As in Sophocles’s tragedy Oedipus Rex, we are witnessing a generational drama in which inheritors kill their proverbial father to marry their mother, in this case Mother Earth. The psychology behind this pattern is above my pay grade, but many of the richest people on the planet, and their heirs, now seem anxious to disparage the economic system that created their fortunes. With few exceptions, the new rich, and particularly their children and ex-wives, embrace a racial, gender and environmental agenda that, while undermining merit and economic growth, still leaves them on top of the heap.
The ideology of the mega-rich will shape our society for the next generation, in large part through philanthropy. The non-profit sector, the primary vehicle for inherited wealth to be laundered into political influence, has been growing rapidly; in the US, non-profits’ assets have grown nine-fold since 1980. In 2020, non-profits brought in $2.62 trillion in revenues, constituting over 5.6% of the US economy. Increasingly, much this money came from the new tech elite: among the most prolific donors were Jeff Bezos and his ex-wife, Mackenzie Scott; Bill Gates and his now-discarded wife, Melinda French Gates; Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan; and Laureen Powell Jobs, the Left-leaning publisher of the Atlantic and the widow of Apple’s founder.
This rise of non-profits is reminiscent of feudal times, when the rich and powerful donated to the Church to ensure that its message wouldn’t threaten their power. Indeed, our society is becoming more like the Middle Ages all the time, with entrepreneurial success becoming more difficult and property and wealth becoming ever more concentrated. “Inherited wealth”, notes Thomas Piketty, is making a “comeback”. In the US, according to the consulting firm Accenture, the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers will gift their heirs up to $30 trillion by 2030 and $75 trillion by 2060.
Of course, the use of inherited wealth to push Left-wing causes is nothing new. As Heather Mac Donald demonstrated in 1996, big-money foundations in the US have been bankrolling far-Left politics for several generations. But the rise of the tech oligarchy seems likely to accelerate this move to the gentrified Left. Many of these billionaires are still in their 30s and 40s but have accumulated more cash than anyone since the Gilded Age. And unlike their early 20th-century counterparts, today’s robber-barons — with a few notable exceptions, such as Peter Thiel — are decisively aligned with the Left. In 2020, five of the top eight donors to Joe Biden came from people tied to tech firms.
This is partly explained by Trump’s toxicity, which engendered something of an oligarchical jihad to overthrow a man who was both needlessly crass and potentially threatening to their monopolies. Particularly critical in the 2020 election was the weaponising of the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, which poured over $300 million into state and local election administration to stoke turnout. Conservatives claim, with some justification, that these efforts were concentrated in highly Democratic areas of swing states, and therefore may have tilted the outcome. But what is beyond question is that Zuckerberg and the others participated in what Time — owned by yet another oligarch, Marc Benioff, co-founder of Salesforce.com — gleefully described as “a conspiracy unfolding behind the scenes”.
But at least you could make a compelling argument that it was a good idea to get rid of Trump. On other issues, however, such as race, policing, education, and gender, oligarchs and their non-profits continue to agitate for what are often societally disastrous policies.
Read the rest of this piece at UnHerd.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.