The Unbearable Lightness of Being ... a Tech Billionaire

The well-known author and technology services commentator Cory Doctorow recently writes, following the launch of Meta’s messaging platform Threads, which was accompanied by a marketing pitch clearly aimed antagonistically at the controversial, but established, platform, Twitter. The controversy over the latter, it should be noted, came about following the hostile takeover by billionaire Elon Musk.

Musk grew his wealth through investments made into his passenger vehicle company Tesla. The main thrust of this company is consumer passenger vehicles, powered solely stored energy from an electric battery, which is positioned against the entrenched fossil fuel transportation sector.

Doctorow observes that both Meta and Tesla are giant businesses controlled and directed by extremely wealthy individuals (Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk), whose wealth has come about through venture funding, not product or services sales. In this, they are matched by a handful of other companies, such as Alphabet (strongly identified with founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin), Microsoft ( with founder Bill Gates), and Apple (founded by the late Steve Jobs and current headed by Tim Cook).

It is this culture of very strong market players, whose overweening presence is driven by perceived market valuations rather than product or services sales, that Doctorw compares with the great redwood forests of California. These forests are subject to frequent forest fires, and it is these fires that create the specific environment that new growth redwood needs, to rejuvenate and thrive.

However, the modern USA has for decades discouraged, through expensive controls, such massive forest fires. In doing so, it helps the wealthy to establish homes close to or in the forests, who would not have selected such locations had extensive forest fires been a recurring norm. the result is a vast property market founded on an ecological anomaly.

Doctorow makes a persuasive argument for the future growth of technology and services based on technology that are not based on the creation of market billionaires, but for value deliveries to actual consumers. The argument is therefore partially aimed at the markets themselves, that encourage, or even depend, on the creation of extremely wealthy individuals who are, in turn, dependent on creating market valuations rather than genuine wealth. This drives their technology and business choices and decisions, to the detriment of society at large.

In India, technology companies are not as dominant as in the USA, and traditional monopolies are themselves still the preferred method for creation of supermassively wealthy businessmen. The supervisory structure built to control monopolies are inadequate. Technology businesses themselves, while they do fuel massively large ventures, are therefore overwhelmingly based on low value data processing, rather than actual innovation and intellectual value.

However, given that the massive wealth segment is so extraordinarily small in India, a sharp peak towering mightily over a broader base of far less valued businesses and tinier wealth possessors, and all of that floating on a huge base of poverty-stricken people, numering in the hundreds of millions, the influence that the few very wealthy technologists (a generous description: they are actually traditional businessmen who dominate a handful of shallow technology based businesses) wield is not dissimilar to the situation seen in the USA.

While the extremely wealthy there , in the USA, are visibly able to hugely influence public policy, thereby tampering with the framework of democratic functioning and the rule of constitutional law, Indian businessmen do exactly the same, but the public perception of this is largely lacking.

The most prominent example is the establishment of the so-called biometric identification system, marketed as an enabler for distribution of state subsidies to the poverty-stricken. It is in fact used for a variety of other purposes, none of which relate to either a welfare environment aimed at alleviating poverty, or to creating worthwhile employment to drive a viable economy.

Rather, it is increasingly obviously aiming towards surveillance , control of people’s ability to exercise constitutional rights, and, ominously, furthering a state-controlled digital currency regime, one that is presently in the pre-launch phase.

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This “neoliberalism” of valuing money more than real value is now also the dominant mode of valuation in research (institutions like IISc, IIT), and non-profit organizations (running behind impact metrics)