While technology businesses systematically destroy jobs, they espouse every ‘pro-worker’ cause going. At least in America they appreciate the inherent absurdity, writes Milo Yiannopoulos.
Information economies privilege the intelligent. Yes, it’s an equal opportunity criterion, but it still discriminates – against stupid people. Factory workers of the sort traditionally represented by Left-wing politicians and loony Lefty activists are replaced by software and machines: in other words, advances in technology render the working class in developed countries useless.
Digital utopians will tell you that new technology, by increasing efficiencies, also decreases the costs of living in general, making everyone in society effectively richer. What they omit to mention is that most members of the resultant unskilled underclass are simply too dim-witted to play a useful role in the new information economy, and governments are left to deal with the ugly fall-out.
Do you throw them all on welfare? Or rapidly enlarge the public sector, creating tens of thousands of “non-jobs” to keep the working classes sober and off the streets?
While this humanitarian disaster is unfolding, wealth starts to become even more concentrated in the hands of the brightest members of society, who tend, by the way, to be marvellously adept at reducing their exposure to tax: not brilliantly helpful when you have millions of long-term unemployed to feed and clothe.
Meanwhile, the elites – and for the purposes of our argument, let’s just flag up that technology entrepreneurs sit squarely in this bracket – vote fiercely in their own fiduciary interests, electing fiscally conservative governments who ask a great deal from the disfranchised working classes but offer little by way of reward or sustenance.
These are the sorts of things you have to be comfortable with when you run, or aspire to build, a large technology business, because these things are the logical endpoints of the efficiencies your software creates. Scaleable platforms replace people: that’s the whole point of them.
And technology, as Kernel contributor Ed West put it back in December, is totalitarian. You should expect both democracy and equality to suffer when an economy becomes reliant on the financial and technology sectors. The price you pay for replacing traditional industries with scaleable platforms is the estrangement of people incapable of navigating the new environment.
This is where redistributive, Left-wing governments can step in to hold back the fiercest ravages of capitalistic progress and protect the weakest in society. By and large, they’ve done a fine job. In fact, they’ve done such a good job that they’re now becoming an unnecessarily severe handicap to innovation on both continents. This is why entrepreneurs must begin to better educate themselves about politics.
Silicon Valley has a reputation for being Left-leaning, but this is mostly a deception. By and large, tech founders don’t admit to their libertarian tendencies publicly, preferring to suck up to their middle-class, Left-leaning customers, their employees and the media.
Marc Andreessen, the founder of Netscape, is an exception in that he admitted openly to supporting Mitt Romney, sending shockwaves through the bien pensant commentariat of Silicon Valley. At least he wasn’t fibbing to his fans: I know of several Valley entrepreneurs who donate money publicly (and ostentatiously) to the Democrats but who actually vote Republican.
As for charity, there’s a entire book to be written on the disingenuous whirligig of flattery and attention focused on San Francisco darling charity:water, which is perhaps the tech industry’s best example of vigorous greenwashing by chief executives anxious to drum up some good PR and advertise what lovely people they are.
An even larger tome could be assembled on the grotesque global guilt complex encouraged by San Francisco tech bloggers and fed off by loony feminists in their endlessly soporific “women in tech” whinges. In few other sectors are men so humiliatingly emasculated – at least on the surface – on such insubstantial pretexts.
It’s obvious what’s going on here: a glossier, slicker version of corporate social responsibility. Yet it’s odd, isn’t it, that tech businesses, which everywhere in the world are systematically destroying jobs, seem to espouse every “pro-worker” cause going given half the chance, allying themselves with trendy, liberal-Left ideologies, charity initiatives and Left-wing Presidential candidates while acting behind the scenes like nothing so much as the reincarnation of Mad Men-era advertising executives.
The most obvious example – indeed, the greatest conservative icon of our time – is Steve Jobs, who made all the right noises as far as the students and hippies who lapped up his products were concerned, but who was also fiercely socially conservative, fabulously snobbish about journalism, a fan of Ayn Rand and, on his occasional trips to Cambridgeshire in the UK, a fan of hunting, shooting and fishing.
Increasingly, in part thanks to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, the public are cottoning on to the fact that Silicon Valley’s tech titans are not always what they seem, and that the shiny apps they know and love are really just a front for advertising middlemen ruthlessly obsessed with collecting and selling private data, with or without permission.
Thanks to journalism like the Wall Street Journal’s excellent “What Do They Know” series, people are realising that, as was the case with Google, new social software products are little more than highly addictive advertising delivery platforms. All of which makes marketing language about “openness” and “connecting people” that gushes from the Pincuses and Zuckerbergs sound like shamelessly opportunistic positioning, doesn’t it?
All that said, at least in the States chief executives realise they’re being disingenuous. In Europe, I fear the reason for the disparity is somewhat more unfortunate. Based on a misunderstanding of what “disruption” means, the European tech community and many of its service providers, particularly its journalists, seem to think that subverting old industry business models is the same thing as “sticking it to the man”.
Thus, reinventing bank payments and creating efficiencies in customer service platforms become synonymous with UK Uncut activism and the Occupy movement. I know it’s not everyone. But too few raise an eyebrow when employees of technology co-working spaces are spotted performing outlandish and offensive stunts, or pictured on the cover of national newspapers “occupying” department stores. I mean, seriously. What planet are these people on?
The big mistake Europeans are making is forgetting that start-ups have always been part of the Establishment. It’s why that whole leather jacket, motorbike and Sex Pistols thing is so naff and cringeworthy and strikes such a bum note. It’s also why, when they grow, start-ups quickly acclimatise to the demands of their lawyers and shareholders. Whereas in America, the Establishment is effectively capital, in Europe, it’s the apparatus of the civil service and the strata of class and privilege.
When American start-ups piss off larger companies, they do it with at least part of the Establishment – the junior money men – on their side. When Europeans try to be subversive, they find themselves at odds with the very fabric of the societies in which they live, supported only by liberal institutions like the Guardian and the BBC.
For an illustration of how it can go wrong, you need only look at Audioboo, a start-up fading rapidly into obscurity partly because its competitor Soundcloud is so technologically superior, but mostly because the founders were more preoccupied with presenting the audio capture tool as a weapon in the war on the Government (predictably, the only people who use it now are… the Guardian and the BBC) than with building a world-beating business.
Even more frustrating than the lavish quantity of holiday time, conference appearances and general “downtime” European start-up founders and the community at large award themselves, about which I wrote somewhat angrily yesterday, is this woolly political thinking, which runs entirely contrary to the spirit of capitalism and entrepreneurship. It’s down, I think, to the fact that Europeans are more genteel and humane; readier, alas, to tolerate and to entertain dotty special interest groups and wacko activists.
Thus we are treated to the spectacle of three start-up founders on Twitter tacitly endorsing boat race-buggering buffoon Trenton Oldfield on Saturday. (Trenton, love: it’s not our fault you didn’t get in to Oxford!) It requires an impressive level of cognitive dissonance, or a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of disruption, to at once tolerate people like Oldfield and yet to run a technology business that aspires to be a force of positive change and commercial innovation.
The British Government seems ill-qualified to address this dysfunction, sucking up where it ought to be re-educating. David Cameron has appeared at a number of Tech City events, pink with pleasure at being surrounded by entrepreneurial hipsters. Big mistake. His love-in with a community of hackers and user experience consultants who would never dream of voting Tory is the stuff of comedy.
Since those with the loudest voices in the technology community in Europe are all piously Left-wing, Cameron is in the awkward position of championing an industry that by and large despises him.
Some people will tell you that start-up founders tend to be apolitical. This claim strikes me as absurd. How can the founder of a business with aspirations to transformative industrial change not concern himself with politics? At a bare minimum, he must educate himself about the most entrepreneurially-friendly party before him at election time. More likely, he will realise that if his product is truly successful it will be his job to lobby for regulatory change (or stasis, as the case may be) to assist him in overturning old orders.
Tolerance of Left-wing extremism, and even encouragement of it, is a defect common to all of us in Europe. But so long as there are enough people who will even consider the insane proposition that “elitism” and competition are somehow wrong, as that ponce in the river wrote in his worthy windbag manifesto, Europe will never build businesses to match America’s.
That the idiot in question was the product of our own education system should worry us even more. That’s a subject for a future column. What bears repeating and remembering is that the weird saturation of soap-dodging “creatives” flooding co-working spaces in London, writing weird anti-capitalist blogs in Germany and hampering reform of labour laws in Spain and France are the single greatest threat to technology on the continent. In other words, it’s time for entrepreneurs to wise up about politics.
That British, French and German web entrepreneurs should be heard, as I have heard them, praising insane legislation from the European Union that threatens to destroy the competitiveness of the European internet economy demonstrates how deeply the rot has set in and how subjugated to the excesses of statism the psychology of European founders has become. But all is not lost! It’s time now to push back, and to embrace raw, volatile, bleeding-edge capitalism once again.
Because, without freeing ourselves from the shackles of socialist politics and the overweening arrogance, intrusiveness and stupidity of our governments and of the minority interest groups who would clamp shut every possibility for the improvement of things, and without dramatically and rapidly improving the appalling quality of state education, which these days seems more concerned with indoctrinating tired political values than teaching academic rigour and critical thinking, the European technology industry is fucked.
And that is something about which, as a founder, regardless of your professed disinterest in politics, you cannot afford to be ignorant. The good news? It’s not too late. There’s never been a better time to start a company in Europe. Entrepreneurs can educate themselves about lobbying the Government, without being funnelled through the self-regarding ear trumpet of Tech City.
We can beat back the tide of excessive regulation and high taxation and forge a new, stronger, more unashamedly entrepreneurially-minded Europe: one in which experimentation and failure are celebrated, not derided. We can create the space for failure and set up the conditions under which truly audacious companies can be conceived.
Now it’s over to you: man up, mean up, and build something incredible. To hell with the doubters, the red tape and the whining, nannying interference monkeys. Silicon Valley manufactures its own good fortune through a combination of hubris, courage, smarts, liquidity and tight networks. It’s time for Europe to do the same.