Beware the Tech Utopians… | Globalism 2

Everybody loves Silicon Valley. I do too! They are building the future etc. etc. But when we set out to build a constituency for Globalism they present a real challenge. Disrupting things is nice, but if this past election taught us anything it’s that people are feeling just a bit too disrupted. A populace that is losing economic ground to a changing economy isn’t going to get excited about Amazon or Facebook’s commandeering of larger and larger slices of the economy.

We talk a lot about bubbles when it comes to politics. But they apply to economics too. If you’ve got a college education and a great job, it’s likely that you and your friends delight in the ease and convenience of every new service and app. Many outside of privileged circles do as well. But they’re just as likely to feel left out as their prospects steadily fade in the new economy.

People should be working to build the future. And not just to make money off of it. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took a crack at it recently. His manifesto has some interesting ideas, but it was disconcerting how closely it aligns what is good for the world with what is good for Facebook. We need to build a better, safer, more free world. Silicon valley is vital, but the Globalist effort can’t be left to Tech Utopians looking to make a buck. All we’ll find in that direction is dystopia and more electoral disaster…

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Video Transcript after the jump…

Last time I pointed out that we need a Globalist party. Globalists should work for a better run, safer, and freer world. But there isn’t a lot out there on how to do that. The folks working hardest for a global world right now are all in Silicon Valley. I think that’s a real problem.

A couple weeks back Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg issued a striking manifesto. It was one part shareholder’s letter, one part corporate propaganda, and one part mission statement for building a better world. This manifesto excited some, scared some, and got more people talking about the possibility of Zuckerberg getting into politics.

I’m not on the Zuck 2020 train, like at all. I don’t think Globalism should be left to the tech utopians. To explain why, I’ve got to talk about Globalization. How it’s happened before, and how it’s different this time. Because Globalization in its current form is one of the biggest problems for the Globalists.

I think it makes sense to talk about the current era of globalization as kicking off in the 1990’s after the cold war. The roots were laid down as early as 1945, but a whole bunch of things got exponential in the 1990s. TRADE FINANCIALIZATION CHINA, INTERNET INTERNET INTERNET. What a lot of people don’t recognize is that this isn’t the first time we’ve experienced massive globalization. It’s the second. The first big wave of Globalization built the modern world. Dating from the 1850’s to the outbreak of World War I, with a big old recession in the middle, it built the modern world. Everything from modern corporations to the modern labor movement came out of this incredible ferment. It generated some pretty horrific living conditions, but it also brought great wealth and economic activity to everyone. This is what the ports of Great Cities like New York and San Francisco looked like back then. There was ceaseless activity, and it brought great opportunities to everybody from unskilled laborers to robber barons.

This is what the port of San Francisco looks like today. They’ve got acres of parking lots and a baseball stadium because nothing else is going on. The ports of our great cities are now given over to private marinas and miles of recreational facilities. It’s all very pleasant, but the economic engine is gone. Robots do most of the work, in less glamorous places like Oakland and Newark. Globalization 1 was a mass phenomenon. Globalization 2 isn’t in the developed world, and I think some of these dynamics will hit emerging markets too eventually. The second era of globalization provides great opportunities, but to a much smaller segment of the population. There’s a ticket you need to play the game. That ticket is getting more expensive. And 70% of Americans don’t have it.

Silicon Valley and the Tech Utopians talk a good game, but as of 2016, they haven’t taken any steps to help deal with this problem. Instead they build whiz bang services that funnel more and more money to fewer people, and wipe out whole industries along the way. If we continue to let Silicon Valley be the only entity defining Globalism then we’re going to be in terrible trouble. The Nationalist backlash will grow, and the benefits of Globalization will be lost. A Globalist Party needs to have an answer to this question. It needs to find a way to make the case to everybody else. There’s definitely a role for Silicon Valley here. The answer will probably be technological. But none of the current answers do the job. I don’t know what the answer is yet, but if a Globalist party is going to work, we need it.

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  • Nathan Ruffing

    Less efficiency, more purpose… I totally agree.

    • Robert Morris

      I like the formulation. I should have included it in the script. It ended up being a little more down on the Valley than I had intended. Tried to moderate it a bit with the graphics…

      • Nathan Ruffing

        I also like the connection to past globalization periods. I relate the current one, especially Silicon Valley and the internet (August 1991), to the invention of the printing press ~1450 because of the increase of information dissemination by an order of magnitude. The printing press is often credited with the Protestant Reformation and I think there are parallels to our post-internet world with loss of trust and fracturing of institutions.

        • Robert Morris

          That is a great parallel there! Might be a video in it…