Among the various thinkers, pundits, armchair philosophers and public commentators on what the world and our civilization will look life when our quarantined domestic life and social distancing are no longer required by law, the financial press and some of the popular media routinely turn for guidance to Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team.
There are four reasons for the media to put Cuban in the spotlight. The first is that, like US President Donald Trump, he’s both a billionaire investor and a media celebrity thanks to his prominent involvement in the reality TV show, “Shark Tank.”
The second is that he has gained notoriety as the very active owner of a high-profile NBA team. He is comfortable in a multiracial, multinational context. This provides an interesting contrast with Trump. Cuban comes across as a caring, humanistic employer aware of and capable of focusing on the needs of his employees, which includes not only superstar athletes but also the cleaning staff of the Dallas arena.
Democracy Didn’t Need COVID-19 to Begin Its Decline
The third is that in the past, possibly inspired by Trump, he has hinted at possibly running for president. The fourth is that Cuban made his fortune in the tech industry and, at 61, is still young in comparison to other politically-minded billionaires like Trump and Michael Bloomberg. Unlike Trump, Cuban is articulate and knowledgeable about the economy, but like Trump, he has a sense of how to use the media. Many people see Cuban as a credible presidential candidate, especially now that voters have shown themselves receptive to the idea of billionaire presidents.
This week, Cuban responded to questions from Yahoo Finance on the issue of the moment: what the coronavirus pandemic means for the future of the US economy and the survival of capitalism.
Cuban empathizes with those who suffer but, in the creative spirit of American entrepreneurship, sees this as an exciting opportunity to redesign the US economy and achieve national unity. Cuban said: “This is American reset 1.0. We get the chance to rewrite all the rules and do it in a way that is non-partisan, puts people first, puts everybody on equal footing, and says, ‘You know what, let’s go forward and do this together. We the people.’”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
We the people:
A cliché indicating the beginning of an imaginary dialogue that supposes an entire population can speak with a single voice. The phrase originally appeared in the preamble to the US Constitution. Its inclusive “we” implies that the population agrees with the views of the imaginary personality who speaks in the name of “we.”
As a highly-visible businessman and generously vocal media personality, Cuban has on various occasions drifted toward the world of politics. He follows a tradition inaugurated by Ronald Reagan and continued by Trump. Though Cuban has been consistently critical of Trump’s personality and politics, he has clearly understood the vocation the anti-establishment Trump persona defined for billionaire presidents ensured his election in 2016. For the American people, billionaires are more credible than ordinary politicians when it comes to inaugurating a “reset” of the political climate and a rewrite of the rules of government, if not the laws themselves.
With his reputation as an investor in dynamic startups, Cuban is the anti-Trump. Instead of evoking a fantasized, hyperreal past encapsulated in Trump’s “Make America Great Again,” Cuban focuses on pushing forward the innovations that will ensure a brilliant future in which everyone can become an entrepreneur. At the same time, as a true self-made tech businessman and a startup investor, he embraces a romantic tradition that believes everyone can succeed thanks to great ideas, hard work and team spirit.
For Cuban, “we the people” can get the job done. Cuban is one of those rare billionaires who sincerely believes everyone should be “on equal footing.” The heavily involved, tirelessly active owner of a top professional basketball team, Cuban is present at nearly every match and in permanent personal dialogue with his players, yet he never interferes with the authority of the team’s coach. He has clearly acquired a deep pragmatic understanding of teamwork and the complementarity of roles that few business executives can fathom and fewer manage to apply, even those who publicly preach the “team spirit.”
True to his image as a forward-looking thought leader with a grasp of the future, Cuban sees this moment of unprecedented crisis for the nation as an opportunity to be creative economically and politically. His desire to “rewrite the rules” could sound revolutionary and even subversive, coming from a declared believer in the capacity of capitalism to solve all problems. He realizes that the post-coronavirus world will necessarily have a different look and feel than the pre-coronavirus society. Cuban appears to be in phase with The Daily Devil’s Dictionary’s recent appeal to think of the current health crisis as a prompt for “rethinking the architecture of a needs-based economy.”
In his interview with Yahoo Finance, Cuban comes across as a non-ideological free market conservative with strong populist instincts. Interviewed last week by Fox News, at the moment when Congress was debating the coronavirus bailout bill, Cuban made clear his vision of the nation’s priorities. “We just need a deal that gets money into the American people’s hands and into the hands of small businesses, in particular, and then you deal with the rest later,” he said. “Big corporations have options … even the industries that have been decimated — hospitality, airlines — they have options.” Critiquing Washington, he stressed that both the Republicans and Democrats have failed to address the real issue and preferred to engage in futile political wrangling.
When coaxed by the panel of ladies at “The View” to criticize Trump for what they believed was the president’s inept and contradictory management of the crisis, he responded, “I think it was a failure of leadership across the entire political spectrum.” By differentiating himself from traditional, establishment politicians of both parties, it may be legitimate to suspect that Cuban is about to throw his hat into the ring as a presidential candidate, a ploy similar to the one Trump used successfully in 2016.
At the end of their fairly lengthy interview with Cuban, the Yahoo Finance team broached that question: Is he intending to run for president? His answer was only slightly evasive. Given the deep uncertainty of the current political and economic situation, it is remotely possible that there would be an opening in the 2020 race, but Cuban appears to be thinking about 2024 or beyond.
Here is how he formulated his ambition while hedging his bets: “It’s not a good answer, but it’s an opportunity, if not me, then anybody to stand up. I think we’re tired of traditional politicians. We’re tired of the political parties and there’s no better time for somebody to step up and be a leader. There’s a void of leadership and the door’s wide open, whether it’s me or anybody else.” Mentioning “me” twice indicates the drift of his meaning.
If Mark Cuban runs for president, which party would he represent? This has been a permanent quandary for billionaires. Both Donald Trump and Michael Bloomberg have assumed, at different moments of their careers, the identity of a Republican and Democrat. Billionaires tend to be switch-hitters.
If Cuban is a Republican, most rational people listening to him — whatever their political affiliation — are likely to find him a refreshing alternative to Trump. If he ran this year as an independent, many Democrats might find Cuban to be a desirable alternative to Joe Biden, though he has publicly admitted he’s more Republican than Democrat because he’s a “fiscal conservative.” On the other hand, Biden and the establishment Democrats are also fiscally conservative, and as the debates over the bailout bill last week demonstrated, Democrats may be more fiscally conservative than Republicans and far more than Cuban.
In the past, Cuban has declared his empathy with the archconservative, extremely individualistic philosophy of Ayn Rand. Though, when asked to comment, he reduces the brutal, insensitive egoism of Rand’s ethics, founded on the uncompromising pursuit of self-interest, to the simple idea of the need to “think as an individual” and “take risks.” Rand would never have countenanced Cuban’s recommendation of putting people first.
As a tech entrepreneur fascinated by technology, Cuban doesn’t appear to be too interested in the past or in the subtleties of any philosophy, past or present. He’s an investor, which means he’s focused on the future. He sees capitalism as the means to escape the annoyance of history and create a new future. Commenting on the current pandemic, Cuban explains: “Capitalism is what’s going to save us. Capitalism didn’t get us here, a virus did.”
He seems to have forgotten even the recent history of capitalism. Yes, this time it is a virus. But the last time, digging into history as far back as 2007-08, it was capitalism and the hyperreal madness of financial markets disconnected from the economy “that got us here.” How could he not have noticed at the time? As an investor, that was his business.
Cuban is right when he insists in the interview that we must “learn from our mistakes” and improve our methods. But that implies the capacity to recognize one’s mistakes. If we can so easily forget our mistakes from 12 years ago, how much can we expect to learn this time around?
On the other hand, and though he certainly won’t acknowledge it, Cuban the capitalist seems to have learned something from people like Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a democratic socialist. Explaining to the Yahoo team what capitalist entrepreneurs must do in the future, he describes a method that Sanders, Thomas Piketty or Noam Chomsky would approve of: “We need to have our employees participate more … I’m a big believer that … every employee should have stock in ownership in their company.”
To be fair, Cuban doesn’t go so far as to propose that the employees sit on the board and participate in strategic decisions. Still, what he proposes is something the vast majority of capitalists would refuse even to consider. It simply doesn’t correlate with the logic of traditional capitalism, which consists of minimizing costs, maximizing profits and streamlining decision-making.
At another telling moment of the interview, a member of the Yahoo team asks the question: “Doesn’t this crisis also show us the value of the safety net?” Cuban unhesitatingly answers: “Obviously you need a safety net. Do we need safety nets? Yes.” He nevertheless pulls himself up at one point to demonstrate his fiscal conservatism: “The question is, how do we enable them?”
In other words, Mark Cuban, the Republican capitalist bred on Ayn Rand, has defined positions that Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and other power-wielding Democrats not named Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would systematically dismiss as un-American. If the safety net is so “obviously” essential, why have none of the past governments — Republican or Democrat — sought to implement it? Why did Biden, just three weeks ago, suggest that he would veto Medicare for All because of its cost? Or why did Governor Andrew Cuomo recently call for reducing Medicaid in New York, calling it a “major problem?”
If Cuban ever does become president, it may be true to say that Sanders — or at least his program — will have finally won an election.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.