The paranoia of the tech plutocrats


But there are forces working in the opposite direction. Success all too easily feeds the belief that you’re smarter than anyone else, so you can master any subject without working hard to understand the issues or consulting people who have; this kind of arrogance may be especially rife among tech types who got rich by defying conventional wisdom.

The wealthy also tend to surround themselves with people who tell them how brilliant they are or with other wealthy people who join them in mutual affirmation of their superiority to mere technical drones.

So, where does cryptocurrency come in? Underlying the whole crypto phenomenon is the belief by some tech types that they can invent a better monetary system than the one we currently have, all without talking to any monetary experts or learning any monetary history. Indeed, there’s a widespread belief that the generations-old system of fiat money issued by governments is a Ponzi scheme that will collapse into hyperinflation any day now. Hence, for example, Jack Dorsey’s 2021 declaration that “hyperinflation will change everything. It’s happening.”

Now, I’m quite willing to admit that monetary economics isn’t as solid a science as epidemiology or climatology. And yes, even noncrank economists argue about some big issues much more than their hard-science counterparts.

But economics nonetheless is, as John Maynard Keynes wrote, “a technical and difficult subject” — one on which you shouldn’t make pronouncements without studying quite a lot of theory and history — although “no one will believe it.”

Certainly, people who think they understand climate better than climatologists and vaccines better than public health researchers are also likely to think they understand money better than economists and to believe in each case that experts telling them that the world doesn’t work the way they think it does are engaged in some kind of hoax or conspiracy.

Sure enough, much of the recent turmoil in the crypto industry has had economists wondering: Didn’t these people look into the theory and history of bank runs? And the answer, of course, is that they didn’t think they needed to.

True, there have always been wealthy cranks. Has it gotten any worse?


I think it has. Thanks to the tech boom, there are probably more wealthy cranks than there used to be, and they’re wealthier than ever, too. They also have a more receptive audience in America in the form of a Republican Party whose confidence in the scientific community has collapsed since the mid-2000s.

So, in answer to Hotez, the dots are indeed connected. Anti-vax agitation and crypto enthusiasm are both aspects of a broader rise of know-nothingism, one whose greatest strength lies in an intellectually inbred community of very wealthy men.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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