Whatever else contributed to the FTX meltdown, it is essential to recognize the role played by a society—backed by a legal regime of economic incentives—that valorizes wealth, spurns regulation, and worships technical “smarts” over democratic accountability. The trouble is distributed throughout a culture that is “inherently elitist, genius-obsessed, and dismissive of larger society,” as Cathy O’Neil puts it in a searing essay on tech futurism.
“Ultimately,” O’Neil concludes, “this is all about power and influence.” If we took Fried’s arguments seriously, we might actually do something about that—by reining in the power of the rich, say, and shoring up the welfare of the rest. The relentless libertarian demand to parse personal responsibility, Fried’s essay makes clear, keeps distracting us from changing the organization of society—except perhaps to build more prisons. In its zeal to identify bad apples so it can leave everything else the same, this outlook is the anti-reformist and anti-regulatory philosophy par excellence.
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