In February 2012, after Facebook announced what was in time to become the largest IPO in the history of internet firms, The Economist put a parody of Mark Zuckerberg’s profile page on its cover. Next to an insipid, beaming profile picture of the young CEO, there was a status update: “VENI VIDI VICI!!! Am I richer than Bill yet? lol.” They were not the first magazine to draw the comparison. In October 2010, Vanity Fair beat them to it, declaring Zuckerberg the No. 1 most influential person in the United States and calling him “our new Caesar.”I think that a lot of this comes back to the Pilgrims, who were Calvanists, and as such saw financial success as a sign of God's favor.
Zuckerberg, of course, had not conquered Gaul. He had not scattered the German armies nor subjugated Britain, nor crossed the Rubicon and become first consul. He had not visited death and terror upon a continent, nor brought an end to an old republic, setting off a chain of intrigues that would birth the mightiest empire in the history of the world. No. Mark Zuckerberg had made a sh%$ ton of money.
By April of this year, Facebook stock was worth more than $116 a share, up from its initial offering of $38. The social network had made its early investors even richer than they had ever anticipated. That same month, The Economist put Zuckerberg on its cover for the second time but now without detectable irony. His face appeared on a marble statue of Augustus, seated in cape and laurel crown beside a tiny globe. “IMPERIAL AMBITIONS” roared the headline. Mark’s outstretched arm gave the imperial thumbs-up. He liked it.
The press enjoys excitedly praising tech titans by comparing them to fantastical and mythical figures. Zuckerberg is Caesar. Elon Musk, a wizard. Peter Thiel, who believes that he lives in the moral universe of Lord of the Rings, is a vampire. I do not know if these men believe that they have the supernatural powers the media claims. Maybe they do. I do know that they do not mind the perception, or at least have done nothing to combat it, even among those critics who believe that they’re cartoon villains.
Let us state the obvious: None of these men are Roman Emperors, and they haven’t got the wherewithal to “blow up” anything but a stock market bubble. They are not Lex Luthors or Gandalfs or Stalins. Their products do not bring about revolutions. They are simply robber barons, JP Morgans and Andrew Mellons in mediocre T-shirts. I have no doubt that many are preternaturally intelligent, hardworking people, and it is a shame that they have dedicated these talents to the mundane accumulation of capital. But there is nothing remarkable about these men. The Pirates of Silicon Valley do not have imperial ambitions. They have financial ones.
This attitude has carried forward, and wealth is still seen as a sign of virtue.
It is a poison at the core of most of our problems as a society.