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Elon Musk, the tech overlord and master shenanigans artist, has a “super bad feeling” about the economy. Musk, who can “make or break” the markets with a single tweet, is not done “playing around” with Twitter, after “forcing” Jack Dorsey to “give in”. More so, even when he “orders” Tesla’s staff back to the office, at a time when his SpaceX is planning a “Moon Odyssey”, it is a sign that perhaps, he and his fellow Uber Rich Billionaires want to “escape” to the Moon, leaving the “rest of us poor folk” behind. Or maybe, the 0.1 per cent, whose rarified “visions” often do not meet “ground realities” are just done with all of us. Of course, the customary “noises” were made this year at Davos 2022, the annual talkfest of the rich and famous, where the “movers and shakers” of the world were in a sombre mood, what with Vladimir Putin spoiling their party (how dare he!!) with his invasion of Ukraine, and the pandemic having had made matters worse for pretty much everyone, except the 0.1 per cent (note how the usage has now whittled down the 1% to its tenth), whose fortunes rose, while the rest of the world suffered.
Am I having sour grapes as I can only look askance at the likes of Elon Musk, having the power and the reach, rivalled only by the medieval rulers?? Or, am I envious of their wealth and fame?? Hard to say as the very definition of success has changed so much in the last two and half years, what with even those considered successful at the mercy of the state and prone to the infection without favour as to their status. Indeed, as the brutal Second Wave of Covid revealed, even the most well-heeled found themselves scrounging for beds and medicines. So, the very notion of winners and losers has been turned on its head, where living a loser’s life was the apt description for the vast majority of humans on the planet, where a “winner take all” world has winnowed the rich and the rest to the point where the former make up less than a per cent of the total populace on Earth. More so, when the latest data reveal that one needs to earn just Rs. 25,000 monthly to be among the Top 10 per cent of the income pyramid, which makes me wonder as to how much the rest 90% earn, that too a time when inflation is “eating” their lunches.
But, what explains the recent spate of the Indian Uber rich, rushing to draw up succession plans, like Mukesh Ambani, did so, at the height of the pandemic? It is human to want to leave behind a legacy and an inheritance for the next generation. So, maybe, one should not be too harsh on them. On the other hand, it is good for the overall economy if the rich draw up wills and divvy up their estates, as otherwise, we would be treated to unseemly battles over their wealth, which while makes for good reality television, can be bad for the business climate, as internecine sparring between siblings can prove to be a dampener for their firms and the broader economy. So, maybe there is a “silver lining” when the rich manage their finances, with some lessons for the rest of us on how to preserve and perpetuate wealth.
Having said that, by now anyone with some sense would have realized that “supply-side” economics does not work. A favourite of politicians since the late 1970s, this doctrine holds that tax cuts for the rich and production incentives on the supply side, lead to wealth “trickling down”, thereby generating prosperity all around. This was at the core of the Thatcher-Reagan revolution that led to a skewering of the wealth to the very top, leaving the welfare state in shambles. However, what transpired, in reality, was that the rich became richer and the poor poorer, with the common person feeling screwed. Moreover, the Davos crowd has left us all entertained this year, much like every year, with the obligatory references to inequality, though there is enough evidence that it is essentially a place to “meet and greet” and “wheel and deal” among our elites. Perhaps, there should be an alternative agenda for them so that we peasants, at least, get some traction.
Neoliberalism has failed us completely to the point where only the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor keeps it going. How else can one explain Joe Biden’s “transformative” start that was stymied by his fellow Democrats, notably Joe Manchin, as he and his business buddies, baulked at what they saw as a return to Big Government, and more so, a to a period where the “little guy” had his day under the Sun. Indeed, maybe even our “dreams” are prohibited as Noam Chomsky called the present a Requiem for the American Dream. What about the left or the resistance, one might ask?? Whatever is left of the left can be rejuvenated only by something as “drastic” as the expected repeal of Roe vs. Wade, the historic ruling that enshrined Abortion rights in the United States. Maybe, this is the moment that energizes the Democrats, who despite being in power for at least two of the preceding four decades, since the case was pronounced, have failed to legislate to codify it into law.
I remember a time in the late 1990s and the early 2000s when the tech revolution was thought to usher in the promised Utopia. We were all in awe of Bill Gates, whose book, Business@Speed of Thought promised a complete transformation of our world. Two decades down the line, it is clear that the only good that has come of this was for business, and not for thought, as there is increasing evidence that our tech addiction is rewiring our brains and leaving us overwhelmed. Indeed, technological acceleration due to Moore’s Law has made us all runners on a Sisyphean treadmill to nowhere. Even the news about Gates’ divorce did not make much impact on us, as we are used to seeing the mighty fall and rise and rise and fall again, all in a Truman show kind of reality, where each episode plays itself out. Of course, we are all beneficiaries of their munificence as can be seen from the overall rise in incomes of the educated and skilled, who now dreams of becoming the next Unicorn.
However, what about those not lucky?? Already the pandemic has led to a “lost generation of learners” who due to the “digital divide” has been bereft of classes. Or, how the pandemic is fueling a sense of desperation and rage that is leading to an “epidemic” of violence? Or, how The Great Resignation has become emblematic of the “virality” of our times, where we flit from the present shock-induced momentary instant gratification and are in turn, discouraged and demoralized by the status quo, that we are powerless to change. Maybe, even Elon Musk realizes that the system is beyond repair and so, SpaceX’s moon odyssey can be the “boon” that the Ultra Rich want, through which they can “quit” the planet, and colonize space. So much for the rest 99.9%.
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