This new article from BCG asserts that the technology industry carries a lot of responsibility for growing inequality, because technology both automates human labor and sources talent and technology globally. I agree; technologists are on the winning side in a world of systemic inequality.
I don’t usually comment on politics, but the extremity of the so-called Republican candidate, and his exploitation of the social media the technology industry created, has made me change my mind. Trump and inequality are strongly correlated. While I believe that technology increases productivity leading to the greater good of humanity as a whole, we should take a stronger position on policies mitigating inequality in the United States.
Technology executives traditionally, like myself, are politically disengaged. We hire the best and brightest from around the world from all races and social strata, so we should loudly and strongly support socially liberal and free trade candidates. But we only advocate meekly. There are big, well-known exceptions, of course, Benioff, Sandberg, Whitman, etc. But not that many, and our opinions don’t move the dial very much except by making donations.
Compare technology to the energy industry. Big oil has no problem funding blatantly false positions on health, environment and climate change, even while performing original research validating the hypothesis. The supposedly libertarian Koch brother fund whatever science or science denial suits their pocketbook. When looking out for their own interests, energy companies have no problem offending environmental, scientific or liberal constituencies, knowing their product is essential and their revenues not in danger.
In contrast, technologists, for some reason, are shy about offending paranoid conservative constituencies. Watching Zuckerberg placate conservatives like Beck was really something to behold, even though nothing about Facebook’s business model was at risk.
Even worse, this year only the fringe character Peter Thiel has literally got on the political stage. By default, he became our industry’s representative. Do we really like what we saw?
Thiel, whose holy text is Ayn Rand’s “Fountainhead”, sincerely believes that billionaire narcissists like himself are better off running the world. As a VC, Thiel supports a legally enforceable heads-I-win/tails-you-lose system for the wealthy (like hedge funds, private equity, Trump.) He doesn’t believe in competitive markets or “deals” he cannot control. Rather than support public education, he bribes young entrepreneurs to mold them in his own self-regarding image and create monopolies. Not surprisingly, he thinks there’s not enough inequality in the world; only those algorithms which make him richer should apply.
It’s embarrassing he was the only major representative from the tech industry at either convention.
We’re lucky that this country has over two hundreds years of (generally)
- respecting the countervailing powers of our multiple branches of government,
- a belief in competitive capitalism, and
- technological rationalism (albeit with a high degree of religiosity.)
I, for one, intend to stand up for those beliefs, while showing empathy for my fellow citizens by supporting policies that reduce inequality and increase social mobility. There is ample room for argument about what those policies should be. But racism, walls and tariffs are not among them.