This question came to my mind listening to this interview by Chamath. He mentions that there are maybe 150 or 200 people who actually control the world. They may not be the people who we hear about in the news, but folks who pull the string to decide what comes in the news. And, unlike what you are probably suspecting, it's not the tech entrepreneurs.
So who really are they?
If you think about it, consumerism and capitalism are two major themes of our times. Communism which came as an alternative in the early 1900s is now mostly a spent force with most of the communist countries in ruins now. Most notable among them is Russia which is only a shadow of its glory days in the Cold War era. China has actively embraced capitalism and is one of the best examples of State Capitalism - a capitalist economy with strong control by the state. This can be easily seen from how tightly the big 3s of China (Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu) tow the government line.
So, with the capitalist system being the dominant ethos of our times, the power is really derived from the basis of the capitalist system, MONEY.
Who really controls the money? For the uninitiated, money is supposed to be a metric of value created by a society or person, but it really has taken a form of its own and is now the primary source of power.
US can't do anything against China because China practically owns the US by being the major buyers of US sovereign bonds. China is the manufacturing base of the world, so governments think twice before messing up with China.
But I digress. Who really controls the source of power? The money. You see, money is just a myth which a society agrees to believe. It is one of those Noah Harari's intersubjective ideas, which hold value because people believe in it.
Entrepreneurs don't really have the power. because the budding entrepreneurs are like laborers employed by Investors who deploy their capital to support ideas which they think can bring the maximum returns. Otherwise, why would there be so many bike rental/sharing startups which are being valued as unicorns (having a market valuation of more than 1 bn USD)
Firms like Softbank make bets which control the entire industry. For example, they have invested in every major cab haling company in the world. They are now the biggest investors in Uber, in India based Ola and Southeast Asia's Grab. So, they are not betting on a particular company, they are buying the index. They know that app-enabled cab hailing is an idea which is here to stay and so they are buying every effing big company in that market. They can afford this because they have a 100 bn USD fund. So you can say, the goal of all entrepreneurs now is to get invested by Softbank. Softbank now decides what entrepreneurs work on. So, does Softbank wield the ultimate power?
No. That would be an error in assumption. Softbank itself is funded by Saudi Sovereign fund which owes most of its money to petrol export. So, this is basically an effort to convert old money (Petro Dollars) into new money, one coming from tech. So, in a way, Saudi government calls the ultimate shot on what should the world work on - just because they have excess money from the export of petrol.
You may think that governments control the world. Well, this may in some respects be true. The magnitude of surveillance that the Chinese government imposes is straight out of the pages of an Orwellian novel. The Indian government also, with a continued effort to link every aspect of your life with an Aadhar number, is well on its way to achieve the same. That too when Aadhar is full of security loopholes. You are required to link your PAN ( income tax id), Bank Account and any investment account with Aadhar. Even your mobile number, you should link with Aadhar. I am really not sure, what's the purpose of all this - apart from having a strict account of what you do. Big Brother is watching you! Man, how can George Orwell be so prescient?
But again, power doesn't belong to amorphous groups of people like Government or bodies like Politburo in China. It's individuals who seek power. Nietzche, I think, understood this most accurately when he published the Will to Power. The Will to Power describes what Nietzsche may have believed to be the main driving force in humans – achievement, ambition, and the striving to reach the highest possible position in life.
Well, there are few competing philosophies of life. Desire for meaning, Desire for happiness. But I think Nietzsche has really distilled it to its core. The first stage is a desire for happiness. The absence of pain and agony from one's life. But one soon realizes that long-term happiness only comes from having a meaning in one's life. Something meaningful which one can pursue throughout one's life. Something which outlasts oneself. Something which defies mortality.
But what if you reach that stage where you have something meaningful to work for. Something which apparently has an inherent meaning. You soon realize that the world simply doesn't care. There is nothing which has inherent meaning to it. The meaning you find is the meaning you assign to it. So, if there is nothing with inherent meaning - YOU decide what has meaning.
This is the origin of Will to Power. Since nothing has meaning, you want to enforce your worldview. If there has to be any dominant worldview out there, why not yours. So, to impose your worldview on the largest number of people you develop a Will to Power. It's surprising, how Nietzsche cuts through all the layers and hits straight to the point.
Chamath mentions this briefly in his interview that the people who actually control the world don't really care about your worldview. They have a worldview and they want to impose it on everyone. The Will to Power. And since in a capitalist society, power is controlled by people who have the money or those who control it, it's their worldview which gets imposed.
You might think that the major religions of the world really do have power. Afterall, doesn't the Papacy control the western world?
Not so much anymore. They used to call the shots when the world was controlled by Aristocrats and Kings who derived their power to rule from the divine rights given to them. This was often sanctified by the prevalent religion of the time, and hence the power ascribed to the Papacy. That holds water no more. Governments are run by people who are elected or at least want to give the impression, that they are democratically elected. Only China is the place, which despite not being a democracy, has been able to make so much apparent progress - without any revolutions and protests.
India, on the other hand, was never controlled by a religion. Hinduism in itself is too decentralized a religion to wield any power. It allows all sects to exist, all views to thrive. This may be the reason for its apparent lack of power. There is no seat like that of a Pope or Imam who controls all Hindus. It is too decentralized. This also ensures its longevity as the more embracing a religion is, the more long lasting it would be.
So who really controls the world?
We saw that it's not the religion. It's the centers who control money flow. Governments, Corporates, Individuals.
Chamath mentions in his talk about the Koch Brothers.According to Forbes Magazine, the Koch brothers are now worth $80 billion. They have amassed immense power not only from their wealth but also from the connections they have developed and loyalties they have bought. They invest heavily in the US political process and swing the dialog in the domain which they are comfortable with.
So who really controls the world? I will hazard a guess here.
- The Capitalists in the US (not the politicians)
- The Standing committee of the Chinese government led by Xi Jinping
- The petrodollar owners like the King of the Saudi and whoever controls their sovereign funds
- Numerous other capitalists who move the pawns and set the game according to their liking in the capitalist system of ours
How long this capitalist system will last is anybody's guess. After all the feudal system in Europe was just prevalent some 200 yrs back, where all the power was controlled by the aristocracy. Will this capitalist system be more long lasting? I don't really have an opinion here. The one good thing about this system is that at least it gives the impression that anybody can rise in this system if he has the brains and guts to make enough money. If one has enough money, they have a seat in the table and can impose their worldview.
As Chamath says, "Take the money" and then you can impose your worldview. After all, WHY NOT?