[FoRK] Silicon Valley's unique politics explained, in 6 charts
Stephen D. Williams
sdw at lig.net
Tue Oct 13 01:25:03 PDT 2015
I identify with this, as do a lot of people I know.
Silicon Valley's unique politics explained, in 6 charts
Updated by Gregory Ferenstein on September 29, 2015, 10:00 a.m. ET
David Plouffe, Uber chief adviser. Warren Little/Getty Images
Of late, the news has been thick with clashes between Democratic politicians and Silicon Valley titans.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio waged a high-profile battle with Uber, only to be soundly defeated by the company. Mark Zuckerberg and
Bill Gates have spent millions of dollars funding the controversial public charter school movement and have become villains in the
eyes of many liberals.
Meanwhile, Republicans are falling over themselves to embrace the technology industry. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush
took an Uber as a campaign gimmick during a trip to San Francisco to tout his tech credentials. His competitor and libertarian icon
Rand Paul opened up an operations office in the Valley to court young, anti-authoritarian techies.
And yet, Silicon Valley loves the Democratic Party: In the 2012 presidential election, 83 percent of top tech firms’ contributions
went to Obama’s election campaign.
But old-guard Democrats may come to regret this love affair. The tech elite love the Democratic Party in the same way they love the
health-care, transportation, and education industries — as a hodgepodge of aging leaders ripe for disruption.
For two years, a leading tech blog in the Valley, TechCrunch, charged me with covering the political interests of startup founders
and the tech elite. I found that Silicon Valley’s denizens loved government, at least in theory — they saw it as a kind of alpha
venture capitalist, funding citizens to be as healthy, civic, and entrepreneurial as possible. What they didn’t like was the liberal
idea that government uses regulations to protect workers from the whims of capitalism. To them, the mechanisms of protection often
act as an impediment to innovation. And when Silicon Valley leaders don't like something, they use their money to change it.
So I began collecting data on what startup founders believed and how they might use their influence and cash to change American
politics. My preliminary conclusions are based on two new data sets, which will be released to the public in a series of blog posts
later this fall:
A political psychology poll conducted on a representative sample of internet startup founders
A data set that merged FEC contributions with CrunchBase, TechCrunch's database of virtually every known tech founder (credit
to Dataladders.com for helping me with the monumental merging task)
I then compared the answers from those data sets with a SurveyMonkey panel of US population to see how and where Silicon Valley
founders differed in their ideology from most Americans. Here’s what I found (but please keep in mind, these are still preliminary,
as data collection is ongoing).
Only 3 percent of startup founders identify as Republican
"Most of Silicon Valley, most of the executives, tend to be Democrats" —Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel
"Libriterians are good, but they dont stop nazis or build roads" —Startup founder survey respondent
On free trade and unions, tech founders are much more libertarian than traditional Democrats
But on environmental regulation, Obamacare, and foreign policy, they're Democrats
Silicon Valley founders believe in government involvement in personal decisions but also in competition for public services
"Competition is healthy in all industries, profitable or not." —Internet Founder Survey respondent
The Valley's support for government involvement in everyday decisions often shocks politicians who expect a more libertarian
approach to the world. Last time Rand Paul held a public talk, he opened up his speech with a familiar question, "Who's a part of
the leave-me-alone coalition?" No one clapped.
On the other hand, Silicon Valley types share libertarians’ love of competition and the market. Indeed, Silicon Valley types have an
unusual faith in citizens' ability to solve their own problems. They are the only group I've found that believes having an active
and informed citizenry is as important for society as reducing government regulation, reducing income inequality, or beefing up
At their absolute core, Silicon Valley types are extreme idealists: They believe there is always a better solution that is great for
nearly everyone. Life is just a matter of discovering great ideas through conversation, innovation, and education. Eighty-seven
percent of founders believe that education can solve all or most of every problem in society, from violence to partisanship.
Thirty-five percent believe that military enemies can resolve their differences through dialogue alone. And, perhaps most
importantly, there is near unanimity in the belief that change eventually makes things better, because society learns from its
mistakes (70 percent).
"It’s the hacker ethic that a lot of problems in the world are information inefficiencies" —Facebook founding president Sean Parker
The conclusion I've come away with is that Silicon Valley represents an entirely new political category. It is a libertarian-like
ideology within the Democratic Party. It loves competition and capitalism, but believes the government has an essential role in
empowering every person to give their best to society. People and organizations that can contribute more deserve more resources.
Traditional Democrats tend to see the government as a protector from the whims of capitalism, while Silicon Valley liberals see the
government as an investor. The government competitively funds citizens to solve problems in a way that an agency never could have
imagined. This helps explain the Silicon Valley elites' obsession with charters: publicly funded, unionless, and highly experimental
This belief is closest to what political scientists call communitarianism, the theory that active communities can solve problems
better than either the market or the government alone. For instance, a communitarian might choose a neighborhood watch over more
police or a carpool system over public transit.
And, indeed, this is not unlike what the ride-hailing industry has done by adding a carpool component to its smartphone apps, part
of a long-held dream of Lyft's executives to reduce cars on the road through mass carpooling.
In essence, it is a civil society completely oriented toward innovation. They don't see conflicts between citizens, the government,
big corporations, or other countries — just one big mass of people coming up with mutually beneficial solutions as fast as possible.
These utopian ideas are not entirely new. They've been around for a long time. But the economy is empowering these idealists like
never before, and the Democratic Party is evidently the political vessel they've chosen to make it a reality. And given the amount
of money they have to spend, and the kind of Democratic talent they are now buying — David Plouffe now works for Uber, and Jay
Carney works for Amazon — traditional Democrats may soon find themselves on the wrong side of the disruption.
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