Tom Steyer has replaced Howard Schultz as the dumb, vain billionaire in the presidential race (Schultz hasn’t definitely dropped out, but he’s at least on hiatus). Though Steyer hasn’t quite yet displayed the same knack for embarrassing himself that Schultz did, the campaign is young, and more importantly, rich guys are just not all that smart.
Rich guys might know a lot about how to move basically fake money around in a way that massively enriches them at the expense of others, but they don’t necessarily have very nuanced or highly developed thoughts about how the world works. And yet they still think they can be president!
Steyer’s new interview with the Guardian proves this point beautifully. Asked about the uncomfortable position of being a billionaire in a race that is at least partly focused on the evil of inequality, Steyer had a unique answer:
“Should we put a limit on what Beyoncé makes? I don’t see why,” Steyer told the Guardian by phone. “I don’t think in the United States of America, we should put a ceiling on how far people can go.”
Steyer transitioned to a critique of communism and the argument that “at the heart of every great fortune is a crime”: “What Karl Marx failed to take into consideration was software – that if you are Michael Jackson or Rihanna or Beyoncé or anyone producing an idea, with software you aren’t just the best singer in your village … you have an ability to reproduce that song infinitely at very low cost around the world.”
Software. Karl Marx, the fucking moron, did not think about how software could make people rich—which is fine, when that happens! It’s fine to do that! If I’ve always said anything about Karl Marx, it’s that he never thought enough about what machines and automation had to do with labor and value.
I am going to try very hard to trace the argument Steyer is making here. First, the classic argument that it is simply not American to limit income, because if something is American, it must be good, and if it is not American, it must be bad. Whatever. Then, I believe, Steyer is arguing that because no one was hurt by Michael Jackson, Rihanna, or Beyoncé becoming rich—in part because they got rich when Software allowed the free and easy reproduction of their songs worldwide, outside the villages (?) where they grew up—the leftist idea that all wealth is founded on the suffering of others is wrong, and it wouldn’t be right to take their money away.
I’m angry I’m even still thinking about such a stupid sentence, but let’s just suppose that he’s right that Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Michael Jackson (sure you want to pick him, mate?) didn’t underpay, abuse, or exploit anyone to earn their wealth, because they did it with Software. Never mind the abuse of the people who create the hardware that runs that magic software, or broader inequality in the tech world.
OK, so what about everyone else? What about Jeff Bezos? What about people who run pharmaceutical companies, which profit by keeping drugs inaccessible? What about the simple fact that having so much wealth when others don’t is criminal? What about it! Who cares! Maybe if Karl Marx had just learned to code, he wouldn’t be so bitter about not being a successful hedge fund manager like Tom.
In the same interview, Steyer had this defense of his own wealth:
In terms of profiting off of fossil fuels, he said, “We invested in every part of the economy.”
We invested in every part of the economy—using, I’d bet, software—so, sorry, but that dirty money is still mine and I am going to spend it on my vanity presidential campaign and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.
Perhaps the best argument against wealth: Having disproportionately so much money is what allows an idiot like Steyer to waltz into the presidential race, blanket the airwaves, and potentially upend the race. You don’t have to be Karl Marx to recognize that this is not how it should work.