Technology billionaires need to stay in the technology game. We need their help now more than ever. They need to stop trolling and strolling around and get back to work. Gates is on the right path. Others should follow. Technology-enabled solutions can change the world. Help wanted.
Musk is buying Twitter. Probably. Maybe. Sort of. If you listen to him, it’s on hold on Sunday – but not on Tuesday – until Friday. By the time you read this, he may have changed his mind and launched billions toward another target. Then there’s the plan: algorithm transparency, free speech, bot controls, Trump freedom, the protected public square, the 1st amendment, privatization, feature improvement, % of fake users – you name it – all from a TEO (Twitter Executive Officer). Is all this “good” for Twitter, the technology industry, social media – anyone?
Meanwhile back at the Amazon Ranch, Bezos is speculating on how China might acquire new influence over Twitter if the sale goes through, and now he’s complaining about inflation, Biden and how one should not conflate tax policy with inflation. What’s he doing?
“In 2007, Jeff Bezos, then a multibillionaire and now the world’s richest man, did not pay a penny in federal income taxes. He achieved the feat again in 2011. In 2018, Tesla founder Elon Musk, the second-richest person in the world, also paid no federal income taxes.”
“According to an ongoing report called Billionaire Bonanza 2020, in the first 17 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos increased his already massive fortune by $75 billion. In that same time period, fellow aspiring astronaut and Tesla CEO Elon Musk reportedly added $150 billion to his own wealth, while Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg gained $74.2 billion.”
BTW, Amazon would sure like to ignore headlines like this:
“Amazon Avoids More Than $5 Billion in Corporate Income Taxes, Reports 6 Percent Tax Rate on $35 Billion of US Income”
(Do you pay 6%?)
Stick to Business
Why so much about taxes? Because billionaires – simply because they’re billionaires – should stop trolling lawmakers about what they should or should not be doing. Can we just admit that if Musk and Bezos did not have a combined wealth of somewhere in the $350 billion range (which would rank them around #43 in the world’s GDP sweepstakes, and around #30 among US states) no one would listen to them?
What I want to hear from Bezos and Musk is all about new technology strategies, new business models, new business processes, new technologies and new companies. Shareholders sure do – especially when all this “other” activity distracts them from their true professional callings. These guys have no qualifications – except their wealth – to opine about the social-economic-political fabric of a country that has made them rich beyond the dreams of the populations of whole countries.
Then there’s Bill Gates, who’s worked to reinvent himself as a social-political commentator focused on pandemics, climate change and global health. He mostly avoids the technology scene and social-political commentary except as it applies to his new swim lanes. He seldom talks about taxes, even though he pays very little taxes on his $127 billion dollar fortune, except in 2019 when warned everyone about high tax rates for the wealthy. He did comment on Musk’s acquisition of Twitter in typical Gates’ fashion. But Gates has repurposed: The Gates Foundation is very real, necessary and often incredibly effective. Science and technology are its cornerstones.
We Need Their Help
This entire post should be unnecessary. It’s here because when billionaires talk, lots of people lean in. When they talk about things about which they know little or nothing, lots lean in. When they embarrass themselves – especially when they embarrass themselves – even more lean in. If you or I began to opine stupidly about electric vehicles or space exploration, well, hardly anyone would lean in, which is the way it’s supposed to be.
So what should we expect from technology billionaires? Technology! There are all kinds of problems to which technology can be applied. Space travel? Yes! EVs? Yes? eBusiness? Absolutely. But there are tons of problems that need technology help. Can we get the technology billionaires to stay in their lanes and stop talking (and buying) just because they have incalculable wealth? We need them more now than ever as we deal with disinformation, healthcare, supply chain inefficiencies, pharmaceuticals, homelessness, criminal justice, education inequality and drug addiction, among countless others, to which all kinds of technology can be applied. Let’s ask the technology billionaires to stay in the technology game and stop buying newspapers and social media platforms – which could actually make problems worse! You’re brilliant: recess is over; get back to work.