They wreck people’s lives. One of them, Joe Ricketts, has written a memoir in which he is actually proud of his crimes. He made his fortune exploiting deregulation of financial markets, and then he dedicated his retirement to union-busting and tearing down journalism because it wasn’t “profitable” to him.
On November 2, 2017, many journalists witnessed an especially egregious version of the same scene, when Joe Ricketts, the billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade and the owner of the Chicago Cubs, abruptly laid off the entire staff of Gothamist and DNAinfo, two networks of local news websites he had recently merged. He also shuttered both networks, replacing tens of thousands of articles with a letter justifying his decision. “DNAinfo is, at the end of the day, a business, and businesses need to be economically successful if they are to endure,” he wrote. “And while we made important progress toward building DNAinfo into a successful business, in the end, that progress hasn’t been sufficient to support the tremendous effort and expense needed to produce the type of journalism on which the company was founded.”
Lies, lies, lies. Read the whole article to get the full picture: he shut it down because the journalists, who were paid a pittance especially compared to the billions he was squatting on, tried to unionize to get better working conditions and fair pay.
But even worse, that’s an indictment of short-sighted capitalism, which sees everything as a business that must make a profit. Journalism has no purpose other than to make a profit…and not a profit for the journalist, but for the fat cat who owns the newspaper. I am in a “business”, education, which is not done for some crass quantity of dollars, but to make our citizens better informed, better able to deal with the world, better people, just as journalism should be, and I’m proud of that. But you tell people like this Ricketts asshole that you’re not into skimming cash from the pockets of people who need it, but in providing a service in expectation of nothing more than reasonable compensation and a living wage, and they see you as a sucker and your work as meaningless. All they can see is dollar signs, and professions like journalism and education don’t light up their eyes.
Sadly, Ricketts will never realize what a leech he is. He has adopted an American myth as his own.
The story Ricketts tells about himself is just the latest riff on a familiar American fable, in which an unremarkable person — ideally, a white guy from Nebraska or thereabouts — achieves wealth and success by working hard, never complaining, and seizing opportunities. Even assuming this story is true as far as Ricketts is concerned, it ignores the millions of people who tried to follow the same path and failed, and by extension, the absurd randomness that dictates that a guy like Ricketts should be able to sabotage dozens of careers on a mean-spirited whim. To whatever limited extent Ricketts is representative of his upwardly mobile generation, the source of his prosperity — the deregulation of capital since the 1970s — has almost completely destroyed the prospect of upward mobility for the generations that follow. Of course, none of the Ricketts kids will have to worry about that.
Every billionaire is thus more than a simple failure of policy. Every billionaire is evidence of a basic glitch in the fabric of the moral universe: their lives, and acts, ring out with the gospel that only what we call evil will be rewarded — that the selfish get to live as angels, and all good people will be damned. Challenging capitalism also means challenging its religion.
Every time I criticize these parasites, whether it’s Bezos, or Musk, or Gates, or Ricketts, I know people will crawl out of the woodwork to complain that I shouldn’t say that, because they’ve all earned their wealth, and if we remove the incentives to suck up huge amounts of money, how will we get our flying cars or our Mars colony or convenient ATMs with big fees? Don’t care. Wake up.