“The power of billionaires like Elon Musk is dangerous”

Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos… Are billionaires 2.0 dangerously interfering with sovereign missions? Yes, says Pascal Boniface, director of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations, who also refers to a fragile and dubious moralism.

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Between his very questionable peace plan for Ukraine, the role it plays Starlink satellite networkhis diplomatic advice to Taiwanhis projects space conquest and, recently, the taking over the power of Twitterall the land seemed within reach of Elon Musk’s wealth. The founder of Tesla and SpaceX is not the only one who has entered missions in principle reserved for the States. The same goes for Mark Zuckerberg and Libra, the virtual currency project (admittedly abandoned) by the boss of Meta. Or the $592 million that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has already donated to the World Health Organization, testifying to the growing privatization of humanitarian aid. Their common point? Everyone has mainly built their empire and their fortune by using tax optimizationto the detriment of States where they deprive them of some of the income and capacity for action.

Do you share the observation that a series of great fortunes has largely interfered with the tasks hitherto reserved for the States?

Absolutely. There have always been great fortunes. The new thing is that they are now very fast and even higher than before. Their owners provide services used by tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people, as if they were dealing with the citizens of a country. Facebook is finally more people than China. These great fortunes meddle much more than the robber barons of the last century in sovereign subjects, as I underlined in my book (Editor’s note: Geopolitics of artificial intelligence. How the digital revolution will disrupt society, ed. Eyrolles, 2021).

Existing barriers are fragile because, as soon as these billionaires face them, they try to avoid them.

What unique examples would you point to?

By its foundation, Bill Gates intervened financially when Donald Trump announced that he refused to pay America’s share of the World Health Organization. Along with this, Elon Musk worked at NASA to send rockets and allow it to regain a foothold in manned spaceflight. Before, it was all regal: we never saw an individual doing that. On his side, Mark Zuckerberg wants to launch a currency, which by definition competes with the States. More recently, we can also note the Ukraine peace proposal made by Elon Musk on Twitter. True, we can say that when Bill Gates makes the end of the month for WHO, it is quite nice and useful. On the other hand, an Elon Musk intervenes in wider areas.

Pascal Boniface, director of Iris. © Dr

How potentially dangerous are their intrusions?

All heads of state must to be responsible to their people. These billionaires, they, you don’t have to give it to anyone. They are freewheeling and hold power without accountability to the health or education of millions of people. They are most responsible for what they owe their employees, and again. They can do it destroy their fortunes if they wish, where states cannot engage in excessive spending as they do. The game is therefore crooked at the beginning: they hold a dangerous power, because it has nothing to do with their responsibilities.

We can also wonder about what enabled them to amass this fortune…

Tax avoidance is very often the source of their fate, which adds to the confusion. They take advantage of poverty – where they contributed the most – of a state to further attack the functions of sovereignty. Even though Bill Gates fought world hunger through his foundation, he does so by private decision and can change direction at any time. In this matter, do we trust in public power or charity? In one place, we give priority to charity over taxes and solidarity. Although it is known that a large part of what is distributed for humanitarian purposes comes from tax evasion. This moralism therefore raises questions and remains fragile.because it is a matter of private decisions.

Some of these billionaires have invested in the platform economy, which is characterized by adding new services to a large number of users. Does it help them venture into other fields, including sovereigns?

Absolutely, because they appear as solution providers, such as facilitators of everyday life, in a seemingly gratuitous way. This allows them to develop a positive image from the beginningas opposed to state interventionism in certain areas.

The existing rules, whether they come from a legal framework or from justice, seem to you sufficient to moderate the passions of these actors?

Existing beacons are fragile because on the contrary, these billionaires are inactive. Once they face an obstacle, they look aroundr. It’s in their DNA, and it’s why they’ve built these empires. You should know that they will not stop. There is however a state resistance movement, who don’t want to be overwhelmed. We have seen this in particular in the United States, through legal actions against Facebook or Microsoft, and threats of dissolution. The European Union is also making efforts to set limits. But the awakening of the States is more obvious in China, where Jack Ma (Editor’s note: the founder of the Alibaba e-commerce platform) was forced to keep quiet and not list one of its subsidiaries on the stock exchange. The Chinese Communist Party wants to demonstrate its ability to lead these great fortunes.

Should democracies, for their part, set stricter rules regarding the excesses of a few billionaires?

Exactly. They shouldn’t be victims of their own policies and because of naivety, they are obsessed with people even the most altruistic projects are charitable, not public authority. Especially since apart from that, there is also less pleasant projectslike when Elon Musk said he wanted to isolate himself on a desert island or the planet Mars to stop relying on taxation and solidarity with others.

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