Two Billionaires

I've been sitting on this post since last November or December, but I think it's still a good illustration so I'm going to use it.

One way to analyze history is to look at leaders, battles, and legislation. This has its merits, as almost all approaches do, but it's only one of infinitely many possible ways to try to understand a time period. Another might be through studying technology, or culture, or some other facet of human action. What I'd like to do here is analyze 2004 (and, by extension, make a general conclusion) by looking at how two billionaires famously spent their money.

Billionaire #1 is George Soros. His wikipedia entry says that he spent a total of $23,581,000 during the 2004 Election Cycle trying to get George Bush defeated. While he certainly might have had financial motivations, I trust that his main motivation was ideological. He wanted Bush out of office and was willing to put his money where his mouth was. But look what good it did him. Even if his investment had paid off, what would really be so different? Kerry was pro-war (the main issue of many far-left protesters), pro-Patriot Act, and a government expansionist in every other way.

Billionaire #2 is Paul Allen. What I read about his funding of Scaled Composites said that he spent $20-$30 million, so we can estimate in the middle and get a figure very close to Soros's. Instead of spending it on politics, he paid for a spacecraft, and the result was the first private space flight, the winning of the X-Prize, and the foundations of man's next big leap. First continents, then oceans, then space.

Soros spent his money as so many other people do, aiding Thug 1 against Thug 2 in a dirty game where the worst rise to the top. Even if you win fighting a monster, what have you become? Allen spent his money not for coercion but for achievement. In the grand scheme of human history, which of these two efforts will be more important? Some day I know I'll look down at this big blue marble from space and smile, and by then the 2004 elections will be just a bad memory. I'll owe Paul Allen a toast, and the hell with George Soros and John Kerry and everybody else.

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