No more false idols: the world doesn’t need billionaires.

Billionaires. Just saying the word leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, like spoiled caviar or an overturned glass of Dom Pèrignon. "But billionaires create jobs!" their defenders cry. Ah yes, jobs like "executive yacht waxer" and "bespoke spa treatment facilitator for the billionaire's pet capybara."

In an era where a select few individuals amass unimaginable wealth, the question arises: are billionaires necessary or helpful for technological progress and innovation?

We're told repeatedly - primarily by simpering sycophants on LinkedIn - that billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and others propel progress through their vast resources. After all, they mew, companies like SpaceX, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook have undoubtedly changed our world. But a far different and nuanced picture emerges if we dig deeper below the PR spin and fawning social media narratives.

First and foremost. History's major inventions and innovations did not require billionaire backers or individual wealth accumulation. The telephone, radio, computer, internet, vaccines, antibiotics, and countless other revolutionary technologies were not driven by singular billionaires or wealthy individuals. They arose through public research, gov/mil projects, or the collective efforts of scientists, engineers, and thinkers.

Even the most recent advances like CRISPR gene editing, immunotherapy cancer treatments, solar photovoltaics, and lithium-ion batteries came from university and government labs, not Silicon Valley unicorns.

Today, Billionaires co-opt, monetize, and take credit for existing ideas rather than genuinely invent new concepts. Neither Steve Jobs nor Mark Zuckerberg created completely novel ideas; they capitalized on what others had developed while adding tweaks and twists. And the billions they've earned from this far exceed the value they initially added. Zuckerberg did not work 100,000 times harder than the average Facebook engineer who helped build and improve the platform over the years. The idea that a few billionaires' wealth perfectly reflects their marginal contribution does not stand up to scrutiny.

Innovation today is - and should be - an incremental, collective endeavour rather than a lightning strike of lone genius. Breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and machine learning require massive datasets, computing power, and the work of thousands of engineers, with ethicists and humanists, not a singular flash of insight. Genome sequencing relies upon global scientific collaboration and crowdsourcing. Open-source software like Linux and blockchain has transformed technology thanks to the aggregated contributions of developers worldwide. Billionaires may occasionally contribute, but they are far from irreplaceable.

Most concerning, when we rely on billionaires to selectively choose which research questions and world problems deserve support, they will inevitably prioritize narrow self-interest, profit incentives and personal crusades over the greater good.

Why devote billions to space joyrides, superyachts, and luxury when we still lack vaccines and cures for malaria, HIV, and countless neglected diseases? The whims and desires of the ultra-wealthy should not determine our society's goals and priorities. Publicly-guided research that serves all of humanity works just a little better.

Extreme wealth concentration impedes technological progress in critical ways. With their vast resources and market dominance, tech billionaires can and do stifle competition, gatekeep access, prioritize individual profits, and prevent other innovative companies from rising or reaching scale. Upstart innovators often struggle to thrive when a few private monopolistic giants control all the most valuable data, platforms, capital and leverage. A more open and decentralized ecosystem that allows ideas to flourish based on merit, not monopoly power, would foster a more robust tech world.

Even when billionaires fund positive research, they often co-opt the results for private profit-seeking rather than true public benefit. Publicly-funded foundational work on mRNA technology enabled Moderna's highly effective COVID-19 vaccine, but now Moderna reaps huge profits from limited production while keeping the underlying knowledge closely guarded. All of humanity paid for the basic science, but only wealthy shareholders fully gain.

The LinkedIn brigade will tell you that billionaires deserve their massive wealth because they take substantial personal financial risks. But collective public support cushions much of their actual risk-taking. Elon Musk has built his fortune largely thanks to enormous government contracts, subsidies, historically low-interest rates, and preferential tax breaks that backstop and enable his ventures. He did take risks, but his success is ultimately underpinned by public infrastructure, knowledge, and financing. Similar dynamics are at play across much of the tech world.

There isn't any path forward in waiting and hoping that billionaires will selectively choose to focus attention and resources on the world's biggest challenges. That's like giving a room full of 5-year-olds a tub of ice cream and an iPad and hoping they retile the kitchen.

Scientific research and technological innovation through smart public policy and collective action, guided by our shared values and priorities, will achieve more than a cabal of uber-wealthy bargain-bin Tony Stark types ever could.

Actual progress comes from social collaboration on a foundation provided by public investment, not a few individuals' fortunes. And a system that concentrates massive resources in the hands of so few is ultimately corrosive to democracy, equity, and justice.

The days of reflexively lionizing tech billionaires as singular messianic heroes essential for future progress should end. That narrative has been oversold and perpetuates a long obsolete mythology. A tech billionaire's success in generating profits should not automatically equate to a moral authority to determine humanity's path.

True innovation and human flourishing require a more inclusive, decentralized, and democratic approach. Our technological progress depends on realizing this.

As you sit at your desk eating ramen noodles for the third time this week, I'm sure you can't help but daydream about soaring through the skies on your very own private jet. The lush leather seats, fully stocked bar, and views from 10,000 feet would beat slurping budget noodles while working from home in a cramped studio apartment.

Unless you randomly inherit a small nation's GDP, you're likely to ever afford that luxury. And worshipping at the altars of those who can afford it will not help your situation. At the risk of sounding like a rabid socialist, the only way any of us will have a better life is by working on a better life together.

If criticizing our social sentiment towards the billionaire class makes me seem jealous or anti-progressive, I’m perfectly willing to accept that. But in an age of climate decay, rising authoritarianism, conflict, housing crisis, growing artificial intelligence and gross inequality, we can’t afford to keep erroneously believing that billionaires hold the exclusive key to humanity’s future.

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