Making Ideas Cool

201101 The Atlantic Monthly has a cover article on the new global rich. The modern day robber barons, whose wealth is the equivilant of the GNP of Uruguay, have made a killing on Internet startups and hedge funds. They aren't tied to one country and fly around the world managing their investments. The article wasn't the best. Some say Robert Frank's book, Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich, covered the same material, only better. Still, the article did have some interesting tidbits.

Apparently, this new global elite love policy conferences. They go to Aspen and the TED conferences and invite thinkers to their dinner parties to entertain the guests like trained monkeys.

The best-known of these events is the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, invitation to which marks an aspiring plutocrat’s arrival on the international scene. The Bilderberg Group, which meets annually at locations in Europe and North America, is more exclusive still—and more secretive—though it is more focused on geopolitics and less on global business and philanthropy. The Boao Forum for Asia, convened on China’s Hainan Island each spring, offers evidence of that nation’s growing economic importance and its understanding of the plutocratic culture. Bill Clinton is pushing hard to win his Clinton Global Initiative a regular place on the circuit. The TED conferences (the acronym stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design”) are an important stop for the digerati; Herb Allen’s* Sun Valley gathering, for the media moguls; and the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival (co-sponsored by this magazine), for the more policy-minded.

There's something very phony about all this. Policy is just the new playtoy for the mega-rich. A place to put their billions. Last fall, Mark Zuckerberg gave Newark schools $100 million. Out of the blue. He had no connection with the city and no record of having any interest in education policy. I'm mean, we'll TAKE it. Thank you, very much. But why?

While I'm skeptical about the motives of these global rich and their interest in political and social ideas, I do hope that these TED talks and conferences and glamous names at stuffy policy conferences will make policy cool. Maybe there will be a spillover affect. I want ordinary people to talk about this stuff. They have to start inviting Kim Kardashian to these events.

2 thoughts on “Making Ideas Cool

  1. All in all, this is not a phenomenon that bothers me that much. There have always been rich patrons who tried to push the world in the direction they preferred. Many of the current set are sincerely interested in being educated by the “thinkers” and many are amenable to being swayed by data, even when they think they know all the answers.
    I like government policy making better, in general, but the way to fund that is to take the plutocrats money away in taxes (which we appear to be unwilling to do), not to tell them how to spend their own money directly.
    I’ve stayed at one of the Aspen Institutes conference centers, and one of the things that convinces me of their intellectual sincerity is that the rooms are nice, but I’m sure, much less than what billionaires are used to.
    Many of these folks are people you might have gone to grad school with, but instead, they spent their graduate school years getting rich. Now, they miss grad school, and want to have an opportunity to go to grad school (but without all the icky stuff).

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