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Saturday, May 18, 2024

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Why Do Tech Executives Support Kennedy Jr.?

Robert Kennedy Jr. is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. The support of tech executives for him reminds Paul Krugman of Henry Ford, in a negative sense.
Robert Kennedy Jr., a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, is a nutcase - claims Prof. Paul Krugman in The New York Times. His views are a mix of right-wing fantasies with remnants of the progressivism he once embraced: pushing for Bitcoin, anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, claims that Prozac causes massacres, opposition to aid to Ukraine. If it weren't for his family name, no one would pay attention to him - and despite his family name, he has zero chance of winning the nomination.

But now, as Ron DeSantis's campaign seems to be not taking off, Kennedy is suddenly receiving support from some big names in Silicon Valley. Twitter founder, Jack Dorsey, announced his support for him and several other prominent tech figures are helping him raise funds. Elon Musk hosted him on "Twitter Space". What does this say about the role of high-tech billionaires in American politics?

It seems that what attracts some tech types to RFK Jr. is his contrarianism - the scorn he shows for conventional wisdom and expert opinions. Therefore, Krugman says, a few words must be said about being "contrary to sense". The sad but true fact is that most of the time - conventional wisdom and experts are right; but there is a significant advantage in finding the places where they are wrong. For this, a delicate balance is needed between excessive skepticism towards accepted assumptions and over-credibility.

In this balancing act, it is very easy to fall on the wrong side. When I was young and ambitious - Krugman testifies about himself - I rolled my eyes at older economists, whose response to every new idea was "it's obvious, it's wrong and I said it in 1962"; today he fears that he himself has become such a type. On the other hand, always saying the opposite is a brain-destroying poison, in the words of economist Adam Ozimek. Those who get addicted to this poison, he continues, "lose their ability to judge others that they themselves consider contrarians, cannot distinguish between good and bad evidence and they deteriorate into a low-grade hobby of saying the opposite."

The high-tech guys are immediate suspects of such negative contrariness. Their financial success convinces them that they are especially brilliant and that they can deal with any topic without needing to consult those who work hard to understand the issues. In many cases, they get rich by breaking the conventional wisdom, which makes them believe that this approach is always right. Then they surround themselves with those who tell them what they want to hear, and if they talk to someone else at all - it's with their likes. This explains the strange opinions recently adopted by billionaires.

Krugman wants to add his own speculation. It may be odd to see significant capitalists and influencers buying conspiracy theories about world ruling elites; aren't they the elite themselves? But Krugman guesses that celebrities and the rich may be especially frustrated by their inability to control events or even prevent their trolling online. So instead of coming to terms with the fact that the world is a complex place where no one is in control, they embrace the idea that there is a group of villains chasing them. There is a precedent for this: Henry Ford, who financed the English translation of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion".

In any case, what we are seeing now is extraordinary. The craziest faction in American politics right now is not blue-collar men in red hats in diners, but high-tech billionaires living in huge estates and flying in private jets. On some level, this is pretty funny. But unfortunately, these people have enough money to do serious damage."
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