Or, We Won. But Now What?

For us billionaires, it was always about playing and winning. Winning is the main game. And money — that goes without saying. While winning is our passion, money is our addiction. Our adrenalin hit. We are good at winning, which is very fortunate for you. Although most of us inherited our wealth, you profited from how we used that capital to stimulate growth. Naturally, our drive and acumen worked in your favour too. Let’s face it — you had an easy ride on the back of our generosity.

We discovered way back in the dark ages how we could win and keep on winning. The idea was astonishing in its simplicity. Those of us born into wealth very quickly worked out that the best way to control you, the earning classes, was to keep you happy. By producing all the material needs you could possibly want, and assuring you of even more, we lulled you into a false sense of bliss. I don’t wish to be rude, but the rest was a walk in the park.

By convincing you that you were free to live your dreams, most of you felt no need to object to those things we craved — like power and affluence. You overlooked our occasional misdeeds, including tax avoidance practices we felt compelled to use now and again, and our dodgy investments in media, weapons trading, drugs and gambling. Indeed, some very smart marketing campaigns even convinced you that we shared the same goals and we're all in this for the same things. With hindsight that was our masterstroke.

That was how we got you toiling so assiduously and demanding more and more stuff you didn’t actually need or want. Increasing productivity became your goal, and capitalism the means of achieving it, simply because we told you that would fulfil your every desire. After that you were so distracted — busy looking to wherever we pointed — that nobody thought to challenge the illusion.

It didn’t occur to you that we were spinning a yarn to get us what we wanted. We knew trickle-down economics could not possibly work. But that was irrelevant as long as you believed us and waited patiently for your situation to improve, which you did. Similarly, the sum total of human activities cannot be compressed into a single measure. Think about how ridiculous that is. Yet you embraced the totally implausible notion of GDP being a suitable gauge of both wealth and wellbeing. You were easily hoodwinked.

It was not always that simple of course. Especially when smart-arse radicals like Karl Marx and Mao Zedong advocated more socialist views, pacifists like Gandhi opted for peaceful civil resistance, and reformists like Mikhail Gorbachev threw a spanner in the works. It became even more difficult when some of you noticed our methods were crooked, our products made you sick, and that the economic arrangements we had so carefully devised and ingrained within your psyche, actively prevented you from becoming as wealthy as us.

But we managed it. We played upon your naivety, ignored your protests, surfed the zeitgeist with the help of our media baron friends, and kept repeating the false mantras of capitalism, like endless growth, for example, over and over again until anyone who deviated from the official narrative was regarded as a fool or a heretic.

In the end, we won. Our system was adopted en masse, the world over. Even in the most unlikely of countries like China. The ruse was to make our takeover look like a seemingly benevolent and beneficial model of statism while rejecting and stoking fear in people’s minds about alternatives. Any alternatives!

It is true that a few of you, led by activist Naomi Klein, academics such as Shoshana Zuboff, and progressive philanthropists like Tom Steyer, have been keen to point out capitalism’s more predatory nature. Cries for reform were something we have had to refute on an ongoing basis. Capitalism tricks people into slavery by lauding comfort, security, safety, and the illusion of freedom, followers of Klein claimed. They were correct of course. Thankfully you failed to act on such claims. The revolution was in your hands after all. But why would you incite rebellion when we kept telling you the economy was booming and almost everyone was deceived into believing us?

Over decades of testing, developing, and refining the economic model, we had learned one very important fact. Societies are mostly comprised of compliant, idle, yet decent individuals like you, who are unmoved by political deceit or corporate fraud. As long as you are safe and secure in your immoderate comfort you do not care about government policy — or much else come to think of it. Indeed, you far prefer the certitude of psychological shackles over the stress that comes from real autonomy.

Once we had worked that out a variety of dubious tactics helped us advance our cause. By adopting the manipulative advertising of Edward Bernays we persuaded you to buy stuff you did not want. By persuading you to trust us, and to turn a blind eye to the anomalies inherent within representative politics, we were able to bend democracy to service our needs rather than yours. By acquiring the support of influential economists, buying a few self-serving politicians, backing the state with our wealth and declaring that state sovereign (by forcing people to consent to its law and order, no matter how perverse, unjust, or violent that law and order might be) we were able to grow our considerable wealth and power, unconstrained by those of you who might have had the gumption to bring us down.

That was how we won. And over the past decade, we have begun to wallow in the luxuries true wealth affords. Tax as an optional extra. Trust funds, think-tanks, and family offices that further our own interests. Little personal extravagances. A lifestyle that a majority of people like you cannot begin to imagine. We are the mega-wealthy. The one percent. And we own the world.

Do not be tempted to tell us we have it all figured out, or that we have all bases covered. On the contrary, we failed to notice one vital factor that could soon be our undoing: the unforeseen consequences of our growing affluence.

In spite of our private jets, ocean-going yachts, and lifestyles that eclipse yours many times, we did not pay attention to the inferences of a world in which the gap between the cream of society, of which I am a part, and the vast majority of citizens like you, was fracturing into such a chasm. Deceived by our own propaganda, and blind to your circumstances, only now are a few of us beginning to fathom out how economic inequality could threaten everything we have created.

As you can imagine all of this came as something of a shock — so quarantined had we become from the reality of a shared existence. Working tirelessly on feathering our own nests often meant letting our relationships with family dwindle. We missed out on a lot of fun you take for granted. We hurt just like you. We are racked with self-doubt just like you. Our kids still get sick. We don’t have any real friends and we suffer anxiety and feel sad — just like you.

The biggest shock derives from the fact that having more money, faster cars and bigger homes, has not made us happier than you. So please do not tell me we had it all worked out. Only now are we starting to appreciate that no amount of money can prevent us from becoming old and dying. Worse still, the world we built is facing unprecedented challenges on so many levels. If I sound fearful it is because I am.

Until recently we deliberately tried to maintain a very delicate balance between production, consumption, and wealth creation. We have been resisting any kind of adaptation to new realities, pumping trillions of dollars into maintaining the status quo instead. This has kept the major banks afloat and bailed out high-net-worth individuals like me. Sadly, these self-serving tactics have not done anything to help you or to help change your situation. Within the context of the current pandemic, the economy will continue to contract leaving many more of you high and dry.

In the past, I would not have given this a further thought. But now it is not viable. I must admit that the world of finance has become disconnected from reality to such an extent that we are all part of a worldwide financial casino. For now, I am on the winning side. But tomorrow could well see me lose everything that brought me comfort. The financial instruments I have used to increase my wealth are perfect for those wanting to bring on a financial end-of-the-world scenario. And that is exactly what they seem to be doing.

Of course, I can probably hang on longer than you will be able to. I have my own bunker and can hole-up until the dust settles if the 5 billion or more poor people on the planet ever did decide to bring my dream run to an end through revolution.

But what then? I confess I had not thought that far ahead — I employed others to do that for me, but they only focused on cash flow, the balance sheet, investments. If I manage to cling on and survive, with my considerable wealth all but gone, and the financial world I used to inhabit consigned to history, what then? If you see how I helped hasten the destruction of our civilisation with my self-serving attitudes and noxious products, in what stead will I be held with my reputation in tatters?

The future of wealthy people like me is by no means assured. Like power, material wealth can be fleeting. If you are able to survive the coming crises of geopolitical upheaval, socio-economic disruption, and a heating climate, people like you might even be in a better position than me. You are the makers — the true creators. There can be no viable future without ordinary men and women like you. I, on the other hand? I am one of the takers. My fortune was built on stealing the future from your children while extracting your own goodwill, labour, and gullibility. That makes me expendable in tomorrow’s world. I am sorry I did not understand that before today.

How can you ever forgive me? More pertinently, after everything I have done, and not done, how can you believe this confession now? Will you leave me behind, or take me with you as you fashion a world without such inequities? It is possible that only my children and their successors will know the answer to that question.

Philosopher-Activist and Executive Director at Centre for the Future