28 episodes

Welcome to Zero Sum Empire, the podcast that's taking a critical census of America's billionaire class.

Zero Sum Empire A Census of the Billionaire Class

    • Society & Culture
    • 4.9 • 32 Ratings

Welcome to Zero Sum Empire, the podcast that's taking a critical census of America's billionaire class.

    Girlbosses and Brewmasters: Safra Catz and The Santo Domingo Family

    Girlbosses and Brewmasters: Safra Catz and The Santo Domingo Family

    Billionaires in the News: American Billionaires as a group surpass $1 Trillion in increased wealth during the pandemic. Elon Musk gets COVID, launches manned spacecraft, and makes a fool of himself on Twitter again. Sheldon Solow, New York real estate billionaire and “art collector,” has died.

    Billionaire #1: Safra Catz, 9/10 on the DKMALI (19:55)

    Safra Catz is the current co-CEO or Oracle. Oracle makes enterprise software and database projects, and was instrumental in building the communication infrastructure necessary for the rise of the US government surveillance apparatuses (I think I said CIA when I meant to say NSA a couple times). She has been helping steer the Oracle project for decades. She loves Trump and thinks he’s smart. She’s good pals with Sheldon Adelson. Much like Adelson, it appears she is an Israeli nationalist. You go, #girlboss!

    Billionaire #2: Familia Santo Domingo, 4/10 on the DKMALI (47:20)

    The Santo Domingo family’s fortune is rooted in the beer business, although it has become a sprawling cosmopolitan network of investments. This is a different kind of billionaire family than we’re used to. This is the sort of family that seems like it would feel more at home in the 1920s than the 2020s, because everyone is described as a “socialite” and half of them are European royalty. Downright Hapsburgian. Joe tells us a lot about how the beer industry is controlled by a duopoly, and why that’s the reason you can’t get that great microbrew you tried on vacation.

    Solow Foundation: http://www.solowfoundation.org/hours-of-operation/
    CIA Project Oracle: https://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/larry-ellisons-oracle-started-as-a-cia-project-1636592238
    Larry Ellison, NSA supplier: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/08/guy-who-provides-nsa-databases-loves-nsa-surveillance/312223/
    Ellison NYT editorial: https://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/31/opinion/IHT-a-single-national-security-database.html
    Catz at Israeli ambassador’s house: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6yiMYts63kU
    Leigh Stein on #girlbossing: https://gen.medium.com/the-end-of-the-girlboss-is-nigh-4591dec34ed8
    Oracle's Social Enabled Policing brochure: http://www.oracle.com/us/industries/public-sector/social-enabled-policing-wp-2541916.pdf
    Beer duopoly: https://slate.com/business/2020/07/break-up-big-beer.html

    • 1 hr 21 min
    Devils at the Crossroads: Robert Rowling and B. Wayne Hughes

    Devils at the Crossroads: Robert Rowling and B. Wayne Hughes

    Billionaires in the News: Trump has COVID. We have been imprisoned for 6 months by a reactionary minority political faction in the United States. I’m losing my grip on reality. The pharma billionaire Sackler family may get off and get to keep their money. More Americans died of opiate overdoses since 1999 than died in all of WWII.

    Billionaire #1: Robert Rowling, 7/10 on the DKMALI (10:00)

    Joe introduces us to Robert Rowling, owner of TRT Holding Co., who owns (among other things), Gold’s Gym. Heir to an oil and gas fortune. Rowling is a big-time donor to Karl Rove’s ghoulish super PAC American Crossroads (coincidentally, so is this week’s Billionaire #2). American Crossroads was very well funded, but ultimately not that good at promoting winning candidates.

    Billionaire #2: B. Wayne Hughes, 8/10 on the DKMALI (31:45)

    B. Wayne Hughes got rich in self-storage. He also owns American Homes 4 Rent. We talk a little about self-storage, late capitalism, and desire. We get an intimate glimpse of Joe’s childhood in the middle of a bit on Herbert Marcuse. I think we come up with a solid theory about how self storage fits into the moral universe of American hyperconsumerism. Hughes also has a decades-long friendship with O.J. Simpson and was closely involved in the trial and its aftermath.

    Great bio of Hughes: https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-09-05/usc-secret-donor-billionaire-wayne-hughes
    American Homes 4 Rent exposé: https://www.cbs46.com/investigations/complaints-soar-against-american-homes-4-rent/article_23cf78a8-eefd-11e9-abea-5ff0decbb1c5.html
    Jon Ronson interview: https://www.gq.com/story/amber-waves-of-green-jon-ronson-gq-july-2012

    • 1 hr 7 min
    The Colonizer Next Door: Mark Zuckerberg and The Duncan Family

    The Colonizer Next Door: Mark Zuckerberg and The Duncan Family

    Billionaires in the News: We start with Elon Musk’s dumb online behavior and decide we’re never going to talk about his tweets again. A little about Trump and Gislaine Maxwell. The Lincoln Project and the end of history.

    Billionaire #1: (22:15) Mark Zuckerberg 10/10!!! on the David Koch Memorial Asset Liquidation Index (DKMALI)

    We only discuss what Zuck has been doing during Coronavirus, which is mainly pretending to surf, making the pandemic worse, and trying to colonize Hawaii.

    Billionaire #2: (59:25) Randa Duncan Williams 5/10 on the DKMALI

    Randa is one of four siblings who are pretty anonymous. They all inherited their money from their father, who was an extractive industries billionaire. The thing that they are collectively known for is that they were the first people in modern history to not pay any estate tax when their father died. Joe explains why. We then get into the estate tax, why it exists, and why so many people hate it.

    Some info on the estate tax if you want to know more:

    Zuckerberg and Hawaiian colonization:

    • 1 hr 31 min
    NFHell: Denise Debartolo York and Jeffrey Lurie

    NFHell: Denise Debartolo York and Jeffrey Lurie

    I checked Twitter while I was writing these show notes and noticed that today—the very day we are releasing an episode about two billionaire NFL owners—the Washington Reds***s have announced that they are “conducting a study” that will likely end up with them changing the team name. Almost simultaneously, the NFL announced that it would play Life Every Voice and Sing (also known as the Black national anthem) prior to week #1 games, resulting in a bunch of reactionary psychos getting #BoycottNFL trending on Twitter. Unfortunately, we recorded this episode a couple days ago, so none of that made it into the episode.

    In the News (5:40)
    We only discuss one news item this time, which is a summary of how billionaires have fared during the pandemic. Turns out, they’ve done quite well. In fact, in 2020, the average billionaire added 20% to their wealth so far. Meanwhile, the other 99% of us have collectively lost $5.6 trillion in wealth. Consequently, we should understand the pandemic crisis for what it is: a massive wealth transfer to those who need it the least.

    Billionaire #1 (16:00): Denise Debartolo York (5/10 on the DKMALI)

    Chad researched Denise Debartolo York, heiress to the Debartolo real estate fortune that was built by Edward Debartolo, Sr. She is most well known for being owner of the San Francisco 49ers, although she took it over only after the former owner, her brother Eddie, was found guilty of bribing a Louisiana governor $400,000 to get a riverboat casino license. The Debartolo family has long-standing involvement with the Youngstown mafia. If you are unfamiliar with Youngstown, OH (aka Crimetown, USA) and its history, we think you’ll find this entertaining. We also recommend checking out the readings below, because we barely scratch the surface of the extremely bizarre mafia history of Youngstown.

    Billionaire #2 (46:50): Jeffrey Lurie (4/10 on the DKMALI)

    Joe’s billionaire is owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, and he is, as Joe describes him, “a mostly uninteresting person.” Given his uninterestingness, which is a problem we often run into on Zero Sum Empire, Joe decided to look into the history of football as a sport. He introduces us to Walter Camp, the “Father of American Football,” who not only invented football in the 19th c., but also wrote a bunch of books like “Keeping Fit All the Way” that extol the virtues of things like “purity,” and “cleanliness,” and other normal stuff that doesn’t raise any red flags whatsoever. I think we arrive at the conclusion that the NFL is an organized crime syndicate whose product is violence and whose cost of doing business is the regular production of dead bodies.

    I had a whole segment about Jim Traficant planned that didn’t make it into the show. This story from The New Republic does a nice job of summarizing his career and the general vibe of Youngstown.

    How Eddie DeBartolo got caught in a scandal that cost him the 49ers:

    Short film on Youngstown mafia:





    • 1 hr 20 min
    The Business Algorithm: Excellence + Greatness = Success: Mort Zuckerman and Leonard Stern

    The Business Algorithm: Excellence + Greatness = Success: Mort Zuckerman and Leonard Stern

    We are back with a new episode after an extended break. We talk about why we were gone in the episode. I think we forgot to mention that we are also returning to our regular schedule of releasing episodes. I missed doing this! It was a lot of fun to record again.

    In the News (6:00): We wanted to keep things light and talk about a non-virus story. So, we introduce you to a series of videos in which Diddy interviews billionaire CEO of Bridgewater Investments Ray Dalio. Ray is one of our more frequently-mentioned billionaires. He’s trying to turn himself into the premier entrepreneurial guru, like the Maharishi of extracting surplus value. Diddy “hired” Dalio as his personal business mentor and then agreed to shoot an infomercial for Dalio’s book Principles. Here’s the video:
    Part 1: https://youtu.be/SCCfk2a2O5o
    Part 2: https://youtu.be/s8jwBezj6zg

    Billionaire #1 (15:50): Mort Zuckerman, 4/10 on the David Koch Memorial Asset Liquidation Index

    Zuckerman is a real estate billionaire who got into publishing (which is the exact same life path as billionaire #2 today). He’s most well-known for owning U.S. News and World Report. You may have seen it in a dentist’s office, but I’m not sure the magazine exists anywhere else out in the wild these days. We spend most of the time talking about ranking systems and the ways they tend to reinforce preexisting power dynamics.

    Billionaire #2 (46:50): Leonard Stern, 5/10 on the DKMALI

    Stern is also a real estate billionaire who went into publishing, although he got his start-up capital from Hartz Pet Supplies, the company his father started. Leonard Stern has been part of the Les Wexner party set since the 80s, but please do not construe the facts we state about his life as an accusation of wrongdoing. Make sure to stick around for the story about his son Eddie at the end for another moment in the history of system-wide American financial crimes.

    • 1 hr 31 min
    The Jaunt: Steve Wynn and Travis Kalanick

    The Jaunt: Steve Wynn and Travis Kalanick

    Welcome back everyone. This episode ended up orbiting around the idea of being suspended in a universe beyond time and causality. It’ll make sense in context. The podcast is on a monthly schedule now, in case you’ve been wondering where this episode is. Life events have conspired to prevent us from doing more than that, at least for now.

    In the news this week: Michael Bloomberg, Michael Milken, and the return of the return of the son of the Business Roundtable.

    (20:45) Our first billionaire is Steve Wynn, a Vegas mogul, alleged sex pest, and former finance chair of the RNC. Somehow we end up talking about the ideological function of gambling, seduction, and the end of the world.
    8/10 on the David Koch Memorial Asset Liquidation Index

    (45:45) Second billionaire: Travis Kalanick. The Uber guy. Chad tries to feel his way into the Kalanick mindset by reading through his Principles of Work. We come to the conclusion that all of the magazine profiles that called Kalanick a douchebag were pretty on the money in their assessment of his character.
    7/10 on the David Koch Memorial Asset Liquidation Index

    What a weird episode—two already-famous billionaires is a first. Thanks again for listening. Please like and subscribe. Leave a review. Follow us on twitter.com at @empire_sum. Hell, shoot us a DM.

    P.S., The global economic meltdown happened after we recorded this episode, so we'll get to it next time.

    David Harvey clip: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/david-harveys-anti-capitalist-chronicles/id1442025854?i=1000466819896
    Mean Streets fight scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psMz_i9XfU4
    Casino capitalism article: https://www.salon.com/2012/03/09/casino_capitalism_as_gambling_spreads_metaphor_becomes_reality/
    The Age of Chance excerpt: https://books.google.com/books?id=T7aEAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA137&lpg=PA137&dq=%22The+vertigo+of+seduction%22&source=bl&ots=75EG0zviSI&sig=ACfU3U0BDFpIo42UHR-Faz7nrJjqZWtedw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi_4Y7F6IToAhUUVs0KHVVyC4oQ6AEwAXoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22The%20vertigo%20of%20seduction%22&f=false

    • 1 hr 14 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
32 Ratings

32 Ratings

C00chieMane ,


Came here from a Twitter comment. Great podcast.

Sthr33v3 ,

Fun, informative, necessary

These fellas are well-read, accomplished academics who are fun to listen to. It’s a great concept and they pull it off well. My only complaint is that they have lives/day jobs that limit their output to one episode per month!

packerssotospeak ,

Great job

Great show! A flood light needs to be shined on the extremely small number of billionaires in the USA. This critical census is a wonderful and fun way to get to know the human beings whose compulsions we enable with the deified market that is only free for them. Keep up the important work and thank you for helping me stay informed!

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