Corporations have been arbitraging the world for a century, and not in a good way.
Manufacturing industries see labor as fungible. They see pollution or waste as a cost. They seek a legal environment that assures maximum profit and tax regimes which let them keep that profit.
American corporations have been playing this game ever since the first textile mill moved south, and then on to China, India and the Philippines. Every industry does it. There are both positive and negative side effects. Hundreds of millions of people in the developing world have been raised out of poverty in this century, but low-skill jobs in the developed world have disappeared.
Apple CEO Tim Cook angered me recently, complaining loudly about “fake news” on the Internet but failing to say he would do anything about it. Or so it was reported by many news outlets.
The truth is more nuanced. Cook is seeking a technological solution, something that scales, against what he sees as a human problem. Passing along lies may be “your prerogative” but it is the medium’s responsibility to slow the spread of lies and take action against persistent liars.
This is a hard truth the Internet industry is just waking up to, in the Age of Trump.
CrossCheck, a system for flagging fake news in France, which holds a Presidential election this spring, is Version 1 of the emerging solution. It’s important to note, however, that it’s just Version 1. Leading companies must undertake an open source process before a real solution can be implemented.
Democrats spent a generation criticizing Republicans for their “trickle-down economics,” the assumption that tax cuts create investment and wealth that will “trickle-down” on everyone else in the form of jobs and growth.
But the Obama years proved that there is another type of trickle-down. Technology trickle-down.
Technology wealth is centered at the top, to a degree J.P. Morgan and Jay Cooke could have only dreamt of.
The wealth that has been created for corporate owners like Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos is hard to contemplate. As hard as Bill Gates works to give away his Microsoft fortune, it just keeps growing, and he’s got Warren Buffett’s $60 billion to dispose of as well. Between them, Gates and Buffett have $135 billion, more than the GDP of Kazakhstan, more than what Morocco is projected to create in 2020.
Apple has $250 billion in cash just sitting around, yet CEO Tim Cook is treated like some sort of hero by the left. When is some of that wealth going to trickle-down on the rest of the country? You think journalism is terrible? You know how much good journalism you can create for even $1 billion? Oh, you say it doesn’t pay? Whose fault is that, exactly?
The 2016 election, and its aftermath, is less about millennials as a group than what Richard Florida, over a decade ago, called the “creative class.”
The creative class consists, as an old comic from college recounts, of those people “accused of wealth and guilty of education.” Anyone in a creative pursuit, whether that involves liberal arts or science and math, is part of the creative class.
Techies are part of the creative class. So are people like me.
The creative class, as a group, has different needs than the Organization Man William Whyte wrote about in 1956. For us, work isn’t something we do from 9 to 5. It’s what consumes us, what drives us. Our passion for what we do is a key to our productivity. Thus, we desire continual contact with one another, both online and offline. The center of our city is not downtown, but a research university, which may be in another part of the city or in a separate city by itself.
The best years of this century for Democrats were 2005 and 2006, when DNC chair Howard Dean initiated his “50-state strategy.”
The idea was simple. Democrats would fight everywhere, not just in blue states but in red ones as well. They would fight on every level, on local and state issues, even if they had no chance. But they would fight.
Dean, plus Katrina, combined to make 2006 the only mid-term election of this century where Democrats enjoyed an unalloyed triumph. This holds important lessons for today’s Democrats, and for their technology overlords.
First, it makes little sense to just complain, as they did during Trump’s Inauguration. You need to go on offense.
What tripped up the technology industry in 2016, more than anything else, was the question of merit.
Technology is a meritocracy. We want the brightest, most engaged, most passionate minds we can get, and we don’t care where they come from, what sex or race they are, or who they love.
But for those who fail the meritocracy test, and it’s assumed that will be most people, tech today has nothing for you. This, is why technology lost the election. People who work with their hands, people who don’t go to prestige colleges, feel locked-out of the game, except as drudges. They took their revenge in November.
The problem is made worse by the behavior of the elite institutions. Increasingly top colleges are taking students from overseas. They’re taking the elite from China, charging them full freight, and they know the kids can do the work.
Put those two things together and you get Trumpistan’s nightmare. Their kids can’t get into the game, and all the money from that game is funneling into fewer-and-fewer hands. The assumption is that technology, which cut out middlemen, then salesmen and retail clerks, is now coming for anyone who drives. What are their kids going to do?
Since November, some friends have been talking seriously about leaving the country.
What are the rules for German citizenship, they ask? Would we be welcome in New Zealand?
I speculated on this back in 2005, after Bush somehow beat John Kerry, writing a still unfinished novel in which Richard Branson and Mark Cuban led a bunch of American exiles to start an unregulated market in Johannesburg, South Africa. In my imagination, they even re-built the Twin Towers, right in the middle of Jo-Burg. And naturally, they had to hire a smart man like Dana Blankenhorn to handle their PR.
The book presaged concepts behind Bitcoin, and described aspects of financial piracy that do exist. But it was fiction. After making my son, then in high school, into a character who could secretly translate Arabic and Chinese on the fly, I found my footing in studying history and dropped it.
That’s what I’d advise my friends who are thinking of leaving to do right now. Drop it.
Trump may indeed be Hitler. I think he’s more Berlusconi, but what if he is the sum of all our fears? What if America has been taken over by Nazis and fellow-travelers? What good would it do, then, to abandon your country in its hour of need? Where will you go that will be safe from American power in the hands of a madman?
Nowhere. Besides, Americans don’t run from a fight.
“A little patience and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolved, and the people, recovering their true sight, restoring their government to its true principles.” – Thomas Jefferson
True political realignment begins when a newly-dominant industry becomes politically partisan.
As technology rose to economic power, from the 1970s through the 2010s, its political wishes were accepted by both parties. Barack Obama was essentially given power by technology in 2008 – his cloud infrastructure was Google-like – but technologists could have lived with Mitt Romney as well.
This changed in 2016.
The political priorities of technology are human capital, free trade, political stability and a concern for the planet. Donald Trump opposes all these things, loudly. He sees capital in terms of money and physical resources. He is against free trade. He likes political instability. He has no concern for the health of the planet.
This is forcing technology to align itself with Trump’s political opponents, aiming at the complete destruction of the current Republican Party.
But there’s a second thing that must happen for such a realignment to happen. Trump’s political opponents must align themselves with technology, and accept the technology industry’s leadership over them.
This is the way it has always been. Just look at past political cycles.
Despite the ongoing depression of my Democratic friends, Trumpism is doomed.
There is nothing he can do about this, because his politics are based on a fading economic model in resources and manufacturing, he rules by instinct rather than through data, and his allies practice a rigid ideology out of step with the times.
Nothing illustrates this better than his selection of Reg Tillerson as his Secretary of State. Tillerson’s job is to make peace in the oilpatch, or at least bring about a détente among producers that can result in higher profits for Houston’s majors (like Exxon), and save the economies of Russia and Saudi Arabia, which are failing under the pressure of a war President Obama did little to discourage.
Oil and other resources, meanwhile, are becoming fungible under the onslaught of technology. Right now, oil and gas are only competitive in the West because of infrastructure built out over decades. Emerging economies don’t have the capital to both build out an oil infrastructure and continue paying the price of oil, not in the face of decentralized renewable energy systems and the pressure of efficiency, which is only going to increase as 2020 approaches. Nor do they need it.