All Episodes

358. Technocapitalism: The New Robber Barons with Loretta Napoleoni

the daily helping podcast Apr 22, 2024

Loretta Napoleoni’s career as a journalist and author began when she discovered her childhood best friend had joined a terrorist organization. Since then she has dedicated herself to analyzing the intersection of economics, politics, and violence. We’re excited to have Loretta on the show today.

Loretta’s newest book is called “Technocapitalism: The Rise of the New Robber Barons and the Fight for the Common Good.” In it, she identifies the dangers of only a handful of people controlling the most powerful, newest technology. She advocates for more government oversight. 

Don’t let the title fool you. Loretta doesn’t mind capitalism and she likes technology. She just believes that the common good, as determined by a democratically elected government, should be the guiding light in how we regulate them.

Loetta’s perspective has been shaped through her Fulbright Scholarship to Johns Hopkins, her Rotary Scholarship to London School of Economics degree, and her work at the National Bank of Hungary in the early 1980s. She’ll give you a lot to think about in this episode!

The Biggest Helping: Today’s Most Important Takeaway

We have the power to understand technology. Do not be afraid. I mean, all we need is to study, understand, investigate, and then take control of it, because it's a very, very positive thing for humanity. 




Thank you for joining us on The Daily Helping with Dr. Shuster. Subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts to download more food for the brain, knowledge from the experts, and tools to win at life.



Produced by NOVA Media




Download Transcript Here

Loretta Napoleoni: 

I think we have the power to understand technology. I mean, do not be afraid. I mean, all we need is to study, understand, investigate, and then take control of it because it's a very, very positive thing for humanity.


Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Hello and welcome to The Daily Helping with Dr. Richard Shuster, food for the brain, knowledge from the experts, tools to win at life. I'm your host, Dr. Richard. Whoever you are, wherever you're from, and whatever you do, this is the show that is going to help you become the best version of yourself. 


Each episode, you will hear from some of the most amazing, talented, and successful people on the planet who followed their passions and strived to help others. Join our movement to get a million people each day to commit acts of kindness for others. Together, we're going to make the world a better place. Are you ready? Because it's time for your Daily Helping.


Thanks for tuning into this episode of The Daily Helping podcast. I'm your host, Dr. Richard. And our guest today is simply brilliant. And that's an understatement. Her name is Loretta Napoleoni. A Fulbright Scholar at Johns Hopkins University and the London School of Economics. 


So much I can tell you about her. I'm going to skip a little bit of her story, but I will tell you that her books have been published in 21 languages. She's an international speaker and contributed to several newspapers around the world. A commentator for BBC, Sky, CNN, and many media outlets. And she has a number of bestselling books internationally, including Rogue Economics, Maonomics, and The Terror Nation. 


My goodness, there's so much we get to talk about today. Loretta. in particular, her newest book, Technocapitalism: The Rise of the Robber Barons and the Fight for the Common Good, which is now available everywhere. Loretta, welcome to The Daily Helping. It's awesome to have you with us today. 


Loretta Napoleoni: 

Well, thank you so much for inviting me.


Dr. Richard Shuster: 

It's my pleasure. We're definitely going to dive into your book, but you've done so much. And I want to kind of jump into the Loretta time machine. Tell us what puts you on the journey you're on today. 


Loretta Napoleoni: 

Well, it's a very, very unusual story. So when I was growing up, my best friend was somebody called Alessandra and she became a member of the Red Brigades, so she became a terrorist. So I discovered that the day she was arrested in 1979, and I stayed in touch with her for many years. 


So of course, she never wanted to talk about her decision to become a terrorist. Then in 1992, the Red Brigades decided to end the arms struggle and they made a list of people with whom they wanted to talk to tell their story because they didn't talk to anybody, not even to their lawyers.


Dr. Richard Shuster: 

If somebody doesn't know, give us a little Red Brigade 101. What was that organization? 


Loretta Napoleoni: 

Okay. So the Red Brigades was a terrorist organization, a Marxist organization, which was very active in Italy from the 1960s until 1992. So it was part of the terrorist movement of the Cold War in Europe. So they, I mean, there were serious terrorists. I mean, they killed people. They kidnap people. And she was in particular implicated in the kidnapping and the assassination of the former Prime Minister of Italy, Aldo Moro. So she got several life sentences. 


But anyway, so going back to 1992, she said I would like to talk to my friend Loretta. So in the meantime, I was working in finance in the City of London. I had a child. I was about to have another one. So I had to make a decision, which was a life decision, meaning am I going to go back home and understand why my best friend became a terrorist or shall I just carry on with my career in finance? 


And I opted for the first option because I was curious about one thing. Why my best friend and not try to recruited me as a member of the Red Brigade? So this was my question. You see at that time, organization like the Red Brigades recruited primarily among family members and best friends. So why not me? Okay. So the answer was that she did put up my name several times, but the members of the organization rejected me because they thought I was going to be trouble because I could not be a soldier. I was too opinionating, single minded, and too strong to become a terrorist. 


And so this is how my career started basically in analyzing terrorist organization. And because I am an economist, the thing that really struck me is how did they fund themself? And so this was my first book. Of course, nobody wants to publish my book until 9/11 and then from 9/11 onwards, my phone never stopped ringing. So that's the story. And then I wrote other books, of course, but that became my profession, basically analyzing the dark side of events. In particular, economic events.


Dr. Richard Shuster: 

And we're certainly going to talk about your newest book, which is not about terrorism but --


Loretta Napoleoni: 

No, it’s not.


Dr. Richard Shuster: 

I don’t want to leave this thread unpulled. When you went down that option, you left the business world in London, why did your friend become a terrorist? Did you discover it? 


Loretta Napoleoni: 

Yes. Yes, of course I did. She became a terrorist because she believed that Italy was a block democracy. So it was not a democracy because it was under the influence of the United States during the Cold War. And she wanted to fight against the situation. So she wanted the Italian people, the Italian democracy to be a true democracy. 


I know it sounds completely insane, but when you get into their mind, I mean these are people that commit crimes for political reasons. These are not people that commit crimes for profits. And their belief is so deep that they end up really being convinced that they are not terrorists, but they are revolutionaries, freedom fighters, people that want to bring good to society.


Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Got it. And I know you spent the next number of decades really focused on terrorism and became internationally renowned for your work in that space, but your newest book is not about terrorism. Your newest book, Technocapitalism. So I'm going to give you kind of a two-part question here. One is why now? Why this book now? And then two, give us a definition of technocapitalism, and then let's dive deeper.


Loretta Napoleoni: 

Well, why now? It took me a long time to write this book. It took me three years to write the book. The answer is the same answer why terrorism? I wanted to understand a phenomenon that is not very clear. It's mega. Of course, it's all over us. I mean, it's in our daily life, but nobody really explain to me exactly what it was and how it was going to have an impact on our life today and of course, in the future. 


So it was pure curiosity. And it was pure curiosity for me to understand why my best friend did not recruit me. What is technocapitalist? Well, I would say the technocapitalist is a degeneration of the classic capitalism.

And this is why in the subtitle we have the Robber Barons. So we have a very small group of individuals and companies which have managed to produce technology, control technology, and profit from this technology, not for the common good. 


So we are consumers and users at the same time of something that is not generating that degree of good that you should for our society because technology is positive. It's absolutely not negative. We could solve many of our problems. I mean, think about climate change through technology, but we are not able to do that because we don't understand. 


Dr. Richard Shuster: 

So help me differentiate technocapitalism, which you said is it's kind of a rogue offshoot of regular capitalism. Capitalism in and of itself isn't necessarily for the common good. I think there's been kind of a movement in the last, I'd say, 20 years, where more and more companies are focused on having a social initiative tied to the mission of the company. Certainly, we know that younger people in the workplace, they really only want to work at a place where they care about the place that they work, that they feel like they're making a positive impact in the world. 


But capitalism in and of itself, I've always understood the basic definition of that is marketplace dynamics dictate what you can charge for something, and it's a profit driven entity. So how is technocapitalism different than regular capitalism? 


Loretta Napoleoni: 

What we have to look at is that technology is a major revolution in the state of war in the way we live. And capitalism at the very beginning was produced by the Industrial Revolution. So the Industrial Revolution was a major innovation in technology, which produced very positive impact upon society. 


Now, it is true that there was exploitation, vast exploitation at the beginning. But it's also true that in the long term, produce the welfare and the life that we have today. So look at, for example, the unions. I mean, we had peasantry before the Industrial Revolution where people were servers basically. So we had a feudal system where individual that did not even know that they own an asset, which was their labor. 


And then Industrial Revolution comes, they get exploited. But through that exploitation, they become conscious of what they have to sell, I.E. labor. And so they get united and form the unions. And then the story goes on, how the unions actually had an impact upon politics and life in the nation state. 


So from that point of view, we can't say that capitalism is exploitative only. Capitalists also gave great opportunities to people that had no opportunities. And then, yes, of course, there are degeneration. There is financial capitalism. There are many, many sides of capitalism. They are not right. And this is why we have a state. And this is why we have democracy. So a democratic country is a country that makes sure that this exploitation doesn't take place. So this is more or less a summary of the impact of Industrial Revolution, the positive impact of Industrial Revolution. 


Here we have a new technology which comes to the world. And this technology is boring, not only to the individuals, so the equivalent of the workers of the traditional capitalist society, but also to the state. We have a state that is unable to regulate the technological revolution to drive it because technology moves so quickly. So you can't produce legislation in order to make sure that this technology does not exploit people or does not do damage to people. So that is what the message to a certain sense of the book, is one of the messages of the book is it's about, and that's why it's technocapitalism.


Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Got it. And that makes perfect sense. And you did say that there's positive things we could do with this technology. There's dangers too. And I mean, we're now living in a world where artificial intelligence and machine learning is forging new paths in medicine, new paths in energy, new paths in everything. 


And yet, this is evolving so rapidly that by the time it gets to Capitol Hill here in the United States, they're already on five versions beyond what they're talking about in D.C. So talk to us. I know that -- because I do want to talk about both sides. One talk about positive and negative. So dig a little deeper from what you've researched into the positives that technology as we're moving forward has the opportunity to bring to the world. 


Loretta Napoleoni: 

Well, there are -- I mean, as you said, there are many fields. I mean, we know now, for example, that AI can read mammography for women much better than the human people. So we have cases in which people have been saved from breast cancer way ahead of the time in which a normal eye would have seen that there was cancer. So that's amazing. I mean, we have the possibility to make people with spinal injuries, for example, walk again. We have -- I mean, it's the application to medicine that is immense. But we also have the possibility to harness the energy of the sun from space and provide free and clean energy to the entire planet. 


Now, all of this is of course happening only if it's commercially viable, because, of course, we are in a capitalist society, so you have to make money through your invention. But unfortunately, in the case, for example, of energy, unfortunately, we're not there yet, so there is still a time lag. And this is where the role of the state should be very important, because the investment that we're talking about in certain field, the application of technology for the common good is so vast, so massive that without the participation of the state, it will probably take too many decades. I mean, we may end up being a situation where climate change will be beyond our control and reach. 


So what I say in the book, I say the partnership between the private and the safe sector is fundamental in order to harness this technology for the society, for the common good. The negative side, of course, is the side that you can see the temptation to make a quick buck using technology because you have potentially a market of billions of people. So you're not anymore constrained by the national borders of the various countries, but you can grow global in real time. 


So we're talking about, let's talk about TikTok, for example, which is in the news in this week. So the danger of TikTok for young kids, for example, is massive because, I mean, you have an algorithm that basically maps what is your taste? What are your dreams? What do you want to do? And then the algorithm, of course, feeds you whatever it is that appeals to you. Now, it can be a negative thing. So, your cases of children have eating disorders. We are targeting with videos of people with eating disorder, which compounds their problem, pornography. I mean, you can talk about anything. 


Now, of course, you know you have an algorithm. Now the algorithm has been created in order to maximize the appeal of TikTok to the masses, so to the global market. And then in the positive and in the negative, it actually works like that. We need a way to control this negative impact of technology because the negative impact can actually be so serious that we may actually disintegrate the society. We actually can harm the concept of the nation state also, because whoever controls these social media, so let's call it the algorithm to simplify, is becoming more powerful than the society and the state. 


Dr. Richard Shuster: 

I love this conversation. I actually did my doctoral dissertation on the impact that personal technology has on mental health. And so this is a very near and dear topic to me, which has horrified me for years. And so I want to ask you the question, because you've said, and I agree that the technology moves faster than governments can regulate it. If that's the case, and you talked about TikTok, and what people don't realize, not just TikTok but social media in general, because the algorithm tunes into your personal interests, as Loretta mentioned here. It's basically like taking a hit off of a cigarette every time you watch a new video, or somebody likes your post, right? Like it's a dopamine.


Loretta Napoleoni: 

Yes, yes. 


Dr. Richard Shuster:

Which is it's a pleasure hormone and you feel good, and you get addicted to it. So if the technology moves faster than the government can regulate it, and that's all governments can regulate it, what do we do? How do we as citizens have any measure of control here, other than you're shutting off our phones and not using it?


Loretta Napoleoni: 

Well, I think self-discipline is not going to work because, as you say, it is addictive, it gives you pleasure, and also, it requires maturity. Then I'm talking about the younger generation. I mean, my generation, I'm going to be 70 next year. So my generation, it's more self-discipline, but also it's more in tune with technology so that I can go days without looking at my Instagram and I'm okay. 


But when you're brought up in that way, having that companion, that extension of yourself and extension also of your social group or your even family, it’s going to be very, very difficult self-discipline. So I think the way forward would be for the state to set up task force, which are specialized in this field. Because I mean, one of the problems I discussed in the book is that I introduced this concept of present future, so we basically live in the present, but in reality, we're already living in the future because technology moves so fast that what was yesterday is already the day after tomorrow. So that creates anxiety in people because people do not understand, I mean our brain is not build up to move so quickly. 


So imagine a government, which by definition is law. So having task force working specifically on all of these issues would give us the possibility to be ahead of the curve. And then once we're ahead of the curve, certain kind of decision have to be taken, which are not decision easy to take. I'm talking about maybe even nationalization of certain kind of technology, the Internet. I mean, who controls the Internet? I mean, who actually patrols it? I mean, all of this are serious, serious question about the future of democracy. So to a certain extent, we also have to reimagine our democracy in order to save it from what originally was and it should be. 


Dr. Richard Shuster: 

When you say reimagine it, what should it look like? 


Loretta Napoleoni: 

Well, I think they should be -- I mean if I say there should be less freedom in terms of cyber freedom, it's the wrong word. So it's not so much freedom as it is actually containment. As there is containment in the society every day, I mean, so there is containment in order to prevent criminality, in order to prevent children being corrupted, there is containment about pornography. I mean, pornography is not prohibited per se, but it is contained so that it doesn't impact negatively on people.


So I think we have to conceive technology in these terms, but it's very difficult because technology is presented very much as an abstract concept and also is projected by the Robber Barons as a sort of place where everybody is free and everybody's equal, which is not true at all. It's a complete illusion.


Dr. Richard Shuster: 

So it's interesting because on one hand, I know that most people, they don't want somebody kind of monitoring over them. They want to be able to go to whatever websites they want to use, use whatever platforms they want to, listen to whatever music they want to without big brother kind of overseeing them. On the other hand, you mentioned things, right, like the idea that a child could access pornography. If you’ve liken this to the real world, what would happen if a 7 year old walked into a drugstore and tried to buy a pornographic magazine, right? It wouldn't be allowed. The pornographic magazines are kept in a different section, right? I used to work in a drugstore so I sold them, right? So I know how this works. And so when you think about a kid buying alcohol, they can't, right? But yeah, 


Loretta Napoleoni: 



Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Right. But so then when you think about the Internet, you have people that are using the Internet for child sex trafficking You have people who are using the Internet for prostitution. You have people that are using the Internet for terrorism which you know all too well, right? And so it's a difficult conversation because where do you draw the line? Where is the line that says, “This is okay. Here's your freedom as a citizen. You get to do this”? Where's the line that says, “Well, here's where government steps in and drops a hammer?” It's a tough question. 


Loretta Napoleoni: 

It is. But this is exactly the story of TikTok because I saw, for example, a few videos where teenagers, when the news that maybe TikTok is going to be shut down, teenagers were enraged by, them attacking the governmental decision to do something like that. So first step, you got to trust who rules the world. I mean, you got to trust politics, meaning you cannot possibly substitute an elected government with a technocapitalist simply because the technocapitalist gives you what you want, which is not necessarily good. It can be actually very bad. 


I mean, I'll give you an example. So Starlink. The Starlink is a way to give the internet to the world everywhere. So you can be in the middle of the ocean, you attach yourself to Starlink. And this is because there has been the decision from some of these technocapitalists. So we're talking about Bezos, we're talking about Musk. Starlink, of course, is of Elon Musk to set up satellites in the low Earth orbit so that you can access the Internet everywhere. 


Now, many people use it in remote locations, and it's a good thing because so they are connected. But it's also true that you buy a kit of Starlink, which is as big as a pizza, right, and then you can take it everywhere. So now we have terrorist organization, warlords, Sudan, I'm talking about also in the war in Ukraine, I'm talking about Syria or in Iran, they are actually using this connectivity that is given to Starlink to bypass the blockage done by the various political forces.


So here you are, you may have the Uzi who are bombing ships, cargos, the cross in the Red Sea using the connectivity that Starlink gives everybody in order to talk to each other and carry out an attack. So that is an example. So, should Starlink be accessible so easily as it is, or maybe there should be a way to contain the use of Starlink only to people that are the people that should be using it, not to other people?


Now, there has been an attempt to -- it's called geofencing. So there's been an attempt to restrict the use of Starlink, but it doesn't work. Basically, nothing has happened. So question is, is the low Earth orbit and the potential of the low Earth orbits domain of these Robber Barons or is it domain of the population of the earth? So these are huge questions that we have never addressed because we've never been in this situation, but we are at the point where maybe we should. 


Dr. Richard Shuster: 

It's a very complex topic of, as you said, I mean I didn't know that terrorists were using Starlink. It makes intuitive sense. I mean, we've heard that the 9/11 terrorists had burner cell phones, so they couldn't be tracked by the FBI because they would use a phone, call whoever they needed to call, drop that phone in a trash can, pick up another prepaid phone to do the same thing. It's another example of that. And yet, there are places where Starlink is able to bring connectivity to places that otherwise wouldn't have it. 


Loretta Napoleoni: 

Yeah, but you see the responsibility -- this is the issue. Can one individual only at the responsibility of something like that? I think it's too much. I mean, it's not that Elon Musk is no good or is good or whatever. One individual cannot have that kind of responsibility. This is a responsibility of the society. 


Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Fascinating. You've raised some very provocative questions. Questions that don't have easy answers, but questions we need to be asking our leaders and talking amongst ourselves about. Loretta, this has been such a great discussion. As you know, I wrap up every episode by asking my guest just this one question. What is your biggest help in today, that single most important piece of information you'd like somebody to walk away with after hearing our conversation today?


Loretta Napoleoni: 

I think we have the power to understand technology. I mean, do not be afraid. I mean, all we need is to study, understand, investigate, and then take control of it, because it's a very, very positive thing for humanity. 


Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Well said. Tell us where people can learn more about you online and get their hands on your book, which is now out.


Loretta Napoleoni: 

Well, the book for sure you can buy on Amazon. You can Google my name and then there are lots of stories about myself, videos, web page. Also have a web page, which is That's it. 


Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Perfect. And we'll have everything Loretta Napoleoni at the show notes at Loretta, I've really enjoyed our conversation. Grateful you came on today and really posed some interesting things to think about. Thanks so much for coming on. 


Loretta Napoleoni: 

Thank you. 


Dr. Richard Shuster: 

Absolutely. And I want to thank each and every one of you as well who tuned into the show. If you like what you heard, if you're going to have conversations about this around the dinner table tonight because it was provocative, go give us a follow and a five star review on your podcast app of choice, because this is what helps other people find the show. 


But most importantly, go out there today and do something nice for somebody else, even if you don't know who they are, and post in your social media feeds using the hashtag #MyDailyHelping, because the happiest people are those that help others.


There is incredible potential that lies within each and every one of us to create positive change in our lives (and the lives of others) while achieving our dreams.

This is the Power of You!