My Conversation With Mark Cuban
For those who prefer to read rather than listen.
BW: This is Honestly and I'm Bari Weiss. First: Thank you to everyone who has listened and subscribed and shared and reviewed our first episode this week. Your support means the world to me and our team, and we are incredibly grateful.
If you haven’t heard it, please go check it out. It’s about the transformative moment that we’re living through, a moment that is changing every single one of us. In a few days I'll be bringing you another episode on how we got here, with a former CIA analyst who really saw it all coming.
But for now, I wanted to share this conversation I had a few days ago with billionaire investor and entrepreneur Mark Cuban. The morning we recorded, ProPublica had dropped this big investigation into just how little federal income taxes billionaires in America pay. And I wanted to ask a billionaire why we shouldn't just...eat him.
We also talked about the point of having “fuck you money,” compassionate capitalism, cryptocurrency, trickle-down and trickle-up, selling garbage bags and buying an NBA team, Section 230, AI, virtual humans, TikTok, the one percent, ranked-choice voting, universal basic income, NFTs, burning down the political parties, and . . . my dad.
So we covered a lot of ground.
I promised you when I launched this podcast the kind of searching, authentic conversations that often happen these days behind closed doors. And that phenomenon, this kind of double-think, of saying one thing privately and another thing in public -- it is nowhere more apparent to me than among the ultra-rich. Now on the one hand, it makes sense: they have the most to lose. On the other hand: isn't this exactly what having money and power is for? The ability to say what you really think, the ability to take that risk?
And I can't think of a subject where the stakes are higher -- and where the gap between what people know is right and what they do in the name of the bottom line -- than the subject of China.
All of these American corporations -- Apple, Coca-Cola, the NBA, you name it -- they pride themselves on words like diversity and inclusion and justice. And yet they are struck with a curious silence when it comes to the subject of Chinese Communist Party and its ongoing genocide agains the Uighurs, among so many other abuses. I pressed Mark hard on this topic, and it was definitely the most heated and the most important part of our conversation.
One of the many things I enjoy about Mark is his un-sentimentality and his lack of nostalgia. He’s obsessed with the future and with new technology. Where I feel fear and trepidation about how they’re changing what it means to be human, he mostly sees potential.
I’m excited to share this conversation with you, and we’ll be back in a few days’ time.
Here’s Mark Cuban.
BW: Mark Cuban, welcome to the podcast.
MC: Thanks for having me, Bari, I appreciate it.
BW: So before we get into it, Mark, I just need to ask you a really hard hitting question, which is: who is a tougher boss, Mark Cuban or Merle Monseen?
BW: So for those who don't know the name Merle Monseen, this is not a famous billionaire investor you haven't heard of. It was Mark's boss at a summer camp -- a summer camp --
BW: (laughs) -- in Morgantown, West Virginia called Emma Farm, now called Emma Kaufmann, where many people that I love went --
BW: -- many people from Pittsburgh, which is where Mark grew up, including my dad, who worked with the horse guys.
BW: And I think, Mark, you were the assistant maintenance man -- not even the maintenance man, is that right?
MC:(laughs) Yeah!I worked at the canteen one year and was the assistant maintenance guy the other year, my freshman and sophomore years in college.
BW: So I kind of want to start there because for most people who encounter you in the world, you're Mark Cuban, you are Dallas Mavericks, you are Shark Tank. But you started off as not just as the assistant maintenance man in Morgantown, West Virginia. You know, from pretty humble beginnings in Pittsburgh, the town where I'm from. So as I understand it, this all started for you with garbage bags. Do I have that right?
MC: Yeah, my dad did upholstery on cars. So if you had a rip in your car seat or you had a convertible that was messed up, you would take it to my dad’s -- where my dad worked, Regency Products, and they would work on it. You know, did backbreaking work, lost an eye in an accident when a bolt or something broke when he was working on a car. Just brutal work. And my mom, housewife and odd jobs. And so when I was like 12 years old, my dad and his buddies were playing poker and drinking and yucking it up. And I went in probably to grab a donut. And I remember asking my dad if I can get a new pair of basketball shoes, because I was hardcore into basketball back then. And he was like, “Mark, you see those tennis shoes on your feet? They still work. When you have a job, you can buy whatever you want, but until then, you got shoes.” And I'm like, “Dad, I'm twelve! I can't get a job.” And one of his buddies who was probably drunk at the poker table said, “I got a job for you. I've got all these boxes of garbage bags that you can sell here in the neighborhood.” And I'm like, “Dad, can I do that?” And he’s like, “Sure.” So literally, I would go door to door in Scott Township in Birdland, south hills of Pittsburgh, and say, “Hey, my name is Mark. I'm your neighbor. Do you use garbage bags?”
MC: And I probably had the world's first and only and last door-to-door garbage bag subscription service. And so I did that for a little bit, til I got my shoes. But that was probably a big impetus in my early entrepreneurial days.
BW: And what was the markup on the garbage bags?
MC: Hundred percent.
MC: I bought a box of one hundred for three dollars and sold them for six.
BW: And people bought them, rather than just going to the -- the store.
MC: How could you say no to me?
MC: No, it was, it was really -- I learned a lot of lessons, I mean, because obviously it was something that everybody needed, and you could buy a box and they were cheap. Actually, the true answer is they were cheap garbage bags. But, you know, you just put them somewhere and use them till you were done. You give me a call and I'd bring you more. It was great.
BW: Garbage bags are something everyone needs. The other thing everyone needs are newspapers, or at least they used to. And, you know, they say that behind every great fortune is a great crime. And I'd love if you could enlighten me --
MC: (laughs) Oh, a great crime! Thanks, Bari!
BW: Here’s the great crime. What went down in Cleveland, Ohio with the honor box when the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette went on strike?
BW: How did your little young capitalist mind exploit that strike?
MC: Way to throw me under the bus. When the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette went on strike, I was sixteen. And me, “To the Pro” -- you know, because in high school we all had nicknames -- Toe the Pro, Bofi, and a couple of other guys, we piled into my 1966 Buick LeSabre that my dad bought for fifty dollars. And the shocking part was that the car made it there and back. We drove to Cleveland and we bought newspapers and maybe when we put a quarter into the newspaper box, we took out more than one newspaper. I guess back then it was a dime, sorry. We took out more than one newspaper. Maybe.
MC: And maybe we stopped the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper truck and got a discount for buying all of them so he wouldn't have to make his deliveries and could take the time off. And then we packed ‘em in our car, drove back to Pittsburgh, got back in time for the morning rush hour. And I was standing on the corner selling papers that, give or take, I bought for a dime each for fifty cents each.
BW: So, you know, I guess what we would call the garbage bag business or, you know, the short-lived one-day newspaper business -- they're small businesses --
BW: And, you know, we think of America being built on businesses like that.
BW: But right now, things seem really, really rough if you're a small business owner, especially when you look at the past year in which, you know, businesses like Amazon absolutely crushed and hundreds of thousands of local stores closed for good.
BW: So give me the big picture on that. How do small businesses possibly compete with the likes of behemoths like Amazon?
MC: Oh, it's the same thing that I've always done as a small business person over the years. When you run with the elephants, there’s the quick and the dead. You have to be faster. You have to be more agile. You have to always be learning. And as new things happen, you have to be able to adapt. That's just the nature of small business, because whether it's Amazon or pick any era, there's always been a behemoth that dominated. Maybe it was Sears. And then Sears put out a catalog in the early 1900s that disrupted local businesses. Maybe it was Wal-Mart that started with one store and grew. Competing against bigger entities is inevitable when you're a small business. And so those businesses that are agile can grow -- if they choose to, can stay the same size. But, you know, it all comes down to the customer. If you make your customers happy and you give them better value, they're going to do business with you. And so, you know where I have businesses that compete with Amazon, we have to be a lot more responsive and agile because we know Amazon's going to screw up all the time and we know there's going to be customers that appreciate our products. And for those businesses that don't evolve, they will lose. But that happens all the time. You know, there's always going to be an Amazon and Amazon will get Amazon-ed at some point.
BW: So you don’t see. So there's a lot of people that look at companies like Amazon or Facebook and say this is different. These are monopolistic in a way that Sears or Wal-Mart or any of the companies that you just mentioned ever were. But you see a through line. You don't see them being materially different.
MC: I think Amazon is different, right? Yeah, there's things that I would change about Amazon that I think they probably shouldn't do and maybe there's a regulatory issue. And so, you know, when they knock off a product, not that knockoffs aren't happening in every industry, but that's probably something that's going to work against them in the long run, either regulatorily or when there's an alternative. People will remember that and say, you know what, Amazon I don't like the way they did this or this. So I'm going to switch to another provider for whatever the product is. Facebook's a different beast. The way that they generate advertising revenue is different than selling a product and the way that they play to people's fears and insecurities and their I basically artificial intelligence basically recognizes those fears and insecurities that people may not even know they have as they used Facebook. I think that's a real problem and that's created some instability in this country and I think it needs to be dealt with.
BW: I really want to get to AI with you in a moment, later in the conversation. But before we get to that, one thing that strikes me about living in the world that Amazon and Facebook have made is it feels sometimes a little bit to me like a sci fi movie, like sci fi movies where everyone wears the same outfit and every place they go sort of looks the same. And I feel increasingly like I'm living in that world. Like I go into a coffee shop in L.A. or Austin or New York or increasingly anywhere in the world or an Airbnb or an office space. And it all looks the same aesthetically, like they all have the same macrame wall hanging and millennial pink. And I guess, do you worry that we're moving toward a kind of like as we've become unbelievably connected, that it's sort of flattened everything--
BW: No. OK, tell me why.
MC: Because I think there's so much change occurring right now. Look at what's happening with cryptocurrency and currency is the wrong word. Look what's happening within the crypto universe. There are communities being built around these crypto ethos that didn't exist before that are disruptive, just on the edge, just in a tiny bit now, but in a growing manner, traditional finance, traditional everything for that matter. And you see these communities rallying because it's very laissez faire from the bottom up as opposed to the top down. And I think that's incredibly powerful. I think it's going to have a significant impact on our politics in this country, in the world. And it's just now starting to be recognized. So when you look at things like what happened with GameStop or AMC and the stock market where the little guy dominated the big guy and the big guy lost billions, that's one indication when you look at what's happening with Dogecoin in the cryptocurrency world and these communities rallied together, starting just with forums, but then they go on to become viral. And, you know, whether it's on TikTok or Reddit forums or wherever it may be, Facebook, you know, you're seeing people say, you know what, I might be able to make some money on this. I might be able to use it as a currency. And they're changing their behaviors and they're taking a different attitude towards how they see their financial future and how they live their lives, for that matter. So I think that homogenization probably was happening. But these communities that are unifying themselves around financial gains and financial goals is significant. And I really, truly think it's changing the world. And if you start digging into cryptocurrency, there's this thing called DAOs. Distributed autonomous organizations where rather than these new entrepreneurial businesses being set up as traditional companies where entrepreneurs get the majority of stock, maybe they give some stock to employees. What happens is they're using tokens that aren't equities, they're not stock, but they're enablers. And with tokenomics, the way the tokens are distributed, nobody is allowed to have more than 50% because by design, they don't want control going into, you know, one person or a few people's hands. They want the control to be defined by the community. And you're starting to see these types of organizations really become financially successful and the gains being split by all the participants. And the more you participate, the more you contribute in the community, the more money you can make. And that bottom up approach is so game-changing and different that it's only going to expand. And the cool part about it, it's very far left progressive because it's bottom up, but it's also very laissez faire because it's very entrepreneurially driven.
BW: So one thing that interests me about AMC and GameStop and the examples you're pointing to is. That they're super shaped by virality and this idea of going viral and in a way, at least in my mind, and you'll tell me if you think this is a tenuous connection, you sort of set that in motion with Broadcast.com, which was this early business of yours that pioneered livestream. Right. And it feels like to me, we live in a world now where everything is livestream-ed. And it went from, you know, we can livestream this Indiana college basketball game to we can livestream this Victoria's Secret event that before maybe only rich people can see. But now, like, wow, I am getting told by a 19 year old TikToker, you know, that I need to go to Starbucks and order this ridiculously complicated drink order. And I find myself doing it and then I'm streaming myself, getting the drink order. It's like we're all sort of living on our own-- not to sound too stoner-y-- but like our own self-produced reality show. And I wonder, like our own simulations. So, do you think of yourself as having played that role or maybe to put it in another way as having unleashed a kind of monster?
MC: Absolutely, because that was the mission, the mission was to stream everything live and then make it available on demand. Remember, this is 1995 and I can't tell you when we started talking about calling net casting or Internet broadcasting back then, people just laughed at us. Oh, my God. It was like, wait, ‘You want this thing called the Internet? And I have to get a dial up modem. I have to buy a subscription to a dial up Internet provider. I have to download a TCP IP client. I have to download this media player. Then I have to find your website. Then I have to connect to this batch file. Then I have to hope the stream works. You want me to go through all of that instead of turning on my TV? Are you fucking kidding me?’ They all thought I was crazy and. But we knew that things would get better, faster, cheaper and simpler. So when we first got started, because it was so bizarre and different, we started with sports because people wanted to be able to get out-of-market sports. So if you're a Pirates fan, you could get the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team games live around the world. And that was a big driver of participation. But we also streamed weddings. People created their own comedy shows. Anything that people would allow us to live stream, we streamed. We don't care what it was because it was the ultimate longtail. And we knew that over time, the technology, as I said, would get better, faster, cheaper. And obviously it did. And it was just a question of time before it became mainstream.
BW: Do you have any regrets about the world that you've unleashed in that way, like the fact--
MC: Oh, of course not. No, no. Look, you know, it wasn't like if I didn’t do it, someone else wouldn't have done it. Technology marches on. You know, my dad used to say all the time, ‘You don't live in the world you were born into; and all of us, you know, ten years older or older, there's so much change in technology and just short periods of time that either we do it or somebody else does it. But there's no way to put the genie back in the bottle. It's just not going to happen.
BW: Well, given your dad's wisdom, it's kind of the perfect segway to talk about the C word. Capitalism. In your life, it sounds like capitalism is this, ‘duh’ you know, this very positive thing, super obvious. For a lot of people in my generation, you know, who’ve lived through the Great Recession, the student debt crisis, who can't afford to buy a home, who have less wealth than their parents. They seem to have beef with capitalism. And, you know, you see parents in one of the richest countries in the world crowd funding health care for their toddler surgeries. And people look at that and they think, you know, even those of us who are, you know, inclined toward capitalism, who see it as I do, as lifting people out of poverty, you see that and you think something is really wrong here. Do you see what those people see? Do you see where they’re coming from?
MC: Oh, yeah. Yeah, of course. Because something is very wrong.
BW: And what is wrong.
MC: What is wrong is that there are always going to be opportunists. There are always going to be people who try to take advantage of circumstances. And you saw that with the financial crisis in 2008, 2009. Then you've got politicians who further enable that through the way they regulate things. But at the same time, when things go to extremes, there is a response to it. You know, capitalism is meant to be very malleable. You know, it's not, you know, take as much money from everybody as you can and, you know, ‘Screw them, who cares what happens to them.’ That's not capitalism. That's just greed. And that's not that's not a structural problem. That's a personal problem for individuals. And that's unfortunate. And I think in response to what happened and what has continued to happen in some cases with people who just put greed first, the capitalist side of me says that creates opportunity. So there are ways to change the healthcare system. There are ways that you can work bottom up. We talked about some of the crypto currencies. There are ways where you can be a compassionate capitalist and there's ways that, you know, you have to look at socialism and other alternatives and say, OK, do you at least consider them and what's the logic behind why you don't adopt them? And I think, you know, capitalism, compassionate capitalism, as I would say, is still a better solution than socialism or communism or other isms.
BW: What do you mean when you say compassionate capitalism? How do we build a compassionately capitalistic system? Does that mean a better social safety net or?
MC: That's part of it. But when everybody has more than the people with more, get even more, right. In other words, When we suck money out of the system through subprime mortgages and people who shouldn't have gotten mortgages, were given mortgages, and the whole system came close to being fully delevered, meaning that people who took out loans weren't able to pay them back and they had to sell their houses and their possessions to try to pay them back. That severely damaged the economy and a generation, as you point out, and that doesn't pay benefits to those at the top or the bottom. Compassionate capitalism means when people at the bottom have more, they can spend more. And great companies, great entrepreneurs benefit more, as do their stakeholders. And so that's why I'm a big proponent and have done it in my companies for, you know, over the past four or five years of a 15 dollar minimum wage. And I've spoken very publicly about that. You know, I went through in my companies to me, you know, one of the great embarrassments for an entrepreneur or a company owner is that you don't pay your employees enough to not have to take social services or to to any type of grant programs, you know, where they need external government support in order to live their lives. You know, meaning you're underpaying them. To me, that's the worst indication, you know, or the worst thing that can happen to a company. And it's embarrassing. It's not like people will admit if they're getting government support. But we tried to estimate, you know, what we needed to pay our people and we gave them raises above and beyond that, because that to me is compassionate capitalism, because the stronger the bottom, the wealthier the top, everybody gets the benefit.
BW: So we're, as AOC is called, capitalism irredeemable. You're saying this competitive system is still a net good, but those that are involved in it need to make sure that the people at the bottom are cared for sufficiently. And, you know, some people are arguing like you for the 15 dollar minimum wage. Others have other solutions, like Andrew Yang arguing for a universal basic income. Just so curious, what do you think about that?
MC: You know, I like UBI for caretakers, right? If you are a caretaker for your parent or for a child, yes, I think it's a strong fit there. I think it's a disincentive in a lot of respects. But it really comes down to how much you know, there's plenty of examples where people are getting a thousand dollars or 1500 dollars in UBI and they point to those examples of those people who still work and continue to be productive. I'd rather see a guaranteed job program where people have that option, other than caretakers, as I just mentioned, but there's a job available to anybody who needs it. You know, there's plenty of things that we can do as the government that create jobs, particularly when unemployment gets to record levels. So I'm not generally in favor of UBI. I am generally in favor of a federal job program. Let's call it a transitional federal job program when unemployment is high.
BW: Let's go from talking about the people at the bottom who need UBI, need a 15 dollar minimum wage to the people at the top. One of the things that I think feels so just honestly bad right now in American life is the fact that one percent of Americans hold more wealth than the bottom 92 percent and the 50 richest people in this country own more than the bottom 165 million people. And that's staggering. So just today, as we're recording this, ProPublica just began releasing the tax secrets, I'm sure you saw it, of the wealthiest people in the country. And, you know, just just to choose one or two data points, Jeff Bezos paid nothing in federal income taxes in 2007 and 2011, Elon Musk in 2018. In other years, it was Michael Bloomberg, George Soros. I'm just curious, what do you think of that report? Do you anticipate that you're going to be a part of it?
MC: I mean, I think it's very misleading. I think the misleading part of it, there's a difference between income and net worth. If your house escalates in value significantly, you probably didn't do anything to increase the value of your house. It just grew because of the demand in the marketplace, maybe you lived in the right spot. Maybe there was a change in the area you lived in and prices escalated. Based on ProPublica and what they wrote, everybody whose house goes above a certain valuation should pay taxes on that valuation. Now, most people don't have the liquidity to pay those taxes. It's not like paying your property tax at two percent with a threshold limit. And so what ProPublica basically said is because stock valuations went up significantly, not because of anything those companies did, Amazon or any of them, for that matter, those prices in those valuations and even housing prices have gone up significantly because in response to the pandemic and the risk of an economic crash, interest rates went to zero. And when interest rates go to zero, you get appreciable assets appreciating faster and to extreme levels. And so while, you know, the amounts that were published are staggering in so many respects, the data you refer to is correct, and it's also staggering, it's not money in their pocket. It's not like, ‘OK, I can go spend that money.’ They have to sell their shares of stock first, and chances are the minute they sell them, the value of those things go down significantly. That's part one. Part two, when interest rates go up, those valuations, those share valuations are going to go down fast and they're going to go down hard. And if you pay taxes on those, then all of a sudden, OK, are you going to rebate them back? You know, because let's just say, you know, Jeff Bezos stock is valued at a trillion dollars and you tax him at one percent and that one percent of a trillion dollars is ten billion dollars and you force him to write a check for ten billion dollars. Well, now he's got to sell some of that stock. OK, so be it. But then let's say interest rates, because the economy overheats in response, go up to 10 percent and the value of a stock goes from one trillion down to one billion. It's happened before. Now, all of a sudden, he's written the check the previous year or two years ago for 10 billion. Now he's worth a billion, and does the government refund the delta? Since you use valuations based off of just, you know, mark to market pricing? There's all kinds of intricacies. Look. I’m the luckiest motherfucker in the world, right? I have more money than I ever possibly dreamed of. Do I have more money than one person deserves? Probably. Can I make all kinds of excuses for what I'll do with that money? Yeah, but the reality is nobody's entitled to all this. It takes luck to get to that amount of money. And, you know, like I said, I was plenty lucky because the stock market went to extreme highs and I was smart enough to protect it rather than be greedy and think it's going to keep on going up. But the point I was getting to, if I'm worth X billions of dollars, I don't have that in cash. I might have just a small percentage of that in actual cash. And the rest is in investments and companies and entrepreneurs that I've invested in, in programs that I've invested in. And so if now all of a sudden, you know, you're taxing me on my net worth, I'm going to have to sell things. And that may not be bad to 99.98 percent of the population, but it will change the economics of taxation and the valuation of the assets that people have. And so it's a tricky formula. It's difficult to try to find the right solution for that. And so, you know, when Elizabeth Warren talks about wealth tax, it's not that I'm against taxing me more. Right. I paid 29 percent, I think, last year in income taxes and 19 percent the year before. You know, I'm not opposed to paying more in taxes at all. But I think, you know, in terms of regulation, you want to build from the bottom up, because the other thing that we know, no matter how much you take from me, Jeff Bezos or whatever, putting it through the government, by the time it trickles down to people who need it, most of its gone.
BW: So just to just to put this in the plainest language possible, you're saying that what looks like a great injustice, what generates all of these outrage headlines, they're actually part of just a much more complicated story about how the ultra rich go about managing their massive wealth in our current regulatory system.
MC: Yeah, I wouldn’t even say how we go about managing our massive wealth. I'm just saying a lot of it's just contextual and circumstantial, right? If there was not a pandemic which caused interest rates to go to actually zero or below, in some cases, you would not have seen those gains. Or if interest rates for any reason remained at three, four or five percent, those gains wouldn't be in existence if interest rates go up to eight, nine, ten percent, those gains disappear. So the numbers that they're pinpointing as being an injustice are very fleeting numbers, they go up because interest rates go down and they go down when interest rates go up. And so taxing them creates other types of problems that create a situation that's not sustainable. And let me add to that again, that just extracting that money from us and again, I'm not against paying more taxes and I've said this many times, is not necessarily going to help anybody at the bottom because the efficiency of the government getting it there trickle-down is very difficult. Trickle up works. Right. Trickle down does not work. And I think the real response should be ‘How can we get appreciable assets into more people's hands?’ Can we regulate so that people who work in companies that go public, you know, there's a ratio between the amount of stock that the CEO is granted or the C suite is granted and the amount of stock that every other employee, you know, from the least paid hourly employee, how much stock do they get so that when interest rates go down, they benefit as well? You know, whatever the percentage of income and again, I've said these things many times. Yes. Whatever the percentage of the income that is assigned in stock allocations to a CEO, that percentage of income in stock allocations should be assigned to the employee earning the least. Because when you give people appreciable assets, as these things evolve in our economy and the global economy, everybody benefits at least proportionately the same. You know, in my companies, everybody that I've ever started, everybody's gotten stock. And every time I've sold a company, they've benefited proportionately. They didn't have as much stock as I did because I took the risk up front or invested my money up front. But all the employees got shares of stock. 300 out of 330 employees of Broadcast.com when we sold it became millionaires, many of them earning ten dollars an hour. And so it's something that I did in practice, and I think it's something that works. It's not about tearing down, it's about building up. And we can't look at the government as being efficient in how they transfer wealth. We've got to find better ways and look at the things that made people like me rich and make those available to people at the lowest pay levels so that they can increase their net worth. And so they don't face the same challenges and risks that your generation is.
BW: So obviously, you're one of the leads on one of my favorite shows, which is Shark Tank. And I've heard you say that one of your main goals in doing the show is educating people about finance. And I am including myself very much in this as someone in their mid-30s who just got their first real credit card, like the financial literacy in this country is so poor. I would just love to hear you on, quickly because there's so many things I want to get to, what are the top three things that individuals can do for themselves right now when it comes to basic financial literacy and making smart decisions with their money?
MC: Number one, pay off your credit cards because your credit card company, once you go past 30 days, is going to charge you an obscene amount of interest and you only lose. You can't make that amount of interest fast enough. You can't earn enough income fast enough to pay off those bills. And I know that's easier said than done. Trust me, I've had more than a few credit cards cut up. I've had more than a few days where I won't pick up my phone because of the bill collectors. So I've been there. But you've got to avoid taking on debt that goes past thirty days. That is first and foremost. And then if you are able to save any amount of money, learn about cryptocurrency and in particular something called decentralized finance, because cryptocurrencies are changing the banking game. And just like, you know, if you were to ask me about the future of technology in 1995, I would have told you about the Internet. And now the future of technology and finance is something called decentralized finance. And instead of making point zero two percent on your savings, you can make four or five, eight, 10 percent on your savings. That's what I'm doing with my money, where I have available cash. And I think it's something smart for everybody to learn about.
BW: What's the third thing?
MC: You know what I've always tried? There was a book I read called ‘The Best Investment Guide You'll Ever Need’, and this book is 30 years old. And the whole premise of the book is that being a smart shopper is the best way to invest. And so if you're able to buy, you know, toothpaste on sale at 50 percent off at the dollar store, that's a great investment because you're making 50 percent on money you otherwise would be spending on toothpaste. Same with toilet paper. Anything that you can find enough space under your bed. You know, I lived with six guys in a three bedroom apartment and didn't have my own room, all I had was a pile. And I still would like to have my little trash bag full of shit and I put stuff in there that I could buy cheap. And, you know, that's what I recommend to anybody, because whatever you save on a consumable that you use on an ongoing basis, that's real savings. That's real money.
BW: I want to talk about the idea of fuck you money, because the whole concept, right, is you work your ass off, you make a pile of money, and then you get to say fuck you to people and you get to actually say what you want. In fact, I have seen the actual opposite of that being true in the world. One of the themes of the show is being honest in public about what we really think. I find that the people that have nothing to lose, young people, poor people are most courageous about saying what they really think and that the more fuck you money a person gets, the more they're captured by that money and that the people who tend to be the most double thinking, saying the truth in private and saying something different in public. The people who are most scared to say what they think out loud are the people in the C Suite, they're the people with the most power. I'm wondering if you've noticed that paradox.
MC: Of course, but only in the social media era, because if you're in a C suite and, you know, by definition you're running a company, you are at the top of a company, and so it's not just about you. You know, the perception of your brand, the perception of your products and services are going to be influenced by what's said on social media. And so, you know, when I first made my biggest money after we sold Broapdcast.com and I was able to get to a point where I was liquid somewhat, then it was different. I could say, fuck you to everybody. And I did.
BW: Who would you say it to first?
MC: When I bought the Dallas Mavericks, I mean, the whole NBA. You know, I got fined more than anybody, you know, to this day. And I didn't give a shit what anybody thought. I was just going to do what I thought was right. And, you know, I've done it in business my entire career. With social media changes it now, instead of just saying, fuck you to somebody, I can just tweet something and get my point across knowing that, you know, half the people who respond to that, we are going to say, fuck you right back to me. And so that's really what's changed it more than anything else.
BW: So this next question I want to ask you is really about the point of having money and the point of having power. And I want to say that this is not a gotcha question. I'm not trying to bait you. And I'm asking this because I admire you and I admire you because honestly, you're authentic and principled and human. And this question is about China, where I have real cognitive dissonance. You're Jewish, as I am and your grandparents immigrated from Russia and Romania, a quarter of your mother's family were murdered by the Nazis. And the stories coming out of China to me feel very similar to what happened under the Nazis, concentration camps, forced labor, forced sterilization, torture, rape and the NBA, and they're not alone, so many other American corporations are the same, are making hundreds of millions of dollars from the Chinese market. And I would argue that the league has made it impossible for anyone associated with the NBA to speak out about these atrocities being committed by the Chinese Communist Party. And the reason for that is obvious. It's because they don't want to lose the market.
MC: I’ve come out against what’s happening to the Uyghurs and said it's awful, it's horrible. There's no other way to explain it. There's no justification for it. It's wrong.
BW: OK, I guess I feel like, you know, when Daryl Morey to choose one example, who was the GM of the Houston Rockets when he tweeted ‘Fight for freedom, Stand with Hong Kong’, and then you have LeBron James saying that he wasn't educated on the situation at hand. You had a moment a few months ago where if you went on NBA dotcom, you couldn't order a jersey that said ‘Free Hong Kong’, but you could order one that said, ‘Fuck America.’ Like we know that there is a tremendous moral hypocrisy happening here, and I fail to understand why this isn't the hill that everyone wants to die on. Why isn't this the battle worth picking? Isn't this exactly what power and money is for?
MC: There's a lot of different answers for that. But the reality is, you know, the domestic politics effectively of China or any country for that matter, right? Why are we not talking about Myanmar?. Why are we not talking about atrocities in Africa? And I'm not trying to play what-about-ism? But what it comes down to is the unfortunate reality of this world is, you know, there are atrocities across the globe and we can't be the arbiter and we can't be the regulator of all of them, you know, as business people.
BW: Right. But what we can decide if we're running a Hollywood studio not to edit the movie in order to suit the Chinese Communist Party.
MC: , I mean, we're not editing anything. With the NBA we sell them content and if anything, you know, we hope that we send messages of who we are and we can influence their culture. And by creating a void, we lose that opportunity. And look, there's no winning answer to this. There's not an answer I can give you that this is the one right way to do it. It's not simple, right? And just like if you go over there and they look at American culture, they'll give you 20 reasons why things we do here are all wrong, and it should be a hill that they die on.
BW: But you wouldn't draw that kind of... you don't buy that cultural relativism, obviously.
BW: You're right that the Chinese Communist Party would say that. But I'm making sure that you're not buying that argument.
MC: Oh, no, no, no. I'm not saying what they're saying is accurate. Right. What I'm saying is that when it comes to domestic politics of other countries, you know it's very, very difficult for a company organization, even an individual, to take stands on all of them. And look, you know, we put in place, I think, rules in terms of the vendors that we work with and where their products are created. And that's important. And we've done that. You don't want, you know, things coming out of that region, the Xinjiang region, to be sold. And, you know, those are things that we do. But, you know, I haven't taken a stand on other countries' domestic policies, and that's not something I'm going to do.
BW: But like, you know, the concentration camps in Nazi Germany, someone could make the argument that that was just Germany's domestic policy.
MC: Yes, they could. Right. And what I'm saying, we're talking about just different business things and try to be as clear as I can, that any of the atrocities that are happening to Uyghurs, or in that region are wrong. And the question then becomes, as a country, what steps do we want to take? Because, do we intervene? I don't know. You know, do you attack China? That's not a question for me to answer.
BW: You're right, I guess to me, the answer would be to put as much pressure economically, morally, rhetorically, diplomatically as possible, and it feels like we're so far away from that. I mean, the Olympics in 2024 are going to be in Beijing, right?
MC: Again, there's a lot of ways that you can try to discuss the question, but how do you really affect change? You know, it's like talking about Amazon, right, in some respects. And I'm trying not to compare Amazon to China, but, you know, you're pissing in the wind at certain levels. And I get that if you want to aggregate impact, then it's important, but there's different ways to do it. There's diplomatic ways to do it and there's stronger ways to do it. But we have to come to an agreement as a country to do those things in order for them to have impact and just despairing approaches I don't think really gets anywhere.
BW: Well, I don't think it's despairing. I think it's saying, you know, if we do nothing, if we accommodate the Chinese Communist Party--as you know, there was an incredible story in the Times a few weeks ago about Apple-- like, if we accommodate them, then lack of change is a foregone conclusion. I guess one last question on China and then I really want to talk to you about crypto. The idea about policy vis-à-vis China, especially when I worked at the Wall Street Journal editorial page, was this idea that by liberalizing economic policy toward China that somehow free people would follow free markets. Right. That inevitably, you know, the trickle down effect of capitalism is something akin to liberal democracy. That's turned out not to be true. And I guess are you surprised by how that has played out? And did you used to believe in that wisdom, too?
BW: You’re not surprised.
MC: Did I hope that it would work?It's just like anything else, you try it and either it works or it doesn't work, right? So did I hope it would work. Yes, of course. But China Inc. being run the way it is basically as a corporation, you know, they know how to compete. They do a better job of planning and they're smarter than communists were in the past. And so we have to recognize that and compete accordingly. And so, you know, we have to recognize that they've got plans for artificial intelligence and they have plans for their economy. They have plans to try to dominate globally. And we as a country have to find ways to compete with that. Otherwise, we'll find the sphere of influences having shifted dramatically. And that's the reality.
BW: Well, let's talk about the future, because I'm really scared that China's going to own it. And your job, one of your key jobs, I think, is to see the future, to make bets on it. I'm curious about what your big bets are right now. It sounds like obviously, I know cryptocurrency is at the top of that list. What joins crypto?
MC: Well, let me add the second thing is artificial intelligence, and that's going to drive everything because that has military implications, that has economic implications, that has health care implications. It's the fundamental competitive tool that we need to be better at China than that we need to be the best in the world at, in order to continue to be the strongest country in the world economically and militarily. And I think that's a good thing. And so we need to invest heavily. And I don't think the Trump administration fully understood it. I think the Biden administration is certainly getting their arms around it. But we're still not dealing with it from an educational perspective. And we need many, many more engineers. We need many more AI-literate people. I started the Mark Cuban AI boot camp where we go into underprivileged schools and we put on classes for kids from underprivileged schools to teach them about A.I. and try to get them excited about it. I invested in another company and I'm spacing their name, but all they do is provide advanced physics and other AP classes via Zoom, starting off in Mississippi, into underprivileged communities to try to get kids, you know, as young as twelve excited about learning, you know, science and A.I. and advanced topics like that where otherwise they'd have no access. If we don't improve our education, we're not going to be able to compete. We have two great assets in this country, the intellectual capital of our children, right how smart they are, how smart and driven they want to be and our entrepreneurial mindset. There's no country in the world like the United States that is as entrepreneurial as we are. You know, that's one of the reasons I do Shark Tank. I want people to get excited that there is a way to achieve the American dream, that starting a company is a good thing, that being innovative and creating new opportunities so that you can kick Amazon's ass, you can kick Wal-Mart's ass, you can kick China's ass, those are all good things, but they all start with education; first, middle and last. And so that's how we are going to compete. And to me, those are the things that we really need to to stay ahead on.
BW: OK, there's so many things I want to ask you about education, but I know that we're tight on time--
MC: If you keep on going I’ll keep on going for you, Bari.
BW: Oh, you're so sweet. I want to stick...well, OK, just one question on education like that all sounds amazing. And then I think about the past year and I, I feel like I want to laugh- cry because, you know, the idea of like poor kids in Mississippi learning about A.I. and programing and coding sounds unbelievable. And then you look at the rate of literacy in this country and basic math in this country and the fact that, you know, the teachers’ unions control these schools. And I think that if any group was more beclowned this year, it would be them. And so I guess, you know, the big picture question for me is, is one about school choice and how passionately you feel about that issue?
MC: I'm not passionate about it one way or another, honestly, it's not something I've really delved into. So it's not that I don't care. It's just that I'm not very literate on it. But I am very passionate about child care and child care support services and preschool and making sure kids don't go hungry, because if they're hungry, they're not going to learn. If they're living in squalor, they're not going to learn. I started the Mark Cuban Cost Plus Drug Company, first time I ever put my name on a company, and effectively, we're going out, starting with generic drugs, sourcing them and manufacturing them wherever we can and selling them at cost plus 15 percent and being fully transparent and all our costs. And I mention that as it applies to kids, because the first drug that we chose was a drug called albendazole, which is the response for hookworm and all these different worming diseases. And those are prevalent, shockingly enough, still in rural Alabama and rural Texas. And kids get them because they're walking in sewage where they don't have appropriate sewage in their homes or in the Boys and Girls Club, wherever it may be. And so we're providing it for free to them. And, you know, the point is that we need to solve early stage development for kids because by the time they hit five, six, seven years old, if they're hungry and their parents weren't around because of work or didn't have jobs or, you know, have other issues, then we're fucked. And so as important as education is, setting up kids to be ready by the time they reach school to me is just as important. And so that's something that we need to solve.
BW: Right, it's like how do we compete with China and remain this bastion of entrepreneurship where kids can have garbage bag businesses when the next generation, you know, has hookworm and doesn't know how to read?.
MC: One hundred percent. And so you can't solve them all at once. Right? You can try, certainly. But again, we need to stop thinking in terms of political dogma, whether it's Republican trickle down or Democratic, their version of trickle down, which is you write the check to the government and it trickles down to the people who need it. Neither one of them works. And we need to start thinking in terms of getting appreciable assets into families hands, as I mentioned earlier, so that as the economy evolves, they get to benefit from them, you know, livable wage, as Bernie Sanders says, you know, so that people can get their kids health, child care, you know, UBI for child care and caretakers, you know, so that parents, a parent can can be at home to properly, you know, spend time with their children, better schools. Those are the things that we need to do. And, you know--
BW: This sounds like a stump speech. I mean that as a compliment. Like, you are articulating things in a way that... I'm looking at the mayoral race right now in New York and like, you know... would you ever run?
MC: No. Hell no. But I would tell you that the reason it works this way is not that Andrew Yang and others don't think about it and aren't literate on it. It's when you have a two party system, everything's going to be fucked up. And when you have a two party system that is built on primaries, you know, where most people don't vote and the people who vote are the most extreme, you know? And that's why, you know, it's interesting. I think one of the big fuckups of the New York mayoral race is they're not talking about rank choice voting at all. And the candidates aren't using it to their advantage that I've seen at all. You don't have to be, you know, the number one candidate initially, you could be the number two or maybe even number three candidate and pull votes from the bottom candidates and end up winning the election. And if we're you know, I wish the media and podcasts would cover RCV because rank choice voting takes out the extremes and the extreme candidate and diminishes the impact of the money that comes from the extremes and that's important, and we can't get to dealing with the real issues like we've been talking about unless we take the extremes out of primary voting.
BW: So I think everyone can see that we're living in a time of extreme polarization and tribalism. One of the drivers of that is primaries. The other driver of that, I think, is social. And many people, you know, I think rightly blame the algorithm right all the time for fomenting the kind of outrage like it feels like we're in this perpetual outrage cycle. So going back to I, do you think that I can be built in such a way that it gives us less of the things that appeal to our strongest negative emotions?
MC: Oh, yeah. That's not an AI problem. That's a Facebook problem.
BW: You don't think you don't think that's also a Twitter problem?
MC: Less so. Less so. Right. Because maybe it's more--
BW: Not in my experience.
MC: No, it's not that Twitter can't be brutal. Right. I mean, absolutely brutal. I've been, all the worst of the worst of the dregs of the worst have attacked me on Twitter in huge numbers. But it's easier on Twitter just to set your feed so that it's chronological. And, you know, when you set it, so that it's picked by Twitter, you see a lot more of the garbage. If you set it to chronological order, you see a lot less of it. Whereas on Facebook, it's almost impossible just to get a pure feed. And Facebook optimizes for revenue more than Twitter does. And so when Facebook designs its A.I. and they build their models, you know, the fact that they amplify for revenue means you're going to get exposed to far more extremes and you're going to get exposed to things you may not even realize amp you up and make you use the service more. And I truly believe that there should be no Section 230 protections for any amplified post, meaning if something is artificially amplified for any reason, that means Facebook has made the decision to amplify that post via artificial intelligence, you should get no Section 230 protections. If it's just chronological, go for it.
BW: That's a really sophisticated, nuanced answer. I'm curious what you think about the idea that Clarence Thomas floated in that recent decision about thinking about companies like Facebook as something more like common carriers or public utilities, an idea that's been amplified by people like David Sacks?
MC: No, they're not. I mean, and that shows the lack of understanding of what's going on with artificial intelligence. They're not common carriers, not even close. You know, Facebook is ripe for disruption. You know, they're not, they've survived, I don't know, 16 years, you know, who knows how long they'll last. But there are issues with scale when you're being protected on posts that are not supposed to be protected if you influence them in any way. Right. If you act as a publisher in any way. And so those protections need to be taken away. And that changes fundamentally what Facebook is able to do.
BW: There are all kinds of theories and a lot of smart people love to say, you know, if we only fix X, everything would get better. You know, for some people it's racism. For others, it's the media. For others, wealth inequality or wokeness or political polarization. If you, Mark Cuban, very powerful man, could wave a magic wand, a wand maybe that you already have and correct a single problem. Which one would you choose?
MC: I mean, if I was going that's a long list, obviously. Health care should be at the top of the list. But to give you and there's things that I've worked on with health care and it's such a fucked up mess, but it's fixable. But I don't know that it's fixable in concept. I don't know if it's fixable in execution. And the reason it's not fixable is because of our political system. So if I was going to wave a magic wand, I would disintegrate both political parties and outlaw political parties.
BW: Interesting, no political parties at all,
MC: At all, because they no longer serve the purpose they once did, you know, in an era where it was difficult to communicate in communities, political parties had real value. But now we have so many options to create community, to create alliances, to, you know, come together as a group. All political parties have become is a platform for extremism and power. You know? How is it that Democrats always seem to vote monolithically in the House? How is that even possible? And same with Republicans. Now we see Joe Manchin not vote with all the other Democrats, and that's heresy. Then from that, we want to get rid of the filibuster. And it's like, hello, you don't think the Republicans are going to be just as extreme if the filibuster is gone when they get in power? I mean, it's just ridiculous. We have these politicians that leverage their party to amplify their power ss much as Facebook uses A.I. to amplify their posts for revenue, it's just wrong across the board. And it's not like the two parties give us the best candidate. There's an organization that I support called the Center for Competitive Democracy, and we've spent millions of dollars and all we do is work to help independents or small party candidates get on the ballot because the Democrats and Republicans, the one thing they'll work together on is to keep third party and independent candidates off the ballots. And it's not like the candidates that the two main parties propose and put up for us to vote on are typically great candidates and they get chosen because they're the best candidate. So to me, the two parties, you get rid of them, you get rid of parties, then all of a sudden you have people who hopefully get elected because they stand up for things that can help their communities.
BW: It's a little like the Imagine song from the Beatles. Like Imagine there's no countries Imagine there's no religion. Imagine there's no political parties. But it's almost like I don't think by outlawing political tribes, you get rid of the tribalism that's in all of us.
MC: Oh, yeah, no. It changes dramatically because of the money involved, because the one thing parties do is they aggregate money and people and money can create power, particularly in politics. And because so few people participate, and particularly the primary process selects candidates from the extremes, you get rid of parties, you change all the dynamics, and people have to become supportive and hopefully become supportive based off of the idea or the concept or the implementation or the execution of it, you know, as opposed to my team, and that tribalism. We don't we don't need a Democratic team. We don't need a Republican team. We don't need a Green Party team. We need candidates that represent their constituents that will work for their constituents in the country.
BW: Mark, one of your recent investments is in something called Virtual Humans, Dawg, which I spent a lot of time looking at last night. It is so scary and freaky. And I feel like I'm about to buy all of my clothes based on the advice of a sims. So can you explain to people what virtual humans is?
MC: It's making the real world partially simulation, I guess, where you can create synthetic people who take on personalities on social media. And because they're not real people, real people connect to them a little bit more easily because there's no consequence. You know, there's no consequence of what's going to happen when you see them in real life and they're, you know, virtualhumans.org is going to create a wide variety of those people and so that people will have people to talk to, you know, synthetic sims to talk to. And you add some chatbots and everything. Think of them as virtual pets, only in the shape of a human.
BW: Well, in this shape, in the shape of a pin up. I mean, they all look like they're like...
MC: They're all flawed. Right. They're all meant to have flaws and they're not meant to be some unattainable shape, form or look, they're really meant to be representative. And maybe what we have on this site right now is not fully representative. But the goal is that there's somebody that's going to be something like you and look a little bit like you for everybody.
BW: But I just look at it and I can't help but think like, oh my God, are we going the way of where no one has sex in real life and they just, like, fall in love with a simulated sex doll on the Internet?
MC: Yeah, that I don't have an answer to. It's going to be weird, there's no question about it. You combine artificial intelligence, you combine the ability to create the seemingly real characters, and you add that to social media where you can script a lot of it. It’s going to be weird. There's no question about it.
BW: I know that you are very into NFTs. I have spent a lot of time talking to very smart people who are also into NFTs. I need you to convince me that it's not just a screenshot because I don't understand what this is or why it's a real thing beyond just a fad like Pogs.
MC: It's just a digital collectible for the most part. Right. There are other business applications, but, you know, whatever it is that they're painting on your wall or that picture on your wall, whatever it is, you like it and you like to look at it. Now, look at your which do you look at more the picture on your wall. Let's say it's not a family picture. Let's just say it's just a painting or a landscape or whatever. Do you look at the things that are on your wall or the pictures on your phone more? Which do you value more? And so with an NFTs, it's just a digital asset that can be collected, traded, bought and sold, that's all.
BW: And do you think that this is going to be something that lots of us are going to get into? Or is this going to be a rarefied thing for the people that already have a Jeff Koons statue in their backyard?
MC: No collectibles are collectible. That's up to everybody. Why is a Picasso worth what it's worth? Why do some people like this art versus that art? That's just one one application of NFTs. It's really a proof of concept. But look at textbooks. You know, we're already used to buying digital books on Amazon, right? Many of us read on Kindle and it's no big deal to read online. Some of us prefer physical books. But think in terms of textbooks, what if we made textbooks into NFTs so that, you know, you're a college kid? And instead of trying to find a used book for your class, either in a used bookstore or online for a used book marketplace, it was just an NFT. You could print it out on a printer if you want, maybe even ship it if it gives you access to a physical book, but when your class is over, you just go on to the marketplace and you just sell that NFT for that textbook. You don't have to ship a physical book. You don't have to carry it somewhere. You don't have to grade it to see if pages are missing or anything like that. You just sell it when you're done or you have Cliff Notes for a class, you buy them for ten bucks, you use them during the class. It's an NFT, so when you're done with it, you go to opensea.io marketplace and you sell it. So there's a bunch of applications that will come up with NFTs that will simplify things and be more efficient.
BW: We are living in the weirdest time.
MC: OK, there's never a time that's not weird. Never.
BW: OK, but don't you think this is weirder than most?
MC: No, no. Let me just tell you, the early days of the Internet were insane and the technology going from analog to digital just freaked people out. The early days of the PC business, you know, where people thought they were all going to lose their jobs because a PC would take their place. The bookkeeper's spreadsheets. It always happens, Bari, and it always feels weird. Always. Twenty five years from now, you're going to look back at this and go, oh, my God, that was nothing, because A, B and C happened. That's just the way shit works. It makes it interesting. That's fucking life, you know, shit's fucked up, you know, in a lot of different ways. And we just try to do our best to minimize how it's fucked up and, you know, try to help ourselves, help our families and help other people.
BW: So take us back to the South Hills to end it here. What are the values that you learned in our hometown that have taken you from there to where you are now?
MC: Yeah, the same values. I mean, my friends or my from back then, you know, the kids I worked at camp with Jerry and Todd and Stu, etc., you know, we learned hard work is good. You know, you can benefit from your own effort. And we learn to be nice that when you're nice to people, things work better and you can really have an impact. It may just be locally, but, you can have an impact on others if you're just nice. And I think that that's the greatest lesson. And then again, on top of that, the obvious, you know, love in your family and trying to cherish those people close to you.
BW: Mark Cuban, thank you so much.
MC: Thanks Bari, it was fun.