the pro-worker-sounding notion of "flexibility". They by no means initiated this movement; my year on RIM's manufacturing floor in '05/'06 showed me that it has always been a thing in companies that sell supposedly-option-expanding tech, but it's gone from being a Business Decision (the sort of thing you'd see the villain in a '80s romcom do) to a philosophy and now expanding as almost a moral framework, or maybe hiding one moral framework behind the rhetoric of another. That this would appeal to the investor class shocks me not at all.
posted by Fish Sauce at 11:54 AM on June 30, 2017 [6 favorites]


I would also argue that the investor class seeing Uber as the 'future' is in part them getting hoisted by their own petard, as Uber has an unfortunate tendency to be vindictive in ways that turn out to be really expensive, in the long run. They are losing a billion dollars a year waiting for a) self-driving cars, or b) cabs to go out of business.

Honestly the one I'd be side-eyeing when it comes to worker rights is Netflix and their much-admired football-team model, where they pay people very well and they have zero job security. The thing about football teams that appears to have escaped almost every business journalist is that your impact on the team's success ends exactly at the point at which you're no longer on it, whereas Netflix continues to benefit, and profit from, the work of the people they fired. It just so happens they don't pay royalties.
posted by Merus at 6:44 AM on July 1, 2017 [1 favorite]


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