American oligarchs: Inside the minds of the country's wealthiest people
(NewsNation) — Russia may have given “oligarchs” a bad name, but other countries have them, too. They’re private citizens who are unbelievably rich, unbelievably powerful and seemingly unavailable to their fellow citizens.
This week NewsNation’s “Banfield” did a deep dive into the oligarchy of America, which has more of these people than any other country on earth. NewsNation’s Brian Entin spoke with former employees of the oligarchs, journalists and technology experts about these mysterious billionaires.
Elon Musk: $221.4 billion net worth
“Banfield” started with the world’s richest individual, Elon Musk.
“Elon sleeps in the factory in his sleeping bag,” Joe Justice, a former Tesla employee, said. “Elon is accessible. If you’re also working on the most important thing, then Elon is there. You can always email, or chat, or message Elon. Or walk over.”
The Tesla and SpaceX owner is also trying to buy Twitter in a $44 billion deal.
Twitter’s board has recommended unanimously that shareholders approve the proposed $44 billion sale of the company to billionaire and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, according to a regulatory filing last week.
“I think it is way too much power,” Dr. Nolan Hidgon, the author of “The Anatomy of Fake News,” said. “Historically, wealthy individuals have bought media platforms to manufacture consent from the public, for their economic and political interests.”
Jeff Bezos: $135.3 billion net worth
The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, was the first human to reach a net worth of $100 billion and $200 billion. From 1990 to 1994, Bezos worked for one of the most successful hedge funds on Wall Street for D.E. Shaw & Co., New York.
Its founder, David Shaw, tasked Bezos with figuring out what could be sold on the internet for the highest profit. Bezos pitched the idea of books, which is how Amazon began.
“Bezos built this empire on the strength of starting with books, but he understood early on that he was aiming to be the so-called ‘Everything Store.’ Eventually, he could become this sort of middle merchant between the factories of the world and the households of the world,” New York Times Global Economics Correspondent Peter S. Goodman said on “Banfield.”
Bezos stepped down as CEO in July 2021, handing over the reins as the company navigated the challenges of a world fighting to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.
“He’s one of the wealthiest men to ever live in the entire world. He’s doing that, it seems, by cutting costs when it comes to average entry-level employees. There were all these reports about Amazon employees trying to unionize, just to get some basic rights. To get breaks,” New York Post Business Reporter Lydia Moynihan said. “He seems like he’s the kind of person who’s willing to do whatever it takes to maintain his empire.”
“There’s no question that Bezos has very unapologetically set up a pressure cooker environment where he’s extraordinarily demanding,” Goodman added.
Bill Gates: $124.1 billion net worth
Bill Gates, the billionaire whose squeaky clean image has taken a beating, is now buying a lot of farmland.
He’s purchased 270,00 acres so far in the United States, and his latest purchase was 2,000 acres in North Dakota. Apparently the neighbors there are furious.
The college dropout and software pioneer was the richest man in the world, from 1995-2009.
“I think the fact that he is the largest owner of farmland illustrates that it’s not a baseless conspiracy, or slippery slope, to say that unless stopped, oligarchs will continue to accumulate as much wealth and resources as possible. Until, theoretically, there’s nothing left for everybody else,” Dr. Nolan Higdon said on “Banfield.”
Similar to management under Bezos, Gates has also been described as an angry and difficult boss in his early Microsoft days.
“He was very combative. He didn’t even really want to talk to anybody but senior management. He would say things like, ‘That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.’ These guys don’t get to the top by being like Mr. Rogers. You can’t get to the top by being a nice guy,” Dana Kennedy, the national writer for The New York Post, said.
In 2021, Bill and Melinda Gates announced their divorce, however, they said they would continue their foundation. The Gates Foundation said the ex-couple would continue to work as co-chairs for a two-year trial period and after that time, if the arrangement unravels, Melinda would step down.
“I think they do give money to causes that a lot of people would advocate for, but the reality is a lot of that money goes to policy papers, lobbying and ways of him influencing lawmakers,” Higdon said. “The proof really needs to be in the outcome. What are the outcomes of this funding? It’s just a way for Gates to expand his influence and to improve his public image.”
Mark Zuckerberg: $55.5 billion net worth
Mark Zuckerberg was a billionaire by the age of 23, and the computer program that he and his Harvard roommates launched in 2004, Facebook, has 2.9 billion active monthly users. Facebook, now known as Meta, owns 94 companies, including Instagram, Whatsapp and Oculus VR.
Facebook is among the several social media apps that may be subject to lawsuits in California if children become addicted to their apps.
“The way that Facebook, and other social media platforms, make money is by keeping us addicted, right? The more time that we all spend on these platforms, the more money they can make from advertisers. It’s just that simple,” Associate Professor at Hofstra University Kara Alaimo said.
US Sun reporter Charlotte Edward said there’s a lot we don’t know about Zuckerberg. He spends $27 million a year just on security to keep him and his family safe.
“This is a man that has big plans for the world. He’s investing billions right now in the metaverse and he’s creating this new virtual reality that he thinks we’re going to live in in the next 10 years,” Edwards said.
“I think the real problem is these tech guys are very clever on a certain kind of mathematical level, a certain abstract level, but they have no feeling about how human beings actually are,” social trends expert Joel Kotkin said.
Kotkin says that Zuckerberg believes that the future of humanity is the metaverse.
“It’s a really serious issue. And I think one that people have to pay attention to is this the vision we want, and think about the fact that he and his offspring, and people around them, are going to have enough money to fund nonprofits for the next 100 years, which will shake public perceptions and policies to their desire,” Kotkin added.
Larry Ellison: $49.3 billion net worth
Larry Ellison is the co-founder of Oracle Corporation, which has major customers including Netflix, eBay, and LinkedIn.
Oracle is the third-largest software company in the world, but not a lot of Americans are aware.
“He’s trying to be noncontroversial, and intentionally so. He wants to stay off the radar. Oracle is not known among average Americans. It’s not as flashy as Amazon or Tesla or SpaceX,” New York Post reporter Mary Jacob said.
Ellison got his start by building databases for the CIA.
“The actual origin of Oracle came from a research paper that he founded at IBM. He took the risk,” said Build Your Wealth Quotient Author David Friedman.
“Structurally, Oracle is a B2B company. It serves businesses, not consumers. I think he just cares about winning. I don’t know if he cares about whether people know it or not,” Friedman added.
Baylor University Assistant Professor Luke Winslow also weighed in on the conversation and said that oligarchy is about bridging economic and political power.
“I think what oligarchs are primarily concerned with is if the processes, by which they bridge economic and political power, are well-known. That’s the most important thing for maximizing their wealth,” Winslow said.