According to a piece [sorry, no link] in Politico this morning, former New York City mayor and multi-billionaire Michael Bloomberg is considering running for president. The piece said that he would probably only enter the race if Bernie Sanders wins the Democratic nomination or if Hillary Clinton hangs on to win the nomination, but “is significantly weakened by Sanders and lurches hard to the left.”
This is the sort of story that people might think was a whacky conspiracy theory dreamed up by someone who had spent too much time listening to Senator Sanders’ tirades about the millionaires and billionaires who run the country. After all, Politico is telling us that one of the richest people in the country is holding out the possibility of entering the race, and possibly throwing the presidency to the Republicans, if the voters nominate the wrong candidate for president or push the right candidate too far to the left.
And, Bloomberg can make this a meaningful threat solely because he is a billionaire. (He does have some standing as a moderately successful 3-term mayor of New York City, but no one thinks that if Bill de Blasio serves two more terms as New York’s mayor, he will be in a position to threaten to run as an independent if he doesn’t like the 2028 Democratic nominee.)
This is certainly getting to be an interesting race now that we have a billionaire threatening the Democrats not to nominate anyone who is too progressive. It is worth noting in this context the origins of Bloomberg’s billions. Unlike a Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos, who can point to innovations that improved people’s lives as the basis of their billions, Bloomberg made his money by making business information available to traders faster than anyone else.
Bloomberg’s terminals allow traders to be the first ones to get news on the state of Florida’s orange crop or the state of cacao harvest in West Africa. This might not matter much to the world (it’s hard to see a big difference to the economy if the markets take ten minutes rather than one minute to adjust to the news of frost damage to Florida’s orange trees), but it makes a huge difference if you’re trading tens or hundreds of millions of dollars daily in these markets.
For this reason, traders are willing to pay thousands of dollars a month to get access to the Bloomberg terminals, thereby making Mr. Bloomberg one of the richest people in the country. (Senator Sanders’ proposal for a financial transactions tax, which would make short-term trading far less profitable, would be bad news for Bloomberg’s main line of business.)
So there we have it. Put one more item in the corner of the millionaires and the billionaires to add to all the other advantages they have in the political system. If the Democrats move too far left, they will jump in to try to throw the race to the Republicans.