Politics is the Biggest Game

I’ve only ever wanted seven jobs in my life:

  1. Goalie, St. Louis Blues: 1992-95
  2. Astronaut, NASA: 1995-99
  3. President, USA: 1999-2010
  4. Owner, St. Louis Blues: 2000-Now
  5. Help Dad Rebuild His Business: 2010-12
  6. Make Independent Testing Ubiquitous: 2012-2020
  7. Solve the World’s Biggest Problems: 2020-Now

I picked these jobs not because they were easy, or fit my skill sets, but because I truly believed at the time that each of these jobs was the most important job in the world.

That’s me. Give me the world’s hardest jobs and I’ll step up and take my best shot.

  • Put me in Coach. I’m ready to play.

The more I study the world’s biggest problems, the more I realize that the best, and often only, solutions are through politics.


It’s a shame that so many of the world’s richest people think that politics is a waste of time.

  • Interestingly, most 6-7 figure net worth people I meet generally trust government, and if there’s a policy or politician they really like or dislike, they’ll be politically active trying to make a difference.
  • But almost every 9-10+ figure net worth people I’ve met1 is anti-politics and anti-government.
    • Specifically, they believe that governments are hopelessly inefficient and that the only way to make a difference in the world is through startups/business/investing.
      • This is both self-serving (they are almost all founders, CEOS, and/or investors) and cognitive dissonance (governments are the only entities that allocate more capital then them).

Politics is the biggest game in the world.

  • Sure, the top entrepreneurs and investors individually make way more money than the top politicians.
    • But even the combined wealth of the richest billionaires pales in comparison to annual government spending.

The entire combined net worth of the top-10 richest billionaires in the world is $1.15 trillion.

The US government spent $6.55 trillion in 2020 alone:

Source: Data Lab

The US Government could spend the entire net worths of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison, Larry Page, Sergei Brin, and Mukesh Ambani, in just 64 days.

  • We can argue whether this is good or bad (see next section), but it’s true.
    • How does this change your opinion on whether businesses or governments are more powerful?2

The US Government could spend the entire market cap of Bitcoin in just 37 days.

  • How does this change your opinion on whether crypto or governments are more powerful?

The next cynical response is to claim that most or all of the money government spends is wasted.

What would you cut here?

  • It’s possible that half of this spending could be cut and we could get similar results.
    • But which half?
  • What we really need is optimization in every category on costs and benefits.
    • It’s easy to say “cut everything.” It’s hard to cut only the right things.
    • We need more smart fiscal hawks at every level of our government.
      • I nominate Jeff Bezos for OMB Director.
        • He’s the world’s best private capital allocator.
        • Let’s see how he does managing an annual budget over 10 times bigger than Amazon.

Another cynical response to politics is to claim that all politicians are inherently evil.

  • There are both bad (e.g. Power) and good (e.g. Altruism) reasons to run for politics.
  • People who take this attitude are resigning themselves to be ruled by power-hungry politicians.

Take it from noted cynic Plato:

The chief penalty is to be governed by someone worse if a man will not himself hold office and rule. It is from fear of this, as it appears to me, that the better sort hold office when they do, and then they go to it not in the expectation of enjoyment nor as to a good thing, but as to a necessary evil.

Plato, Republic 1: 347c

You don’t have to be this cynical to get into politics.

  • Go meet your local politicians. Your mayor. Your state representative and state senator.
    • You’ll find that they’re mostly good, genuine people who earnestly got into politics to make a positive difference in their communities.
    • You’ll also hear them complain about the complexities of the system, how tiring it is to raise money and campaign constantly, etc.
      • Don’t hate the players, change the game.

Another cynical response is that politics is too slow.

  • I used to believe this too.
    • It took me 10+ years in startups to realize that changing any market takes decades.
      • Now when idealistic founders come to me with a big idea to change an important regulated industry (e.g. education, healthcare), I first ask them whether they’re willing to commit 10+ years to this mission. When they say yes, I ask them if they’d also be willing to commit 3-5 years to try to pass key legislation that could permanently fix the problem they want to solve.
        • The former gets the media attention, but the latter often makes a faster, bigger impact.

The last cynical response to politics is to give up.

  • “I voted and nothing changed.”

Voting Is The Least You Can Do.

  • I hate when cynical people attack politics as “unfixable” when all they’ve done to fix it is vote.
  • Everyone can make a bigger impact on the world’s biggest problems by being more politically active.

Many of our men in business, or our young men who are determined to enjoy life (as they have every right to do so only if they do not sacrifice other things to enjoyment), rather pride themselves on being good citizens if they even vote, the vote is still the least of their duties.

— Theodore Roosevelt, “Duties of American Citizenship” (1883)

You don’t have to run for office (or donate millions) to make a difference in politics.

  • Pick one issue you love and advocate for it.
    • Become an activist. Join local and national organizations advocating for the same issue and help them spread the word, raise money, and recruit more volunteers. Pitch an idea for a new bill to your local politicians. Whatever you do, get in the game.
  • I want to inspire more “multi-sport athletes” to go pro in politics and/or activism.
    • Start local. If you’re not ready to run, help someone you know run. Fight for your favorite issues. Find other politicians who support your issues and support their next campaign. Whatever it takes to solve big problems.

If you have any ideas for new solutions to the world’s biggest problems, especially in politics and activism, send me a tweet @neilthanedar and let’s start a conversation!

Notes:

  1. This is not a brag. A big part of my job is asking really rich people for money. They usually say no, but they’re happy to give me advice on all the things wrong with my ideas and the world in general.
  2. This doesn’t mean that startups and businesses aren’t valuable to countries too.
    • Startups are the fastest way to fix a specific problem.
      • But we shouldn’t confuse point solutions with systemic solutions.

Published by Neil Thanedar

Neil Thanedar is a scientist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist. He is the founder & CEO of Air to All, a nonprofit medical device startup designing low-cost respirators and ventilators for COVID-19 and beyond. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Labdoor, a consumer watchdog that independently tests and ranks supplements and other health products for its 20M+ users. He was previously co-founder and President of Avomeen Analytical Services, a product development and testing lab acquired for $30M+ in 2016. He has also served as Executive Director of The Detroit Partnership and Senior Advisor to his father Shri Thanedar in his campaigns for Governor and State Representative in Michigan. He received his BBA (Entrepreneurship) and BS (Cellular & Molecular Biology) from the University of Michigan in 2010. Neil lives in Michigan with his wife Shoua, sons Kai (3) and Ajay (1), and dogs Zeus (12) and Pluto (11). He is also a (very) amateur hockey player and drummer.