A first glance Robert Mercer appears to just be another super rich Rightwing donor, who happens to have been intimately involved with getting Trump elected and with many of the people now running of the Trump Administration, but even a shallow researching of Mercer will lead you to a very strange and dark place. First things first. Robert Mercer is an extremely wealthy and powerful person, so here’s a disclaimer: This piece is purely opinion. Opinion.
You can not look at Mercer without seeing the deep flaws of our economic system and how some people are able to exploit those flaws with mathematical precision. If you look into Mercer and company you have to see that our economic system is at a crossroads right now. A crossroads where technology and mathematical theory meet. You can not look at Mercer and company without being struck by what a dangerous and precarious point we are at with regard to our economic system. I don’t think I’m exaggerating at all. Stay with me and you’ll see what I mean.
But I will have to ask you to be patient. If you want to look a who Robert Mercer is you have to understand who James Simons is and what the state of global capitalism is, so I humbly ask for your patience.
In trying to understand Robert Mercer you have to start with James Simons. Last week Obama was spotted in NY and after some initial speculation about why he was there it became obvious that he was there to see billionaire hedge fund guy, James Simons. Billionaire hedge fund guy and big Democratic Party donor.
But if you describe James Simons as a billionaire hedge fund guy and stop there, you’ll be completely missing the point of who James Simons is. James Simons is a mathematician and theoretical physicist who received his bachelor degree in mathematics from M.I.T. and his doctorate from Berkeley at the age of 23.
James Simons is not a hedge fund guy. Simons is leading edge mathematician and physicist. Simons was key in developing String Theory and quantum field theory, he was a leader in, if I understand this right, computer theory and design of pattern recognition software, so-called deterministic algorithm, and he was a leader at IBM in the early days of data encryption. A weird, interesting detail– Simons was a key player at the IBM lab in the ’70’s in the development of something called Lucifer, a precursor to data encryption standard. See, James Simons is not a hedge fund guy. Not at all.
Nope. He is, I think, a mathematical theorist who developed a theory about how economic capital markets work. I believe that it occurred to him that global capitalism is an enormous, complicated system and like all enormous, complicated systems would have patterns, predictable patterns. You could then design software that would look for those patterns and then exploit them.
Capitalism has been exploited by capitalist since the beginning, since long before Standard Oil, or US Steel or slavery in the cotton economy, but this feels different. And even someone like me, with no formal training in these things, a cat lady who’s done some light research, can think of half a dozen ways this ends in a catastrophe without even trying very hard. And we are on the cusp of the age of Artificial Intelligence. Presumably one could write software that could “learn” to identify larger and larger and more complicated patterns and continue to build on that knowledge. So where does this end? I can’t see that it ends well.
You might think, as I did, that people like Simons, people who have the insight and intelligence to design software capable of exploiting our economic system, the capital system, that these same people might also see the flaws in a system that is so exploitable. you might think, as I did, that perhaps they would begin spending some of their time thinking about what a new, evolved economic system might look like. There are no signs that I could find that sort of thinking is happening.
I became curious and started trying to find signs of Simons’, kind of, deeper thoughts. What are his beliefs? What are his guiding principles? He gives generously to the Democratic Party. He gives generously to advance the teaching of math and science, especially to the underprivileged. Good things. But when I look at what he’s said in interviews and speeches he constantly comes back to profit, to what he’s paid, to what he earns. Individual self-interest is probably the greatest flaw with capitalism. Individual self-interest at the expense of the larger good, it’s a reoccurring evil of capitalism. Simons appears, in my opinion, to be a slave to the same flaw, as brilliant as he is otherwise.
Funny, a piece about Robert Mercer becomes really a piece about James Simons and mathematical theory and global capitalism but that is true. James Simons’ hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies, has a reputation for hiring, not finance people, but mathematicians and statisticians. There’s a joke that Renaissance has the brightest mathematics department of any university or research institution on the planet. Not finance people, mathematicians, high-end academic type mathematicians.
Enter Robert Mercer. Simmons recruited Mercer as part of his team at Renaissance brain trust. Mercer showed an early interest and genius in computers. He was writing programs for the Air Force Weapons Laboratory at Kirkland Air force Base in the 60’s before he had even gotten his PhD in computer science. I believe Mercer’s time writing programs for the government was a formative experience in his life. He strongly complained about government research.
He went on to work as a researcher for IBM where he was a leader in something called statistical machine translation. In 1993 he joined Renaissance where he became ridiculously wealthy.
Mercer is obviously extremely intelligent in the realm of mathematics, computing science and statistics, but– and this is just my opinion– but there are things about Mercer that remind me of the emotional mentality of a 12-year-old boy.
If you’ve ever spent any time around 12-year-old boys you may have noticed that it’s not uncommon for them to run around with sticks making machine gun sounds. They love to play army and pretend to have machine guns. I bet a 12-year-old boy, who had almost unlimited funds, would try to acquire one of the largest machine gun collections in the country. I bet he would, just like the one Mercer has. His machine gun collection also includes one of the weapons Arnold Schwarzenegger played with in the Terminator movie! What 12-year-old boy doesn’t love Terminator?
Not only that Mercer has one of the coolest toy train sets around. His scale model train toy cost about $2.7 million.
He also has several yachts, all named Sea Owl, and one has a pirate themed play room (for his grandchildren, maybe).
Keep in mind that when he was a young researcher, working in an US government facility, they did something to upset him. He has publicly commented about it. They may not have respected him the way he felt he should have been respected. 12-year-old boys can be quite vindictive. Billionaire 12 year olds can be extremely vindictive.
Mercer has not just funded small government conservative organizations he has funded organizations that, one could easily argue, seek to destroy governments. He was a major backer of Brexit. He is a large stake holder in Breitbart, formerly headed by Bannon, who frequently states his desire to deconstruct and destroy. And, of course, he has been a huge supporter of Donald Trump, who may be a useful idiot to both him and Bannon, and, perhaps, the Russians when it comes to breaking and destroying things.
One of the interesting aspects of this situation is that Mercer, Bannon and Trump, while all having very different personalities and intellectual capacities, all seem to share that wounded 12-year-old boy emotional state.
Another interesting aspect of this situation– as intelligent as Mercer is he seems to be missing something that’s obvious to, at least me, which is: Mercer and Simons and people like them have figured out how to exploit vulnerabilities in our economic system to amass and concentrate wealth. Many of them are high level statisticians. So, what is the probability that as wealth, and therefore power, is put in greater amounts into fewer hands, what is the probability that someone dangerously unbalanced, emotionally or mentally, will have enough power to cause catastrophic harm to the country or the planet? This thought doesn’t seem to have occurred to Simons or Mercer. A great irony.