Saturday, the 21st of July
Yachts, mansions, world-changing philanthropy. The lives of the ultra-rich have always fascinated the rest of us. Yet even among the top 1%, a group increasingly dominated by tech tycoons, there are some who stand by themselves.

One such person is Jeff Bezos who this week became the richest human being in modern history.
King Midas in the 21st century. PHOTO: Forbes
Shopkeeper to the world
He may not yet be richer than Croesus but a net worth of $150b is not to be sneezed at. The CEO and founder of Amazon, the world's most convenient store, is unimaginably wealthy and getting more so by the day. It's a popular past-time on the internet to try and attribute his success to one or more of his unusual practices (e.g., scheduling as few meetings as possible), and with good reason. 

Bezos's salary was just over $80,000 in 2017, a symbolic figure that is significantly less than that of the average Amazon employee in Seattle. So where does the wealth come from? Amazon's stock has soared 57.7% since the start of the year and presently hovers above the $1,800 mark after another strong Amazon Prime sale day. For its CEO (with his 16% stake) that means a boon of $45b. Bezos's wealth - like that of his fellow billionaires - is a representative function of his company's share price rather than his wages. Fortunately for Bezos (and unfortunately for the tax man) the windfall is considered 'unrealised appreciation'; meaning that he does not (and with good enough tax lawyers, will not) have to pay an eye-watering income tax bill.  

The money-printing factory
Amazon is set to overtake Apple as the most valuable corporation in the world. After that it's a small hop to becoming the world's first trillion-dollar business. The global demand for products in its marketplace is insatiable, but this hunger has also created problems throughout Amazon's world-leading distribution network. Aggressive contracts and poor working conditions have led workers in Spain, Poland and Germany to go on strike on its all-important 'Prime' day. Meanwhile the median Amazon wage in 2017 was just shy of $30,000, and there have been numerous reports over the years of the challenge of working within such a hard-charging culture.

Yet none of these issues - or even the technical glitches on the day - have had much impact on investors' appetite: AMZN was up a full percentage point on Tuesday alone. This is because retailers and consumers alike continue to pile into the marketplace at a staggering pace. As a result, Bezos is bearing down on two of the great American monopolists, Andrew Carnegie and J. D. Rockerfeller ($372b and $341b respectively, in today's terms).

So what should we expect of Bezos beyond the corporate sphere? A foundation like that of Bill & Melinda Gates? Anonymous philanthropy like Mark Cuban? The answer is: not much (as yet anyway). Unlike Buffett, Zuckerberg, and others, the world's richest person has not yet committed to giving a substantial portion of his wealth away. He did farm Twitter for suggestions (with all the chaos and self-interest that one might expect from such an approach) and landed on tackling 'transient homelessness' and supporting those without family networks. 

Public profile
Speaking of Zuckerberg, if there were a definitive list of phrases that Facebook's board would not like associated with their CEO, 'holocaust denial' would be at the top. During an interview with Recode, Mark Zuckerberg leaned into this particularly difficult topic with a degree of aplomb that has since evaporated. Pressed on the circulation of distressing and abusive conspiracy theories (pertaining to the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre), Zuckerberg answered at length:
"I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened... I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong, but I think... It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent..."

What followed was a predictable chorus of criticism from the usual suspects: the Anti-Defamation League, the Wiesenthal Centre, et al. 

Recent challenges facing the company have drawn little more than anodyne responses from its chief executive. But this time may be different: the assumptions underpinning Zuckerberg's statement touch on a firmly-held moral position that impacts all of us. The debate between hate-speech and free-speech is one that is moving from the courts (the jury continues to deliberate) to the Facebook timeline. At the centre of all of this is the word "intent". Zuckerberg's subsequent clarifications and equivocations have underscored the fact that he believes intent to be the primary value by which any action or belief should be judged. That sounds noble, but what of the true-believing Islamophobe? Or the self-aggrieved 'incel'? Or the self-assured defender of female genital mutilation? Regardless of your personal philosophy the real concern here is that one person's (somewhat arbitrary) views are now being used to adjudicate freedom of speech for more than 2 billion people. 

Notice of intent
By tackling the moral quandary of intent Facebook is transforming itself from a gate-keeper of information (already struggling with a deluge of fake news, hate speech and propaganda) to an arbiter of truth, truthfulness and even righteousness. This should be deeply uncomfortable territory for any ethicist, let alone for technologists at Menlo Park who have little accountability to anyone beyond themselves.

At the end of the day Zuckerberg is only human, and despite his enviable success, his own moral beliefs are as fallible as the next person's. It's also doubly true that he'll be castigated for not talking to the media enough and then piled on when he does. This public profile is undeniably a burden for him (and, one can surmise, for a very well-paid team of public relations experts). Zuckerberg never set out to become one of the most powerful people in the world: but we are where we are. And if Spiderman has taught us anything, it is that 'with great power, comes great responsibility'. And that brings us to Elon Musk.  

Murky Musk
While on the one hand Zuckerberg struggles with responsibilities he seems unable to avoid, on the other Elon Musk seeks out new and quite unnecessary controversies to become mired in - and all the while his own company Tesla is reported to be teetering on the edge of oblivion. In dollar terms Musk may not be in the same echelon as Bezos (his wealth is comparable to Trinidad and Tobago's annual GDP; that of Bezos equals Hungary's), but let it not be said that Musk was second to anyone in terms of ambition. 

The rescue of the Wild Boars Thai soccer team from a flooded cave this week captured the world's attention and provided cause for celebration. But Musk couldn't help inserting himself into the middle of it, only to emerge with nothing but ridicule and ire. Musk decided to build a "mini-submarine" (unsolicited and unused) for getting the boys out. It garnered a fair bit of media attention until, pressed on the subject, one rescuer brusquely dismissed the idea as untenable. In response, Musk took to Twitter to call the rescuer (a British expatriate living in Thailand) a pedophile. Twice. 

A hammering on social media (and presumably from the boards and investors in Tesla and SpaceX) eventually resulted in a public apology. But it was a powerful reminder that success breeds hubris. And that just because someone has been successful in business, it does not mean that they should expect (or be expected) to solve the world's problems.

The concentration of wealth and power in modern society seems set to continue ad infinitum. And as that happens, we will increasingly find the titans of business taking on (and being asked to take on) roles as the benefactors, arbiters, and saviours of the world. Given their limited experience, their aptitude, and sometimes even their appetite to do so, the results of such a shift are far from assured. Some, such as Bill Gates, will undeniably be as successful in this second career as in their first. Others will not. 
Baluchistan has been rocked by violence during the campaign. PHOTO: Reuters
Vote #1 Army
In Pakistan a pall of violence has hung over Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, and its hinterland for a generation. Last week a string of bombings tore through the restive region proving that the current election is no different. The death toll from last week's bombing rose steadily over the course of this week. In all, 149 were left dead and 189 wounded clogged Quetta's hospitals; it was the third-deadliest attack in Pakistan's history. And it was just one in a string of political attacks; earlier that week one politician and 19 others were torn apart by a bomb in Peshawar.

This violence is also just one form - the most shocking perhaps, but arguably not the most effective - of political manipulation underway in the country. Three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was arrested on corruption charges upon arriving back in the country . His party is challenging seats all across the country but it's yet to be seen whether their leader's imprisonment will galvanise voters. Pakistan's all-powerful military (referred to as 'the establishment' by locals) holds sway over the election. In a number of important districts candidates opposing 'establishment' politicians have been hampered and detained. Supporters have been bribed and blackmailed into supporting the army's desired contenders. Expect this to ramp up in the final few days.
The Russia investigation has taken a dramatic turn. PHOTO: Facebook
Loose lips, Helsinki blips
Treason. Spies. Kompromat. Anyone opening a newspaper this week could be forgiven for assuming they had been teleported back in time to the heady days following Donald J. Trump's 2016 election. This week Trump's whirlwind tour of Europe saw him in Helsinki for talks with Russia's Vladimir Putin. The lead-up to this sit-down had been tense: just days prior Robert Mueller had indicted 12 Russian spies for conspiring to interfere in the aforementioned election. 

The meeting was less mano e mano and more note-swapping. What followed was a disastrous 45-minute joint press conference in which Trump dismissed the findings of his own intelligence apparatus, “They said they think it’s Russia; I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia”. Trump's speech implied a level of trust in Putin that Reagan and Gorbachev could've only dreamt of. Needless to say such statements are catnip for Trump's detractors. The leaders also made a number of ill-defined 'verbal agreements' including one that could allow Russian investigators to sit in on the interrogation of a former US ambassador to Russia! If the lead-up was tense, the aftermath has been hysterical, but not in a funny way.

Trump has now walked back his comments several times since (the "would, wouldn't" claim has drawn scorn and mirth in equal measure). At the time of writing he had even circled all the way back to personally blaming Putin for the hacking. 

The Helsinki summit wasn't the only troubling news for Trump this week. A Russian woman was dragged in on espionage charges for infiltrating the National Rifle Association (the accusations have been lifted straight from a C-grade spy paperback - salacious doesn't even begin to cover it).
Shinzo Abe is all smiles. PHOTO: Koji Sasahara / AFP
  • European Union leaders signed a comprehensive trade deal with Japan, reducing tariffs on both sides
  • China and Taiwan traded verbal barbs as Beijing conducted extensive war-games in the East China Sea
  • France beat Croatia ito win the 2018 FIFA World Cup
  • Angelique Kerber and Novak Djokovic took home the chocolates at Wimbledon
  • The European anti-trust regulator fined Google $5b for "tying" certain applications to its Android OS
  • A huge sarcophagus believed to hold the remains of Alexander the Great was opened in Egypt
  • The governing body in basketball handed suspensions to three Australians and 10 Filipinos after a brawl
  • Goldman Sachs anointed David Solomon to replace Lloyd Blankfein as CEO
  • MGM Resorts earned loud censure for counter-suing victims of the 2017 Las Vegas massacre
  • Reports emerged that the United States is moving towards direct negotiations with the Afghani Taliban
  • Bashar al-Assad's regime bombed the only hospital in the rebel-held city of Nawa
A four-day working week means less staring into the middle-distance. PHOTO: The Independent 

As the world speeds up, it's fair to surmise that most gainfully-employed people worry about a 'work-life' balance. Now, employees at one New Zealand company have had the good fortune of taking part in a world-first trial in which they were paid a full salary but only worked four-day weeks. The test has been described as an 'unmitigated success' by the firm's management which reports increased performance, better morale and decreased stress. Mention this at your next quarterly review.

It's makes sense that the effort to fight melanoma - an aggressive form of skin cancer - is being waged under Western Australia's blistering sun. Scientists at Edith Cowan University have created an early-stage blood-test for one of the country's worst cancers. The simple procedure can apparently detect the presence of melanoma with nearly 80% accuracy. Early-stage detection is crucial when dealing with these tumours as survival rates plummet below 50% when they are left to spread through the body. 

The IDF arrest a child as her village (Kahn al-Ahmar) is bulldozed. PHOTO: Mohamad Torokman / Reuters

This week the Israeli Knesset passed a bill that lends its weight to discrimination against the country's minority groups. The highly-controversial legislation defines Israel as an exclusively Jewish nation-state and removes Arabic as a national language. Perhaps most galling is the mention of Jewish-only settlements as being in the national interest. Successive governments in Israel have worked hard to kill off the prospect of a two-state solution. Now with this legislation even a single-state solution will force a devilish choice upon Palestinians: second-class citizenry in Israeli-dominated areas, or life in economically-dependent bantustans. 

India's rape crisis shows no sign of abating. The city of Chennai is in uproar after the gang-rape of a hearing-impaired 11-year-old that lasted for several months. The stricken child was repeatedly abused by at least 17 and possibly as many as 24 men from her neighbourhood. A 66-year-old elevator operator from the building was the first to attack her. This problem is real and unremitting. It's highly statistically likely that the 110,000 rapes reported to police between 2014-16 are a drop in the ocean of unreported sex crimes. While vigilantes exact mob justice (usually with a noose) on those accused of child-rape in India the causes of their actions go unaddressed. 

Your weekend long reads...
  • The Wall Street Journal explores a seismic shift in modern industries: innovation is being hoarded rather than disseminated
  • The Economist ruffled some feathers with this article: the case for a second Brexit referendum
  • Bloomberg Businessweek delves into a little-known consequence of Japan's ageing population: cleaning up what is left behind
Quote of the week... 
“Public health ethics are clearly not keeping pace with the development of new technologies, in fact, they haven’t even been at the races. The consequences of antenatal screening on the Down’s syndrome community have been profound, enabling a kind of informal eugenics.” - The 'designer babies' debate has spilled over from university philosophy tutorials into the mainstream

What to watch next week...
Pakistans presidential elections. 

One last thing... 
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Tom Wharton for inkl