Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Suicidal Sociopathy of the Tech Sector

Upgraded and adapted from the Moot to this post, a reader asks:
Absolutely excellent rebuttal against libertarian verbal and "intellectual" diarrhea! You touched on on one issue I would like you to elaborate on. For example when you rebutted this statement: "The men behind the private space programs have built up personal fortunes in the tens of billions of dollars while establishing track records of creating and running companies worth hundreds of billions of dollars"; [you responded:] "Can I have some of whatever you're smoking, Clint?" Care to elaborate why you find his claim preposterous? That's my only gripe. Otherwise a fantastic piece that I will add to my intellectual arsenal against the sheer, utter, unapologetic and unabashed lunacy of libertarian- anarchists- conservatives.
America crows about being a free rather than a planned economy -- but of course we do plan the economy, ineptly, under the name of "Defense."

The dependency of especially tech companies on tax-payer subsidized research via public universities via government grants via public infrastructure via defense department programs is ubiquitous at every level of development, and is especially indispensable at the outset of the R&D path. This is setting aside the larger issue of the necessity for profitable enterprise of a stable context of educated citizens, sufficiently disseminated prosperity, actually functioning law, meritocratic norms, trust (that regulations will be enforced, that public institutions will be adequately funded and competently administered), infrastructural affordances (utilities, highways, the internet itself) -- all of which are seriously under threat because of the tireless work of plutocratic libertopian ideologues but remain sufficiently in force even now to keep the old heap on the road in spite of the suicidal insanity of the greatest beneficiaries of this stability forever struggling to disable it for the shortest-term gains imaginable.

The self-congratulatory fantasy of so many of the biggest beneficiaries of our system that their success is a function of their kick-ass superhuman superiority rather than of their luck to live in a society that values their efforts and abilities (and the successful usually are lucky in more ways than that) is of course a commonplace irrationality of the privileged throughout history and across cultures, but I must say it also constitutes in tech enthusiasts a kind of total amnesia and systematic disavowal of the ongoing reality of public investment and support that is little short of psychotic.

In the so-called technological sector this schizophrenic anti-governmentality coupled to abject government dependence, the eagerness of "elite" greedhead minorities to monetize free collective geek creativity for personal gain, the superficiality and misdirection of advertorial pop-tech journalism, an endless susceptibility to irrational exuberance mobilized by press release hyperbole and celebrity-CEO PR in a general atmosphere of get-rich-quick credulity, a ubiquity of vaporware scams and everyday fraud as culturally accepted norm are worse than in pretty much any other area of the economy or professional endeavor I can think of.

As a more general matter, perhaps the only thing more comical than the cocksure declarations of our mediocre government-dependent and labor-dependent elites that they are supersovereign superheroic supermen is the related but more disseminated cocksure declarations of our conformist crap-consumerist anti-intellectual masses that they are rebels and independents.

That, at any rate, is the beginning of my answer to your question. A warning: Skip lunch if you mean to dig into the specifics of the computer, software, aeronautics, arms, or pharmaceutical industries -- because, believe me, you won't look long without needing to ralph.


Impertinent Weasel said...

Not only is the macro state of the US economy subject to planning under the rubric of defense (and to a lesser extent, health care), but it is also ham-handedly manipulated via monetary policy to an extent rivaling even the late Soviet Union. The stated aim of monetary policy is to ameliorate the negative effects of business cycles, but it's not at all obvious to me that changes in such policies in response to changes in the economy do any more good than they do harm. The most recent example is the low-interest rate monetary policy of Alan Greenspan which was meant to ameliorate the effects of the recession following the end of the tech bubble in the late 90s. The extremely low interest rates he wanted led to massive demand for credit, malinvestment in real estate, a long process of decline in lending standards and risk controls in the banking and shadow banking systems to meet the demand for credit, and finally (when the last borrower was tapped out) a steep correction in real estate prices for which the global financial system was woefully unprepared. One looks at this and has to wonder if it wouldn't have been better if Greenspan had never existed, and we just let the recession run its course, let the over-leveraged go bankrupt, let the dot-com boom die the death it needed to die and instead expand our social safety net to catch the down-and-out and get them through to the better times ahead. It seems so simple, really. This would be a freer market, of course, but you'll never catch a libertarian gazillionaire advocating such a thing.

No, because instead of doing the right thing, these central bankers try to preserve the status quo at all costs, get asset prices rising again with cheap liquidity so that the plutocrats and oligarchs don't ever have to take a loss on any of their investments, no matter how stupid they happened to be. We'll pump asset prices any way we can. Why would a gazillionaire discourage such a thing?

Ben Bernanke is no better. For the last 4 years he has pointed to the rising stock market as evidence that his ultra-loose monetary policies are working. It wasn't until late 2012 that he decided to tie the continuation of this loose policy to the unemployment rate. It took him literally 4 years to even recognize publicly that the stock market isn't the economy, wealthy people getting even wealthier on paper doesn't end the suffering of millions of unemployed.

These gazillionaires this guy Clint is fellating are more beholden to government for their fortunes than they think. Even Warren Buffet (America's greatest ever investor, or something) made his money by front-running monetary policy, government spending and changes in regulation. Let's run the list, shall we?

GEICO - Car insurance? Who would bother if there wasn't a government legislated requirement?
BH Assurance - Bond insurance? So governments and municipalities can borrow for less if they give you taxypayer dollars to insure their bonds?
MidAmerican Energy - a utility? Yes, a government sponsored monopoly.
Clayton Homes, Benjamin Moore, etc -- builders and building supply, bought em up from 2000 to 2003, just ahead of the real estate bubble caused by the Greenspan Fed.


I could go on and on. So Dale is right, and Clint is just wrong. These gazillionaires he worships owe much of what they have to the existence of government, and what little remains they owe to luck.

And that's that.

Dale Carrico said...

I actually approve of the mission of the Fed to engage in countercyclical stimulus through monetary policy -- but it is hard to argue against IW's obviously correct empirical observation of the failure of that mission in living memory under the influence of neoliberal ideologues Volker, Greenspan, and Bernanke, Chairs captured by the culture of finance and enraptured by market fundamentalist pieties (Greenspan a literal personal life-long devotee of Ayn Rand, for pete's sake). Apart from the brazen refusal of these Chairs to embrace the published mandate of the Fed to encourage full employment, it is also difficult to judge the efficacy of the Fed to ameliorate the pathologies of the business cycle in principle in an environment of sweeping financial deregulation, the dismantling of organized labor, and in the absence of a steeply progressive taxation without which not even the most diligent and democratically-minded Chair of the Fed imaginable could really enact that mandate.

One... has to wonder if it wouldn't have been better if Greenspan had never existed, and we just let the recession run its course, let the over-leveraged go bankrupt, let the dot-com boom die the death it needed to die and instead expand our social safety net to catch the down-and-out and get them through to the better times ahead.

I agree with your preference for vastly expanded welfare to insulate majorities from the suffering caused by reckless plutocratic minorities, but I personally would have preferred a version of the bailouts in which banks were recapitalized on the condition of breaking up too big to fail institutions as too big to exist and introducing a financial transaction tax, and also bailing out owners of a single home with an underwater mortgage by refinancing at new market values, and also bailing out all student loans and credit card debt over six thousand dollars, and also lowering -- yes lowering! -- the retirement and social security eligibility age to 62.

In other words I would have preferred a response to the Great Recession that was a kind of jubilee for all rather than the plutocratic bailout we got. Together with stimulative renewable infrastructure investment at zero-lower bound interest rates and an introduction of at least two new higher progressive tax brackets and a raising of the taxable cap on social security taxes I think this would stimulate economic growth and reverse wealth concentration while leaving a recognizably capitalist system intact -- though the plutocrats and wingnuts would no doubt shriek about communism even as personal property was as respected as ever (taxes are not theft), employment rose, general prosperity returned, and still countless vast personal fortunes accumulated anyway.

Black guy from the future past said...

Thank you for the elaboration. It is very bizarre how these libertarians seek desperately to divorce themselves from government while also being inextricably linked and tethered to the govts they so despise. The government surrounds them in safety and comfort to do business. They benefit by the original crowd-funding called taxation, in which govt and people literally owe them nothing yet they do and pay fair share anyway. They get representation because of taxation, and when they become rich and well nourished in the govt womb which is composed of myriad stable peoples and institutions, they essentially tell society and thus everyone to go fuck themselves. This is evil. I have no other word to use to describe this sort of "ideology" and behavior.

jimf said...

> They get representation because of taxation, and when
> they become rich and well nourished in the govt womb
> which is composed of myriad stable peoples and institutions,
> they essentially tell society and thus everyone to go
> fuck themselves.

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