A bloody nose for billionaire capitalism by Gavin Fenn-Smith
Last week, finally, billionaire capitalism was stopped in its tracks. Over the past 40 years, the steady accumulation of wealth and power has resulted in billionaires being able to do whatever they like. But, last week, they had to think again. Soccer fans showed that collective power, if channelled correctly, can stop egregious and greedy billionaire capitalism.
For 40 years ‘Billionaire Capitalism’ has created a culture where just a few accumulate economic power, can keep that power, and can re-distribute massive sums of money to themselves by more and more favorable tax codes. ‘Billionaire Capitalism’ is the shorthand for 40 years of neo-liberal capitalism when that great lie of ’trickle-down economics’ has been the dominant practice. Of course, there never was any trickle-down, only a constant shovel-up to the richest of the rich. It is a system that pretends to promote ‘market forces’. But, in reality, it seeks monopoly power, and hates competition. Just look at Facebook, Google, Amazon.
The wealth accumulated over these past 40 years has been staggering. All the growth in income has gone to the very richest; the rest have gained virtually no income growth. But this week perhaps the people are fighting back. They rejected the cartel that the billionaires created called the European Super League. It was an approach to sports that copies what exists in the US already, which looks and sounds like a cartel.
Two examples of this. First, in recent decades in the US, the billionaire owners have ‘persuaded’ local authorities to redirect taxpayers money in to the building of new sports stadiums. And second, they have fine-tuned a sports business model where it is not possible not to make money. It is a sports model that sounds very much like a cartel. These are not truly competitive sports leagues; they are entertainment vehicles that just happen use sports as their content. It would be hard to design an economic system to guarantee profits any better. Barriers to entry are intentionally set high. There is no jeopardy if a team loses. And, the US anti-trust system somehow just let them do it.
So, after 40 years, the billionaires thought they could export this sports model to Europe. The owners of twelve of the biggest soccer clubs on the planet conceived in secret a new cartel called the European Super League. They launched it late on a Sunday night with a short memo that described the cartel, and how it will be good for everyone because money will trickle down to smaller teams.
By Tuesday morning, it had collapsed in ruins and ignominy.
The immediate hostility was widespread from everyone – and not least from the billionaires’ own employees – the star soccer players and coaches. But also from governments; anti-trust legislation was threatened to stop the process, diplomatic relations were questioned.
One would think that, before launching, the billionaire owners must have assessed the potential opposition to their plans to create a cartel. The instant and immediate opposition must have shocked them. They are used to getting what the want.
Almost worse was the shameful lack of leadership behind the idea and its launch. They did not advocate for their plan at all. They did not defend it. Only one of them came forward in public to talk about it. They left their own employees (players and coaches), who had heard about its existence the day before, to field all the questions from the media and to face the public anger. They were thrown under the bus by the billionaires.
What can we learn from this? Governments must step in to break up cartels, surely. They must step in to stop cartels, and the march to monopoly. And we are reminded that whoever has the good leaders can have hope. Users/customers/fans also can now realize that social media gives them a voice in decisions. And ‘stars’, whether sports stars or film stars, or social media stars have an outsized influence and can create big change because of their leadership status.