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Americans have been hyped about entrepreneurs since the nation’s inception. Credit or blame probably goes to Benjamin Franklin.

Between 1771 and 1790, with the war and the establishment occupying much of his time, Franklin perfected the ultimate press kit for a businessman he greatly admired: himself. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, published in French in 1791 and in English in 1793, is the original text from which all self-made hero stories, all queer innovator stories, and all good stories come. .

I don’t know if the kids are getting a big dose of Franklin yet. My classmates and I loved him. the boring bread-and-butter pauper who catches the eye of a passing girl; the printer’s apprentice who builds a publishing empire on the back of an advice column written in the voice of a fictional woman; A self-taught scientist tries to catch lightning with a balloon and a key. As a philanthropist, Franklin invents fire departments and public libraries and other vital organs of happy communities, all while speaking with immortal wit and tenacious sayings.

The story became a template for generations of Andrew Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Milton S. For Hershey’s. The list goes on. America’s appetite for confident upstarts is bottomless. Some age better than others. Franklin’s story has been preserved quite well. Ford turned out to be a deranged anti-Semitic. But they all maintained the basic requirements of getting rich and giving a lot. Which cannot be said about some new models.

Washington Post reporters Tori Newmeier, Julian Mark and Peter Wariskey explain what led to the shocking collapse of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange. (Video by Joy Yee/The Washington Post, Photo by Stephanie Reynolds/Bloomberg/The Washington Post)

Enter Sam Bankman-Fried. Back on Halloween, this boy plutocrat, along with his furry brother, was a newly minted example of greed in the service of good. He had supposedly built a better mousetrap, and the world had indeed opened a path to his door. His net worth had risen to the point where it was hard to pinpoint the nearest billion. But the SBF, as it was widely known, had barely rolled off the myth-making assembly line before the wheels came off. As I write this, his fortunes have deteriorated and he is living in a Bahamian jail cell.

Opinion: Sam Bankman-Fried doesn’t read. That tells us everything.

Descending the well-worn ladder from shiny to colorful to struggling to disgraced, Bankman-Fried landed in a heap of battered demigods. Remember Elizabeth Holmes, the 20-year-old turtleneck who pretended to disrupt the blood-testing industry? Verdict: Remember Adam Neumann, the founder of WeWork, who argued that real estate was a technology play? He jumped from his company (albeit under a giant golden parachute). Remember Elon Musk? Oh, that’s right. He won’t let us forget him as he very publicly sheds his crazy-fox persona to reveal his true crazy-fox self.

Journalists would be wise to write profiles of modern tycoons in vanishing ink; less to correct the record when the story falls apart. But that advice raises a question. Why are myth makers so wrong? It’s one thing to realize that IBM chairman Thomas Watson was wrong to sell data processing services to the Nazis; at least IBM was real. Today’s recurring theme is overhyped company founders.

The problem boils down to two facts, both related to the technological revolution. The first is the not entirely unfounded belief that new technologies are for the young. Any parent who asks a child to Photoshop a family vacation card can relate, and so can the relative old men who run venture capital firms (and the desperate pension funds that play in their casinos). They suck at the antics of the young because they think only the young can grasp the next new thing.

The second fact follows from the first. The more mysterious the product, the more trustworthy the business. The gullibility of investors and business writers in the face of this reasoning is astounding. They will believe that the kid in the t-shirt (Bankman-Fried) can make a great financial exchange between video games. They will believe that losing millions of dollars a day in real estate equals a high growth tech company (Neumann). They will believe in a tunnel across the Missouri filled with super-fast hover cars (Musk).

Portraits of the rich have always been distorted, their best features exaggerated, their flaws retouched. But in earlier times, sanctuaries were built on the real thing, Carnegie steel. Hershey’s chocolate. Warren Buffett’s soda, razors and insurance policies. Not long. Today, all it takes to make a mark as an entrepreneur is a gullible investor who whips others into FOMO frenzy.

Fear of letting go, that is. Ben Franklin, who taught us to earn and save a penny at a time, did not approve.


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