You’ve gotta hand it to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: She sure knows exactly when to hit the “go live” button on Twitch. Once again, sensing the perfect moment to address the gamerly masses, she spent a chunk of last night on Twitch talking with experts about the subreddit WallStreetBets’ shiny new technicolor meme coat. Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian also joined and gave a big speech about how hard it is to be poor. It was weird.
Don’t get me wrong. The stream was full of worthwhile discussion on how Wall Street thrives on volatility, the fact that day traders will likely make bank off this no matter what, and how if people are enjoying watching wealthy hedge funders eat shit right now, they’ll really enjoy it if we start regulating them and giving regular workers significantly more power. Former Wall Street professional Alexis Goldstein was an excellent first guest, having recently written about how recent GameStop craziness is “not David vs. Goliath. It’s Goliath vs. Goliath, with David as a fig leaf.”
After that, however, AOC brought on Reddit co-founder/Serena Williams wife guy Ohanian and stock-obsessed streamer TheStockGuy, and things got a little dicier. TheStockGuy rightly identified the ways wealthy, powerful interests cheated the system during the financial crisis of 2008. But he repeatedly advocated against regulation—one of our few real weapons against an otherwise demonstrably rigged system. The conversation also positioned retail traders as The Little Guy Who Represents Us All when, again, many of them are not. Then the littlest guy of all, the Reddit co-founder who is married to tennis megastar Williams, had his big moment. For seven nearly uninterrupted minutes, Ohanian spoke about poor, jobless millennials—he is worth an estimated $70 million, according to Forbes—and our collective struggle against institutions we no longer trust.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about these stories,” Ohanian began. “There are deeply, deeply personal stories being shared about entire families cramming into studio apartments. And, you know, the aftermath of 2008, I’m thinking a lot about a generation—let’s go with millennials in particular. I’m at the upper end of it because I was born in 1983, so I’m just barely [a millennial]. But I came of age right before 9/11. I was a freshman in college. I remember in those years that followed, a lot of us were watching as we were told one thing about expectations of WMDs and led into two foreign wars, and our questioning of really important institutions started to begin.”
This took Ohanian down a rabbit hole that touched on financial institutions, technology, education, and everything else in between. He wasn’t necessarily wrong about most of it, but he was extremely Reddit’s founder, who is worth approximately $70 million, the entire time.
“With an economy in ruins, many were saddled with student loan debt,” Ohanian continued. “And many worked their butts off and were told by well-intentioned family members, society, everyone, ‘Look, if you just work really hard, get good grades, go to a good school, you’ll have a great job. You’ll have a good, middle-class life.’ That was the story everyone was told. And they’re looking around going, ‘I did it. I did all the things. But there’s no job for me.’ And especially at a time, this is more coincidentally, as software and technology really started eating the world, those skills started becoming really valuable—other skills less so.”
One more time, for emphasis: Ohanian is worth approximately $70 million. Williams, his wife, is worth approximately $200 million, significantly more than he is.
It is good that Ohanian is sympathetic to these causes. It is also good that he’s advocated for Black people and promised to donate gains from his Reddit stock to causes that advance the Black community. He’s historically been a staunch advocate for an open internet, which is cool, too. As far as incomprehensibly wealthy people go, he seems like an alright guy. It was still weird watching him give a speech about poor people that felt like it was never going to end while AOC nodded along in the background.
The conclusions he drew were also pretty flawed, exuding remarkably naïve “guy from 2007 who is all about the potential of the internet” energy.
“Institutions really consistently let a generation down at a time when technology with an amazing user experience and the community helped us be better and better,” Ohanian said. “I learned most of my best dad tricks from strangers on the internet—no offense to my dad... I think, at the end of the day, the millions of connected brains are always going to be better than the few, and I think, I hope, the way forward is for better things—for better businesses, for better investing, for better education, for better all the things.”
“And the one theme that continues to show is this intersection with community and technology, and now it’s been infused with capital in a way that I think is just getting started,” he continued. “And we’re already seeing it in alternative assets, whether it’s people trading sneakers or buying and selling trading cards, or obviously cryptocurrencies. We’re seeing all these new ways to opt into investing that there’s no script for. But it only works in a world where you have so many people who feel disenfranchised with the status quo and a trust, actually, a really great trust in one another—even when ‘one another’ might be a stranger on the internet.”
That would be a great conclusion if not for the fact that, again, many GameStop-investing redditors are self-professed hyper-capitalists who exist within the system and just found a new way to game it. Same with many people who are into cryptocurrency. The internet stopped being the wild west the minute several websites—Reddit included—stomped into town and declared themselves sheriff. It’s time to face that reality and do something about it, rather than hoping the collective will of the internet will someday grow so powerful that it can overcome the wealthy interests that shape it. Unfortunately, if there’s one thing rich people have never been good at, it’s facing reality. Not that they really need to.