PowerApril 22, 2022
“Just as the individual is not alone in the group, nor any one society alone among the others, so man is not alone in the universe.”
— Claude Lévi-Strauss
As a young man, I thought my success was solely a function of my being awesome. My character, my grit, my talent. What a fucking child.
I’ve built companies, had some success in different forms of media, and am a good (not great) professor. The fire that drove my success was not talent or some calling; it was a fear of being broke (again), and desperately needing to feel relevant — to impress my mom, friends, and people I’d never met. When something really wonderful happens these days, it feels as if it didn’t really happen, as I can’t call my mom to cement the achievement. For 18 years, she hasn’t been there. I’m a 57-year-old man who still hasn’t gotten over the loss of his mother. And that’s OK. Truth is, I hope my boys feel some of the same emotions about me when I’m gone. But that’s not what this post is about.
If I’m generous with myself, I do have one skill. I foster a decent amount of loyalty among the people I work with. It’s not a function of character or empathy, only the recognition that nothing wonderful happens when you’re on an island. Simply put, greatness and happiness are in the agency of others.
Married people are happier, healthier, and wealthier than single people. Partners compensate for our weaknesses, encourage us to take risks, and (in a healthy relationship) have the strength to tell us when we’re doing something wrong, unfair, or just plain stupid. Good partners protect you from others; great partners protect you from yourself. It’s true on sports teams, boards of directors, and ensemble movie casts.
Everyone needs counterweights. Indeed, the more weight you carry, the more you need others to balance you. Some of the most valuable advice I get isn’t about what to do, but what not to do. I’ve done so many dumb things in my life. But a number of 15-car-pile-ups have been averted because someone said, “Hey, maybe … don’t.”
Entrepreneurs succeed by navigating an ecosystem of counterweights. Customers want the lowest price and the highest quality. Employees want you to compensate them at, or above, market rates. Investors want to dilute your stake in exchange for their capital, and the big hand of the government is calloused and slow. Finally there’s the most formal, obvious counterweight: your boss, the board of directors.
Building a company requires that you listen to, and balance, all of these counterweights. Each has (traditionally) held influence over the trajectory of your business, providing inputs that lead to course corrections. Early-stage entrepreneurs who ignore their counterweights fail. They lose access to key information and piss people off: Customers stop buying, employees quit, investors sell. Stories of people ignoring everyone around them and coloring outside the lines make for great scripted television, but they ignore the ropes and parachutes that guide the ascent.
Some entrepreneurs achieve enormous success within this system, balancing leadership and consensus. And with great success comes great power — the power to stop listening. Which often results in a fall from grace and loss of power.
The British historian John Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Some of the greatest tragedies in human history have validated this — we’re witnessing one in Ukraine. But corruption that morphs into inhumanity (Putin) obscures how power corrupts people every day in less stark ways. Power doesn’t just create bad actors, it creates ineffective actors. Ignoring advisers means ignoring their signals that you’re headed toward an iceberg. Immorality is not the biggest threat in business. That’s easy to identify and bleach from the ecosystem. As Dov Seidman said, it’s amorality that is the bigger threat. People who are not bad people, but ignore the externalities of their actions as they continue to host benefits and give earnest speeches about the ills plaguing other sectors of society.
Research shows power dulls you to risk. That is, it decreases the cognitive resources dedicated to recalling and anticipating constraints. As a professor at my alma mater who studies this phenomenon has observed, there are parallels in evolution: Predators have forward-facing, binocular vision to better track prey — at the expense of good peripheral vision. While prey species have more sensitive peripheral vision: “They sacriﬁce depth perception and focus for the ability to detect danger approaching from any angle.” Lions are awesome, and yes, you want a lion running your company, not a nervous antelope. But someone needs to alert the lion to less obvious threats.
Power is a drug that downplays costs and magnifies rewards. People with power are psychologically more inclined to act on their instincts than those without it. Which helps to explain the #MeToo problem: Power has a nonconscious influence on sexual arousal; a common thread among sexual aggressors and harrassers is that they aren’t aware their advances are unwelcome. Power does, in fact, intoxicate.
At a corporate level, the combination of risk blindness and a lack of inhibition creates a vicious cycle. People begin to yes-man you to share in your power. As a result, you start receiving false signals, which artificially inflate confidence, leading you to believe even more firmly in the notion that you are all-seeing, all-knowing, divine even. What’s left is a hypersonic missile with a broken GPS.
Successful companies build guardrails into their corporate architecture. Waffle House, for example, requires its executives to work shifts in its restaurants. At Amazon, Jeff Bezos was obsessed with information flow and decision-making, and he expressly took actions he didn’t personally believe in when he did believe in the team — he called it “disagree and commit.” Bezos understood that Amazon’s success was due in part to his genius but not entirely — that he functioned best when he trusted his team. Beyond the counterweights of Amazon, however, power is having its effect. (Note: I’m especially proud of working Waffle House into the above paragraph.)
The greatest prosperity vehicle in history (America) was built on guardrails: Our Founding Fathers created three branches of government to protect each of them from themselves. The executive is strong in action and given the power to spend money and deploy violence. The legislative is strong in planning, able to coordinate the views of hundreds of opinionated members. Both are subject to the whims of political expediency, however, so the life-appointed judiciary forces long-term principles of constitutional order. At least in theory.
Over the past three decades, we as a nation decided to lower these guardrails and glorify the individual. We got bored of the slow, careful process of deliberation. We fetishized vulgar narcissism and confused it with leadership.
You can see it in corporate governance. We’re obsessed with visionary founders, as evidenced by the increasing popularity of the dual-class shareholder structure. WeWork’s failed IPO in 2019 would have given Adam Neumann stock with voting power worth 20 times that of public shareholders. It took several billions of dollars in losses before the board stopped drinking from Adam’s ayahuasca Venti Big Gulp. BTW, it wasn’t his wife or the board, but the Public Investment Fund of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that forced Adam to be less crazy.
You can see it in politics. In 2016, 46% of us decided that our self-regulating system was too slow and/or broken and that the best man to fix it was a failed businessman who’d made a name for himself fake-firing people on TV. Unchecked power made him think he could do anything. “When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy.”
Elon Musk has a lot of power. He’s the richest man in the world, thanks to his 173 million shares in Tesla. He runs two of the most important companies on Earth, and he’s been an enormously positive influence on the electric vehicle market and space travel. He commands the price movements of crypto markets and the attention of 82.6 million Twitter followers. And now he wants to buy Twitter itself — to buy one of the world’s most influential vehicles of mass-communication, or what he calls the “de facto public town square.” It’s also clear there are no longer any guardrails.
I believe Elon will be a poster child for how power corrupts potential. Not the Putin kind of corruption, but the more pedestrian (and still troubling) kind. The kind that reduces effectiveness. Last week at TED, Mr. Musk continued to disparage what’s left of our nation’s umpires, calling the SEC “bastards” for its enforcement action against him after he tweeted he had “funding secured” to take Tesla private. Elon insisted the Commission had bullied him into saying he’d lied and had no funding. The day after Elon’s TED interview, a court filing confirmed that, yes, he had lied, and funding had not been secured. Mr. Musk’s wealth results, in large part, from the protocols of the SEC, not despite them. Likely the biggest one-day hit to his wealth would occur if he were to leave this ecosystem of bastards and re-list TSLA elsewhere. Without subsidies and credits from the entity he has such contempt for (Uncle Sam), would TSLA even exist?
Putting a town square under the ownership of one man has already proven catastrophic. Mark Zuckerberg owns 13% of Meta’s shares and, thanks to the company’s dual-class structure, controls 55% of the votes. As Shoshana Zuboff put it, “Zuckerberg sits at his celestial keyboard, and he can decide day by day, hour by hour, whether people are going to be more angry or less angry, whether publications are going to live or die.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald defined intelligence as the ability to hold two contrary thoughts in your head concurrently. Elon is a) the greatest entrepreneur of his generation, and b) reckless and likely to do more harm than good with Twitter. The second follows naturally from the first, absent strong self-discipline and any guardrails. What we know about power has nothing to do with a person’s track record or moral intentions. Power is a psychological change agent that makes you act erratically. Unchecked, it can lead to disaster (see above: Zuckerberg). With our guardrails in place, someone who committed blatant securities fraud, repeatedly, would be prohibited from serving on the board of any publicly traded firm, much less allowed to acquire one.
Elon’s narrative is that he’ll bring “free speech” to Twitter. What exactly does he want to say/do on the network that he hasn’t said/done already — kill a puppy live on Twitter Spaces? We should be wary of billionaires promising free speech. Musk’s co-founder at PayPal, Peter Thiel, created an entire law firm to put another media company (Gawker) out of business for exercising too much free speech — a lack of moderation — and outing him. In sum, the blood sugar levels of billionaires now decide which content we consume or don’t consume without any financial, fiduciary, or regulatory guardrails. It’s not new — billionaires control other media businesses. However, algorithms and network reach, coupled with the absence of any counterweights, create an exponentially greater blast radius.
Supporters claim that any objection to Musk’s ownership is an attempt to throttle free speech. Evangelists include the governor of my state, Ron DeSantis, who’s threatened Twitter’s board with all the power of his office if they don’t accept Elon’s offer — while simultaneously ending a 55-year-old tax and governance agreement with Florida’s largest employer because it dared criticize his “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. Every single action of both my Senators and Governor is an attempt to capture the gaze of a 60+ year-old Iowan with a straw in his hand. “Hey, look at me … I’m even crazier than that guy.”
The argument about free speech and/or moderation is a distraction from the real issue: Should a small group of individuals — who ignore the guardrails that shaped their success — have so much power that they can acquire and/or extinguish media companies and the influence they command? This is about power, a lack of counterweights, and a history that confirms that when the ratio of power to guardrails becomes this imbalanced … bad things happen. The previous sentence was hurried as two guardrails, aged 11 & 14, demanded I drive them to school. Right. Now. Dad.
Life is so rich,
P.S. Want to learn from a world-class investor? Eric Kim built a $1 billion fund by the age of 40. Enrollment for Business Drivers for Growth closes on Monday.
Not as if unconscious bias interplaying with psychological organizational behavioral economic dynamics meeting unchecked capital power makes him as discriminatory a participant as The Rest Of Wall Street’s macro economics serving 10% or less of the international populace while the other billionaire brats bounce from Londongrad to The Caymans house parties in between jerry rigging algorithmic insider trading calculations with surveillance AI that never had over sight in the first place now stacked on zero day exploits. But I digress.
Eh, the bar graph is misleading. First of all, both of the views shown are minority viewpoints. The plurality in the middle that aren’t over-politicizing the event to either extreme aren’t shown in order to exaggerate the author’s preferred viewpoint. Even aside from that, though, correlation doesn’t equal causation. Lots of people (myself included) haven’t been “daily Twitter users” largely just because it’s been largely an echo chamber of left-wing nonsense for a long time. It’s not especially surprising that a vocal minority – the very ones that are the problem that turned Twitter largely into a cesspool of left-wing nonsense that led many people to avoid the platform – are more likely to view Musk’s acquisition unfavorably.
Personally, I’d agree that Musk’s personality is at least bordering on straight-up narcissism (just like Trump’s or Obama’s.) However, I think it’s pretty hard to argue that he hasn’t been extremely effective at leading groundbreaking businesses over the last couple of decades (unlike either Trump or Obama.) It’s true enough that that success did include playing the political system for subsidies, but it’s also hard to argue that any other single person in the last 50 years has done as much to advance either economically sustainable spaceflight or the move away from hydrocarbon fuels for road vehicles. I’m not sure that any single person has advanced spaceflight as much since Wernher von Braun. And, at this point, I think it’s safe to add satellite-based Internet service to the list of things he has been more key to advancing than anyone else so far, though the ultimate success of that venture still remains to be seen.
As for the trend of tech IPOs with dual-class shareholder structures, there’s a reason for that: Wall Street often doesn’t understand technology and, as such, tend not to be well-suited at making key decisions for it. For that matter, regulators and lawmakers often don’t, either. Especially in the past few decades, technology has been advancing much faster than either Wall St. or government bureaucracy can keep pace with and it increasingly requires very technical people to even grasp the most fundamental concepts involved in a tech company’s core business. While people with business leadership skills are also obviously necessary for any successful business, people with *only* those skills are not as effective at leading a modern tech company as they were of the blue-chip companies of 30-40 years ago simply because they often don’t have a deep understanding of their own company’s core business, nor do most of them even possess the skills to gain such an understanding.
As far as free speech is concerned, while I completely agree with being wary of a narcissistic billionaire’s claims of wanting to promote free speech, I think it’s also quite difficult to argue that Twitter hasn’t had an obvious double-standard on that front, that their censorship wasn’t becoming a real threat to open public discourse, or that some of the specific things Musk is proposing won’t help alleviate those problems. In particular, having publicly available algorithms for determining post visibility and the trending list would go a long way, especially if combined with fair and even application of moderation rules.
Personally, I’d probably describe my view of the acquisition as “cautiously optimistic.” I don’t think it’s going to be what the far-right is hoping it will be (and I’m glad of that,) but I don’t think it’s going to be the end of the world that the far-left thinks it’s going to be, either. It might be the end of the echo chamber that some of them have grown accustomed to, though.
Interesting article…..I think it misses the point on a couple of fronts. First, in capitalism, the power of the corporation comes entirely from its ability to persuade customers. Second, ignoring the conventional wisdom in the form of the “guardrails” is exactly how we get explosive ideas/growth. Taking Elon’s example for both Spacex and Tesla, the conventional wisdom was to fold the tent. Corporations are not governments… they have different purposes and powers of enforcement.
So …. when are we going to look at an article, with detailed analysis on how “CNN plus” fuccccc******ed up ??
The Kelly Corrigan interview introduced me. I’m hooked. I shall be attending in the future. Thought provoking ideas. Good on ya!
I agree totally whit your analyst
Far Left Liberalism is a brain disease
Terrific post. I couldn’t agree with you more. Having a set of billionaires determine what constitutes free speech is a terrifying prospect. I’ve been meaning to write you and Kara for some time now about Tesla. Elon deserves a great deal of credit for Tesla’s success, but he was NOT the founder. Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning founded Tesla; Elon was the first investor. Let’s not continue to allow Elon to rewrite Tesla’s history.
“The argument about free speech and/or moderation is a distraction from the real issue: Should a small group of individuals — who ignore the guardrails that shaped their success — have so much power that they can acquire and/or extinguish media companies and the influence they command?”
What would you call the behavior of the tiny cabal who constituted the board of directors of TWTR these past 9 years? Of ANY publicly traded media company, whose input from the public is at best several layers deep of elected officials picking fund managers picking board members? MySpace, LiveJournal, AOL IM… Social media empires barely last a decade. Compare that with the large capital newspapers and FCC monopolies that have been with us for half a century or longer. And at any rate, are you deeply depressed about what WaPo has become under Bezos’ thumb? Jeez, prof., why the somber moralizing? It’s your blog of course, but where’s the impartial business analysis in all this that I’ve come to enjoy? Musk must have really gotten under your skin.
I’m just here to balance out some of the negativity. Wonderful, thoughtful, insightful article. Well done.
If you believe free speech is the most fundamental right we have, why, when over 50% of the US population voted for Trump was he banned from communicating with his voters? Ahhh… you say, it’s about hate speech! Then why not dump The Ayatollah and his death to America repeated on Twitter and others of the same ilk?
Is it a good sign when someone you don’t like is allowed to say something you don’t like? Yes, that’s free speech.
If you do not have a platform where ideas can spread without an oligarch, the SEC, DOJ or a president threatening to investigate you “if you buy Twitter”… which they did as soon as they learned of Musk’s offer, well then you really don’t have free speech on twitter, do you? It’s only about losing control of Twitter. And who does that? D-I-C-T-A-T-O-R-S!
Musk made a $43 billion “all-cash” offer to buy Twitter. Why is he doing this?
He said, “look, this is not a financial incentive. This is something different.” Well, that’s just not completely believable to me either. Clearly it’s more. GM spends $4.5 billion a year on advertising or $1250. a car. Tesla spends $3.00 a car. I think he wants to keep it that way in an ever increasingly competitive EV market. I think Twitter keeps him and Tesla on everyones lips, daily, for free. If you haven’t noticed … he is an incredible promoter.
This is about expanding Twitter’s base to everyone on the planet and a “Free Speech” platform would be helpful, no? Likely in less than 8 years Twitter will have paid for itself just in advertising savings from Tesla alone. That’s worth 100’s of billion’s more to Musk in helping him hit his target bonuses, profits and increases in his personal stock value at Tesla. So yes the profits from Twitter that will increase Tesla valuation are very large. The increased valuation of Twitter and profits from same are nothing to ignore either.
Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post, Mark Zuckerberg controls 55% of the voting shares of Meta with just 13% of the stock, Bill Gates and George Soros can dictate our global health policy, but Elon Musk can’t buy Twitter? Likely because Twitter has become a place where important Democrat ideas flourish and generate stories for their FNM. If Twitter suddenly had an open platform, it might not liberate the conversations in other forms of news media? The FNM is at risk if Musk buys Twitter of losing its ever diminishing effect on viewers (we are told more Dems now watch FOX than CNN).
In order for the Great Reset to happen, with individuals included in those decisions who were not elected by “We the People”, like Gates and Soros they realize they will need continued censorship. Gates and Soros spend hundreds of billions currently on influencing the news media.
Once again… I’ll gladly take Musk, given the lack of credible alternatives.
Never has one man been as wrong as frequently on any subject than you have been on anything related to Elon Musk
Scott, you’re not alone in callous concern.
A piece from The Conversation from a Johns Hopkins PhD candidate asserts that the high Asian-American suicide rate is due to racism. I already was aware that Japan has a high suicide rate, and anti-Asian racism can’t be a big factor in that. A quick google shows that white people have the second-highest suicide rate, and other races have much lower suicide rates. I’m not sure how a piece that becomes highly questionable after a quick google got into The Conversation, which claims “academic rigor,” but that piece of shallow thinking could endanger lives. It discourages looking further into the more likely causes of the suicides. It encourages giving a lecture on racism to an Asian-American person who seeks help for despondency, in lieu of the social worker considering the person’s actual situation.
Years ago, an acquaintance of mine went to a Women’s Center after she’d been raped. She got lectures about societal sexism, and redirected them at any man in her vicinity, except the one who encouraged her to redirect them at other guys while having a couple of one-night stands with her himself. She killed herself soon after. If the Women’s Center had listened to her, instead of dispensing a stock ideological answer, she might still be alive.
The Johns Hopkins PhD candidate who wrote The Conversation’s piece told anyone who has concern for Asian-American lives to speak up, so I am.
And you might notice that bad experiences have a lot to do with a lot of men being alone, instead of smugly deciding they just need to “man up,” Scott.
Interesting article as ever Scott, but your opening quote……an Englishman said it better and earlier too, 1624 & I quote:
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”
In todays language ‘we’re all connected’.
Wrong again Scott….. I will hand it to though, you were able to weave Trump into another of your diatribes. Read the Bill. Don’t do to us what you scold others of doing…..listening to your own echo. Maybe just maybe you have different world view than does “your Governor “ and maybe many people agree with his world view more than yours? Are they less valid than you because they live in Iowa?
Listen to yourself and entertain the idea that perhaps you are the closed minded elitist that you warn us of….what would you write about that? Love to see you work Trump into that piece!
But more people don’t agree with DeSantis…. Where are you getting your data?
One of the best essays I have read in a long time – great work Scott! When I reflect back on my life – work, family, health etc – it is so clear that we ‘need’ others and we ‘need’ feedback. The result of not getting or hearing feedback has never been as shocking (in our time) as in the Ukraine, where the Russian leader is now where he is. It’s a catastrophe! Maybe we should blame his kids (!)
When I got to the point about counterweights and taking good counsel of what NOT to do, I was sure this post was about CNN+.
Your honesty is refreshing and inspiring. Please keep on truckin’
How is Peter theil association relevant for what musk proposes? Just because there are friends? You should bring WaPo then as an e ample too. It’s obvious that today the free speech doesn’t exits at twitter who locks and bans the accounts and not sure how musk can make the current statuary on worse. Tlsa was subsidized, true. But it’s in a very long list of subsidized industries/companies in the USA so let’s make the game fair for all and cancell all the subsidies.
Ending subsidies and public investment is the death of innovation and the start of impossibly high food and materials costs. Plus it would lead to a huge unemployment. I think the article’s point that success is not the result of a single person or entity’s efforts is one worth listening to.
Years ago I came across your YouTube video where you discuss your idea, The Algebra of Happiness. I read everything with a critical eye. Enjoyed reading your thoughts on the above! Thanks
“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.”
― Carl Sagan, Cosmos
I love your research and perspectives. They are easy to debate and the discussion stimulated by the ideas you put forth is really refreshing. I don’t always agree but if we only listen to those with whom we agree what good is that input. Just more confirmation bias. Give me a smart person with whom I may disagree and therein is the juice.
When you think about how many “lonely young men” have been advised to get a girl drunk or otherwise shoot for a one-night stand, either in person or in less-than-helpful internet comments or essays, that opens up another area where I wonder just what you were thinking, or if you were thinking, when you wrote the rant that wound up on CNN’s site.
I still remember Jezebel ran a rant that offered up lies I could tell that would guarantee I’d get laid, and that idiocy had a woman’s byline on it. I couldn’t even picture a woman stupid enough to fall for the approach she suggested, but the author proudly proclaimed she had and would again.
Thanks to the EU we now have Europe’s moral authority controlling what people read and listen to. If Hillary gets her way, the USA will adopt the same policy. I don’t think any intelligent person would think this shift is power is healthy.
Scott, I find it fascinating how you’ve found and recommend humility but you have not realized your political bias is so infused into the majority of your thoughts that you sound obsessed. You clearly hate Trump and Musk but can you not point out the benefits of them being disrupters to norms? Both have been proven to be correct more than not. And your silence on the corruption of Twitter and the current administration is deafening.
You sound like the arbiter of business leadership yet your guardrails seem to have you locked in the Left lane.
“Carlos Danger” – Cute. Charlie Sheen reference. Very healthy. Very reasonable.
Disrupters to the norm ? Exactly what does that mean ? Both are elderly white men who have exploited legislation (in one case green tax credits, and NASA procurement, and in the other bankruptcy laws and tax laws) to be come rich and powerful.
2 elderly white men working the system. That is about as norm-core as it gets there edgy Carlos.
I don’t think Musk is elderly yet, but I see you and love you Gen Z who think I’m old at 33.
Not a word about CNN+, huh?
Jeee Scott! This piece was hard to detect in all the variables involved that your optimal head and attention within the trenches may show and seems as easy, but wondering how much time and how many people can decipher all the complex angles you proposed!
Great Training!! but .. man! you forgot the good Guardrail of: SIMPLICITY! ahahahah
The only think that I didn’t like it is the easy Cliché Attack on Trump (I am an independent who voted Trump for fast changes and then you can ask for Guardrails!!) mostly on the fact that all of you consider him stupid because the communication skills are improper! who cares!
IN politics we need a list of to do things!! and who does it he is the king! the other one they fake, they go to DC and cash the check!
15ML illegals unbalancing and killing the constitution and you think how is “Trump’s flying yellow air”!! like everybody else !
it is many election that one wins for 10k votes and nobody wants recounts !! or anybody wants all to vote again ! how can an election of 80ML people voting finishes all the time with such a little difference !
IT IS MENTALLY CONTORTED to believe that one wins a lottery two times in his life! …
it is random ! I am sorry ! … but you do not have GUARDRAILS of NORMALITY ! but the public to feed! .. it means that yourself do not GIVE a SHIT about the GUARDRAILS!!
the REAL guardrails to build are MORAL GR into the families into the education into the deep essence of religions (not the power forced one but the moral essence!) the rest is BS !
Again – I am going to point out that you voted for a famous elderly “ostensibly rich” white male to represent ‘fast changes’ ? Fast changes from what exactly ?
I always look forward to your post 4-20 writings! Interesting that you want to cancel Joe Rogan and his fellow pot-smoker Elon Musk. I trust their free speech more than I do CNN+’s free speech. Disney is also finding that its a small world after all. Free speech means free for all.
Thanks Scott, I get a lot of newsletters but yours is the only one I always read, save, and forward to others. There’s always a good pithy takeaway in there – either about life, business, or both.
“Good partners protect you from others; great partners protect you from yourself.”
Very insightful….we most definitely need more humility in the world.
I probably have less power than anyone on this board, so I must be the best person. I know I won’t get to run Twitter, but it is a shame that I can’t.
If Elon Musk is the wrong person to run Twitter because he’s got so much power, why aren’t you the wrong person to run anything because you’ve got so much more power than me, Scott?
Twitter has always been run by someone with power. Any argument involving Elon Musk applies to anyone else who could run Twitter, since it would take money and power to gain control of it. Doesn’t that mean Twitter itself is always inherently evil?
“The executive is strong in action and given the power to spend money and deploy violence.”
Violence, yes. Spend, no. The legislative branch holds “power of the purse” and sole legal authority to tax and spend.
I really appreciate the argument that you make here, your criticism of billionaire tech gurus and Musk in particular is thought provoking.
But I don’t think that your extension of that criticism to his offer to take over (and fix) Twitter is valid.
Twitter has carved a position for its self at the heart of governance of the western world and at the same time it is very, very broken.
Twitter must be replaced or be fixed for the good of the whole democratic world – Musk has the track record to do that and the ability to disregard personal gain while it happens.
I for one wholeheartedly support his attempt to either make Twitter free and fair or to destroy it.
Thanks as always…love how some of the trolling comments serve to confirm that life does indeed imitate art/twitter.
Scott, you’ve become a caricature of yourself. Congrats on the CNN Plus gig.
Though they may be the exception, there is such a thing as “benevolent dictators”. Figures like Ataturk, Tito and, say, Steve Jobs, ushered in sweeping positive reforms and innovations that may not have been possible if it were left to the masses or committee.
You could say the same for Musk.
With respect to Twitter, people frequently point at Zuck, but somehow disregard that Twitter is also a dumpster fire of fake news and misinformation that has further polarized our society.
Perhaps, Musk can fix that. It’s hard to believe it can be made worse.
I need ur help please
Great read! Just finished watching Wecrashed. Musk is another messiah figure in the business world. Like Adam Neumann, it is mostly smoke and mirrors. Rereading the first part of your blog this morning, this is also true of Tesla, and Space X. Musk did not build those alone companies/products alone. The way he has crafted his image, we often forget that. I predict this will end badly, but not for the billionaire. The steroid induced version of capitalism in the U.S. never lets a billionaire get a fair comeuppance. No, unfortunately, it is going to end badly for so many that really can’t afford to take investment advice from a performative twitter feed.
Watching the end of WeCrashed tonight. I hope the last episode is better than the previous. A writer at the Atlantic wrote about working there – the place was even crazier than depicted, Rebeka was less unhinged, the cofounder was fairly normal, which made it all even more depressing because he chose denial. However, one advantage of working there was that the offices were so ubiquitous that if you had a work ID, you could find a decent bathroom at an office almost anywhere in the world.
Another great article by Scott. Why couldn’t he have just played himself in WeCrashed?
This would’ve been a more meaningful article if you’d written it five years ago about billionaires (whose opinions you like) delving into and dominating media, as they’ve been doing since long before last week.
“Guardrails”….. Scott I love how you use this term to bury how “moderators” at Twitter and others have in the past decided what information users are allowed to see. Many times information that has been critical for citizens to make informed decisions. To understand your argument correctly, “Guardrails” are only possible by Neo Liberals and not by Conservative Libertarians? Parag Agrawal has better ability to “Moderate” speech that does Elon Musk? That is basically your argument in a nutshell. You should have spent some time explaining that specifically. You based your argument on Musk being a billionaire and as such his “absolute power” derived from his wealth makes him the wrong person to control Twitter. Not buying it…
Good point. Free Speech includes people saying nice things, but also people promoting division, hate, falsehoods, misinformation, bullying etc. Not all exclusively contained to either side of the political spectrum. Will Elon’s version of ‘Free Speech’ be absolute and include the above or adhere to the laws of the land, social norms and whatever changes occur in our ever evolving society? Regardless, there will be an editorial policy, moderators, filters, algorithms etc that will control what we see, and what we see may not be determined by what one individual wants us to see, but many other factors, and primarily money. How will Twitter continue on as a commercial enterprise that generates revenue? I’m sure whoever holds the reigns of the platform will have this factor as the number one, number two and number three priority in their strategic plans.
Here’s how this works:
Twitter – a private enterprise – gets to moderate however it likes. If it wants to shitcan anti-vax nonsense, it can shitcan anti-vax nonsense. BUT – if that means the service becomes less popular or effective, then it will disappear as a business. Guess what would happen under “Truth Social” style moderation at Twitter ? That’s right — it would turn into Truth Social.
Sadly because of s230 Twitter gets to skate on vicarious liability – like say if someone reads about urine drinking in the New York Times and gets horrifically ill from drinking their own urine, then the Times can be sued, but not Twitter. Safe. Harbour. — for who ?
Now if some ‘free speechinista’ comes along and decides that they want to own Twitter and make its moderation rules different, thats fine — the site will likely fail in the market.
If we have learned anything from Instagram and TikTok, its that the network effect isn’t a moat. It would work just as quickly to turn Elon into “MySpace Tom” as it as failed to work to turn DJT Jr into something even close to MySpace Tom.
Elon’s free speechinista position is just about attention and currying favour with republican legislators.
I think the point is that Parag Awale is not the sole moderator of Twitter, he has to listen to his board or gets canned. In Musk’s case, he would be the king above the board, similar to Zuckerberg at FB. Scott is arguing these decisions are.much better when made within the system, that includes boards, govt, etc
Sociopaths, rarely, can identify their sociopathic tendencies, false humility being one. I respect your intellect Scott, and often agree with you even though I consider myself center right!
And not as Bright!!!
Let’s see how Twitter pans out, Elon is due for some failure, we survived before Twitter, bet we will if it (Twitter) is driven into the dirt.
Missing Mom keeps you human!
As always, a pleasure to read, professor. You do a great job of finding and hitting the bulls-eye when it comes to issues like this. Free speech managed by egomaniacal billionaires? The irony is rich, and the arrogance and hubris are enormous. The skillset required to disrupt an industry is not the same as the one needed to protect and promote free speech. In the future, we need to teach our children how to recognize and confront an out-of-control id – the best defense is a good offense. Btw and speaking of WeCrashed, why didn’t you get to play the part of you?
This is so good. Thank you.
Podcast on fetishizing greed and narcissism, thanks!
But a number of 15-car-pile-ups have been averted because someone said, “Hey, maybe … don’t.”
You haven’t apologized for the callous, flip “advice” you gave “lonely young men.” At least you’re confessing how important my “Hey… maybe don’t” was.
I haven’t been on the “dark web.” I’m not even sure it exists.
I have read social anxiety boards. I was saddened by how many men grow despondent, even at early ages. I was also saddened by the fact that the anxiety boards I read were trolled by people who wanted to hurt those men, and anyone else who would post there and discuss their troubles.
Society does want to treat a lot of men only as a problem. It isn’t acceptable to treat anyone else that way, so they shouldn’t be the last frontier for condescending know-nothing-know-it-alls, the Scott Galloways of the world.
When you dismiss “lonely young men,” it kind of suggests that your moral stances boil down to power. You’ll hurt the ones who have the least of it, and you’ve shown who that is.
I guess you’ve been babbling about masculinity on CNN-. That alone makes me glad it’s gone, and I’d be overjoyed to see anyone associated with CNN- doing unskilled labor at a construction site as his next gig.
It is ironic that you’re telling lots of guys they should go out and do manual labor till their backs give out, and dismissing their value if they aren’t strong backs befitting a masculine stereotype. Aren’t stereotypes what the Democratic Party wants to combat, Scott?
If you’re really wanting a guardrail to keep you from saying something stupid, I’ve been helpful, if a little too late.
You’re welcome, Scott.
Very insightful for a much more complicated situation. I feel that the change has been that technology has made societies want instant solutions to their problems. We are well one our way towards a corporate style of national governments which will be multi-tiered, have the worst illusion of being a republic but really be a dictatorship.
Did Floridians elect desantis or Disney as their governor? Why are you so keen on having a corporation lobby for kids to be taught gender studies in elementary school? Big John stud sums it up well. Oh and congrats on CNN+ 😉
Floridians must have voted for an extra 100K dead from COVID and if you think Don’t Say Gay isn’t also “teaching gender studies in elementary school” then I’d suggest you might need to revisit elementary school yourself.
Power corrupts. Evil comes as a being of light .Elon is autistic, But can be understood.Be good to each other.
Liberal dogma (which I somewhat support): 1) corporations should pay more taxes 2) we should have checks in place for corporations before we let them build or grow their business to make sure they do it in a way that benefits the public. So why is everyone upset with Florida for reeling in Disney? Disney will now pay more taxes and cannot simply build/grow as they please but will have to get things approved as any General Contractor/Small business would in Florida. Regardless of why Florida did this, this is exactly what liberals want! They should be cheering this anti-big business / increase corporate taxes move! Regarding Elon, strange how nobody on the left cares that Bezos controls Wapo…not much he disagrees with being written at Wapo, more like ‘Disagree (with the left narrative at Wapo) and commit (yourself to a period of unemployment)’…. but god forbid Elon would let people tweet about the ineffectiveness of masks or vaccines, whether they are right or wrong….Does anybody remember the 90’s, when it was the Republicans in Florida trying to limit free speech and arresting 2 Live Crew? The Republicans argued against Sir Mix Alot’s right to free speech because the impact on our youth was too important to allow it. Now it’s the Democrats argued against free speech online….this is why traditional democrats like me are going to vote Republican in droves this year. The party ideologies have flipped!
You a make many valid points, but one small correction: it wasn’t Sir Mix they went after, it was Uncle Luke!
I support your correction.
Simply wonderful and so well stated. I miss my dad too after 8 yrs. still and just this morning was musing about a few of your points. You are a powerful writer. Thanks.
Why are you so jealous of Elon? He has built multiple game changing companies and is trying to restore free speech. Meanwhile your beloved CNN+ is shitting down after burning $300M.
Such an articulate,smart, funny,complex human.thx for your insights. I am an avid fan.
Sharp and insightful analysis of the corruptive nature of power when concentrated in the hands of individuals. It takes an extraordinary level of humility to be successful as some of the people mentioned in this article and not attribute it entirely to our ingenuity and brilliance. There are very few McKenzie Scott in the world today.