A Tale of Two Billionaires (with apologies to Charles Dickens)

The U.S. is experiencing a second episode of a multi-billionaire attempting to pull the strings of democracy as a puppet master.

This raises grave issues for the possibility of capitalism faithfully supporting moral government. Since Aristotle and Mencius, it has been noted that, as a moral fact, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

In its ethical principles for the ownership of wealth, the Caux Round Table advocates self-restraint on the part of the wealthy and subordination of their drive for dominion to ethical principles of moral government, first and foremost that public power is a public trust.  When a person has such arbitrary and capricious power in any form, that power confers upon them an office of responsibility for protecting and enhancing the common good, that power becoming a constructive trust held on behalf of the community.

Now, the first U.S. multi-billionaire I hold up for scrutiny is Mark Zuckerberg.  In 2020, he and his wife gave some $400 to $419 million (estimates found in the press) to an effort to help Democrats get more voters for Joe Biden in an effort to defeat Donald Trump.  Whether they succeeded as planned is contested.  Their effort was revealed early in 2021 in Time Magazine.  The caper is now known as “Zucker Bucks” or “Zuck Bucks.”

Private money from a multi-billionaire was given, gratus, to public and quasi-public workers collecting ballots in the 2020 elections and recording voter choices.

The charge is that many of those “public servants” collected ballots from persons not entitled to vote and recorded their votes as legitimate, thus preventing the genuine will of the people from being dispositive in our politics (see the book Rigged: How the Media, Big Tech and the Democrats Seized Our Elections by Mollie Hemingway).

Recently, Elon Musk gave us a second tale of a multi-billionaire seeking to impact the American democracy, also in the arena of free thought and political choice – the life blood and oxygen of any humanized constitutional democracy.

Musk has proposed to buy Twitter for $44 billion, take it private and make it a platform for free speech.  Here, private power is being used to promote a moral end – free speech for all.

Again, as with Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, I am forcefully reminded of the Athenian ethic as reported by Thucydides: “The strong do what they can; the weak what they must.”

I don’t know about you, but that is not an ethic I can tolerate.