Zeitgeist

Hostage to Fortune

July 27, 2017

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Hostage to Fortune

Poor Chris Hughes. Poor, poor, insanely rich Chris Hughes.

The Facebook cofounder is the Bertie Wooster of digital philanthropy. Ever of good heart and dumbfounded by his moneyed position, Hughes is always looking to give the world a helping hand through whatever harebrained schemes pop out of the blond mop on his head.

The problem is, his would-be Jeeves is just as hapless as him.

Back in 2014, Hughes’ husband, Sean Eldridge, attempted a run at Congress from New York’s 19th congressional district. Having picked up sticks and moved miles north of NYC for the purposes of running, the liberal Eldridge, whose only political experience was as an ambitious activist for gay marriage, got creamed by his Republican opponent by 30 points despite outspending him by a ratio of 3–1.

And this was in a district former president Obama won in 2012.

This ignominious loss couldn’t have come at a worse time. When Eldridge was getting his dapper ass handed to him, Hughes was busy squandering the reputation of one of America’s oldest and most venerable weeklies, The New Republic. Hughes purchased the liberal magazine back in 2012, but it wasn’t until two years later that he forced out (basically fired) respected editor Franklin Foer and illustrious literary editor Leon Wieseltier, inciting an exodus of writers and contributors.

“The scrawny, pale Harvard student with no technical skills becoming a Facebook multimillionaire does translate into being the luckiest man in all history.”

Foer and Wieseltier played the part of Moses and Aaron to Hughes’ pharaoh. With the masthead largely cleared and its reputation shot, Hughes sold the magazine last year.

All this gets to Hughes’ latest endeavor. A stack of humiliations isn’t enough to keep a Silicon Valley giant down. He still wants to give back to a country that has given him so much. So, with his own unique knack for self-embarrassment, Hughes authored a book on his own failings, tentatively titled We Should All Be So Lucky: Notes on Fortune, Hard Work, and the Basic Income.

Part autobiography, part liberal policy prescription, the gist of the tract is that Hughes doesn’t deserve the obscene amount of money bursting out of his bank account, and thus, poor Americans deserve a bigger handout from the government.

The book opens with Hughes deciding how much stock to sell in front of Wall Street investors not long after Facebook went public. “Despite all that, it’s hard not to feel like a bit of a fraud sitting here stressing about how many shares to sell and how many to keep,” he writes. “I worked hard, but three years of work does not justify the hundreds of millions of dollars I’m about to receive.”

You can say that again, Hughey.

I’ll be the first to admit that millennials who make their fortune in tech don’t deserve the gobs of dough showered upon them. That goes double for Hughes. By all accounts, he’s the luckiest man alive. The Washingtonian compares him to Ringo Starr, jumping onto the Beatles train just as Pete Best got off. I don’t find the comparison accurate: Ringo wrote “Octopus’s Garden,” as fine a song as any within the Fab Four’s oeuvre.

Hughes’ blessed status comes from him being in the right place at the perfectly right time, namely the same dorm room as Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz as they laid the coding groundwork for what’s become America’s most connected community.

Hughes lacked the technical know-how to create Facebook. He just so happened to be the least Aspie-ish of the original crew, which required less than zero talent. For fielding reporter questions and performing general PR tasks, Hughes took a $700 million cut when all was said and done.

So, yes, the scrawny, pale Harvard student with no technical skills becoming a Facebook multimillionaire does translate into being the luckiest man in all history.

The psychic burden of making bank off nothing understandably got to Hughes. Instead of retiring at 25 and kicking back with mai tais on the Caribbean coast, he went into liberal activism. His stint helping digitally organize the Obama ’08 campaign was, contrary to a glowing Fast Company profile, not nearly as laborious as it’s made out to be.


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