Chocolate fish, red herrings and billionaires

Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement takes a look at New Zealand’s richest capitalist

The rich become that way because they work hard to provide the everyday things that our nation needs. So runs the story that underpins the economic system we live under. It’s something that is so taken for granted, it often goes uncommented upon. It seems as natural and obvious as sun in summer or chocolate fish tasting like chocolate rather than fish. Other times you will see the corporate media actively propagating this idea somewhere in the business section of your paper. By the way, that’s the bit you often skip over to get to the crossword at the back, in case you weren’t sure what that was. Overall, it feels like there’s not much to be said about it, right? Wrong.

The National Business Review (https://www.nbr.co.nz/ )is one of the key information organs of those who run capitalism here. It’s worth reading now and then. It tells you what our masters think is important. The NBR publishes an annual list of the local richest individuals. At present the top person on that list is Graeme Hart, with a fortune of approximately $10 billion. However, the news of the moment is that he may be eclipsed by somebody called Peter Thiel. If you know who he is, that’s great, but chances are most of us don’t. Stop and think about that for a second. Here is nearly the richest individual on these islands and you probably don’t know his name, what exactly he does or what he looks like.

So who is Thiel? He was born in Germany but mostly grew up in the United States and was living in California when he first came to attention here. That’s because it was discovered in 2017 that he had been granted fast-tracked New Zealand citizenship in 2011 despite only having spent 12 days here! (https://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=11883554). The reason was not that he had escaped a war-torn country and desperately needed asylum, but simply he had put lots of money into some businesses here.

There are some aspects of his investment history that (if you wanted to be very generous), you could argue have been relatively benign and possibly even useful, such as PayPal. In other cases he got in on the groundfloor of things and did well for himself, such as an early stake in Facebook. On the other hand, there are some downright dodgy aspects to how he accumulated his wealth.

In 2004 Thiel co-founded an outfit called Palantir. This is a software company that could best be described as handmaidens to the totalitarian surveillance society. That’s because they work closely with an alphabet soup of nice organisations like the CIA, NSA, ICE and the FBI to mine huge amounts of online data from electronic surveillance. As for a connection to local spies, according to media sources here, the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) and Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) will neither confirm or deny if they are clients of Palantir. However, they have an office in Wellington and the GCSB have advertised for staff that know Palantir’s software. That’s about as close to a smoking gun as you can get! Other research has exposed that the NZ Defence Force has spent millions of dollars with Palantir (Daily Post 9/7/20). At this point it’s not exactly clear how much of Palantir Thiel owns but part of the reason he may overtake Hart as the richest person here is that there is talk of listing the company on the stock exchange. Read more

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