Billionaires: You're Not as Genius as We Think You Are

Fall of FTX's Sam Bankman-Fried anchors 'WaPo' op-ed on rich-person idolization
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 14, 2022 9:00 AM CST
Billionaires: You're Not as Genius as We Think You Are
Signage for the FTX Arena is illuminated on Saturday in Miami.   (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)

Up until recent weeks, Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, was a media darling, appearing on the cover of Fortune magazine and interviewed for his thoughts on everything from the crypto landscape in general to "how to save humanity from extinction." Now, with the collapse of FTX and Bankman-Fried's accompanying downfall, there's a lesson to be learned, according to Helaine Olen: "Time and time again, Americans fall prey to the myth of the billionaire genius." So she writes in an op-ed in the Washington Post, in which she rails against the concept of a billionaire savior, "the man (because it is almost always a man) who is better than us mere mortals, able to solve any business or political or philanthropic problem that comes his way—till, suddenly, he is not."

Olen doesn't just use Bankman-Fried as Exhibit A: She takes a look at other billionaire boy wonders, including Elon Musk—whose purchase of Twitter now seems akin to "[setting] $44 billion on fire"—and Mark Zuckerberg, whose Facebook platform has evolved into one for "fake news, hate speech, and extremist organizing, fomenting political and sometimes literal conflict worldwide." Olen notes that "it remains as American as apple pie" to idolize such super-rich entrepreneurs, and she adds that some billionaires are, indeed, "brilliant." More often than not, however, these "titans of wealth" surround themselves with yes-men and refuse to listen to criticism, resulting in "ever larger mistakes and more ethically dubious behavior." In short, "they are way less special than they are frequently told." Read her piece in full here. (Read more FTX stories.)

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