There are a million reasons why contemporary politics has degenerated into a pit of bullying and lies, always running from the consequences into ever bigger scandals and lies. And the story of the infamous music festival that never happened is the perfect analogy.
A guy who knows what you want to hear – and promises it, even though he can’t deliver
For Fyre it all started with a dude who was hyped as The Millennial Entrepreneur Who Knew What Millennials Wanted. Billy McFarland was invested in and regarded as The New Big Thing, the entrepreneur who we know will make it big, we just don’t know with what. And neither did he.
Mind you, if you look at the business models of hyped startups, they all offer free stuff – and then something, something, something … profit. Millennials apparently only want free stuff and nothing else. That’s not rocket science to figure out. The trick is to find a way to deliver said free stuff, let alone to turn a profit eventually. And Billy found a way. Not to deliver – but to get the debt-ball rolling.
One of the schemes he kept using whenever he was short of cash was eye-wateringly simple: He offered tickets to coveted events. Tickets he didn’t have or events that didn’t exist. Like a meet&greet with Taylor Swift or VIP tickets to next year’s Coachella that hasn’t even started selling yet. At one point, way before his festival fiasco, Billy is seen raising money promising Hamilton tickets – that he simply did not have and could not have since the show has been famously sold out.
Sure, he knew what people wanted. But how is that a positive skill without knowing how to deliver? I can tell you ten things you want – and not deliver any of it. You want more hair and a bigger dick, you want to be thinner and younger, you want to have more money and a sexual partner with a higher mate value than your own. There. I can’t deliver any of those things, but if I put together a high-end marketing pitch or a commercial, surely I can raise some angel investment and then proceed to dupe the first million clients.
In politics, the same process starts with a politician shopping for things to promise because promises get you elected (i.e. customers). He may survey your opinion and vomit it back on you, or he may steer public opinion with redistributionist claims. After all, he is not afraid of getting us indebted. And his sponsors will also finance him if he appears to attract us, just like investors financed Billy.
Many will correctly point out that this is the inevitable conclusion of a long process that started with the introduction of majority voting as a means to make decisions. It is not a means to find out truth, or even to find the right decision – it is only to establish which option has more people behind it, maybe to ensure that they would also win in a fist fight, but now they don’t have to. (In a way, the whole thing is about replacing fist fights with other tools.)
But voting doesn’t constitute reality. It doesn’t create right, only might, just rebranded. Just as Millennials were dazzled by an advertising video, voters can be dazzled by … well, the same. It is an old cliche that politics was bound to turn into a reality show (minus the deference to reality as it is customary in the genre) due to its emphasis on wooing voters.
A Politician Who Knows What Voters Want To Hear gets the angel investment to woo those voters even harder. And when he gets onto power – he continues the same. What would he suddenly start dealing with reality if manipulating perceptions gets the same results – only cheaper? If that’s the only thing he knows to begin with?
Communication was always bound to overtake substance and governance, the only surprise is that it took this long.
Why do guys believe they can get away with this?
Because they always did before. Both in politics and in business.
A lying politician does it because he saw others doing it and it worked for them. A politician busted for stealing from the public purse is surprised because he knows of much bigger thieves than himself. If they do it – it is because it has been done, and it worked. Either for themselves – or for others.
Likewise, if you wonder why every ambitious business plan merely offers free stuff or declares to move fast and break laws – it is because the method has worked so far. In the sense that it didn’t outright fail. If a guy gambles and wins once, he will gamble and expect to grow again.
If you always grow above your debt you can remain indebted forever is a mantra of both business and politics. Making everyone interested in your success is the modus operandi of both businessmen and politicians. It can be by actually making lives better for others – but that is tiresome, rare – and we often don’t really know how to. Certainly not in politics, where everyone is supposed to be satisfied, in every way, which is impossible.
It is infinitely easier to pay fines than to learn to navigate a jungle of rules. It is cheaper to pay fines than to buy permissions from bureaucrats. Sometimes your business would never get permission unless you make it ubiquitous and popular first – and force the hands of finicky authorities. Just ask Uber or Lime.
So they did that before and it worked. Billy McFarland has been rolling the dice for years and always fell into a patch of four-leaf clovers – so he had genuinely no concept that the same risky, gambling behavior may not work again. Maybe he would start raising money for a Mars mission to cover the losses of Fyre Fest, selling tickets to visit the green pampas of the private islands of Southern Mars. Something will happen.
Just look at every business model of youth-startuppers. People will love free stuff! Or let’s start selling it, and with the money maybe we can buy it. And their method is trying to get crowds hooked with the power of easy, unearned capital – and then something-something. They don’t even have any idea how they make their genius idea profitable in the long run – no wonder so many of them end up selling their clients. Access to them, their data, etc. Clients are their real product. Honest competitors who try to make it profitable will be pushed out and starved. In the end the customer loses.
Politicians work the same way. Not only are they promising free stuff that can’t be sustainably delivered in the long run – they are burning taxpayer’s money to sell themselves to us. They are also playing on crowding out and starving any competition, especially one foolish enough to try to deliver substance sustainably.
It took this long until politicians have lost all their inhibitions and gave way to tweeting unbridled lies, putting the emphasis on their image rather than policy. An image can’t be attacked, while a policy will always be. An image can spark emotions and emotions make voters move – rationality does not. It doesn’t pay to actually work – just ask competitors of fraudsters, crowded out by scams.
And the same stands for a festival. An impeccably polished image can entice and thrill, and make you open your wallet. Tedious details and realistic promises would never accomplish that.
The fact that they have got away with fraud so many times (politicians as well as anyone else) creates an incredibly damaging reinforcement of fraudulent behavior. Putting out scandals with even bigger scandals, tweeting out even more blatant lies until there is no more bandwidth to spare talking about the last one – it feels as if someone started with a lie as a toddler and made an even bigger trouble to get out of the lie – and kept rolling the avalanche of lies ahead of him his whole life – and it elevated him to the highest office in his country. Exposed, easy to blackmail, corrupt and corruptible, always running from prosecution – such a politician clings onto power for dear life, for the immunity it provides, not just the opportunity to enrich himself.
Once we tackled why police and clergy are above the law, maybe we should move on to politicians’ immunity.