Sunday, May 20, 2012

Eloquent writing about innovation has hidden agenda

You really have to hand it to Thomas Friedman and the New York Times. The biggest challenge facing communists in America is pushing communism full-time, all the time, without actually using the C-word. It has to be talked around. New ways of getting out the message must be found.

Take Fried's new NYT piece about San Fran and Seattle being places of innovation. Fried does a slow roll from talking about how awesome the innovators of America are, tinged with a bit of sadness, and then moves into a fully matured call for communism. Read the piece to see a master manipulator at work. And never once does he use the concise, accurate words that define what he is getting at, because that's still too unpalatable to we Americans. We'll need a few more years of Obama before the C-word can come out of the closet.
    I’VE spent the last week traveling to two of America’s greatest innovation hubs — Silicon Valley and Seattle — and the trip left me feeling a combination of exhilaration and dread. The excitement comes from not only seeing the stunning amount of innovation emerging from the ground up, but from seeing the new tools coming on stream that are, as’s founder, Jeff Bezos, put it to me, “eliminating all the gatekeepers” — making it easier and cheaper than ever to publish your own book, start your own company and chase your own dream. Never have individuals been more empowered, and we’re still just at the start of this trend.
And here, about half way through, he's slowly coming to his point:
    The number of filled jobs at Microsoft went up this year from 40,000 to 40,500 at its campus outside Seattle, yet its list of unfilled jobs went from 4,000 to almost 5,000. Eventually, it will have no choice but to shift more research to other countries.
Friedman uses the tried-n-true journalistic trick of getting others to say what he wants to say, so he doesn't have to dirty his hands. "They're saying this, not me. I'm just the messenger." How do we know he's doing this? I could find a hundred quotable experts who think this is hogwash, and that cutting spending and letting people control their own lives is, and always has been, the surest way to innovation and prosperity. Friedman looked for people who would push the communist message, and he got them.
    When we shrink investments in higher education and research, “we shoot ourselves in both feet,” remarked K.R. Sridhar, founder of Bloom Energy, the Silicon Valley fuel-cell company.
The coup-de-grace is the conclusion, which is an overt call to become a communist nation:
    “Empowering the individual and underinvesting in the collective is our great macro danger as a society,” said the pollster Craig Charney. Indeed, it is. Investment in our collective institutions and opportunities is the only way to mitigate the staggering income inequalities that can arise from a world where Facebook employees can become billionaires overnight, while the universities that produce them are asked to slash billions overnight. As I’ve said, nations that don’t invest in the future tend not to do well there.
What Friedman is willfully omitting is that California, where Facebook is based, has been named the worst place to do business in America for the 8th straight year because of high taxes and onerous government regulations -- the exact opposite of what Fried is calling for. Capital and business flight are a way of life here. Zuckerberg moved his business to California to access the talent pool of Silicon Valley, nothing more. If he could be somewhere else, he would be. Friedman's call for government to become larger and more controlling will reduce the level of innovation, not increase it.

The really shameless part of Friedman's argument is that Facebook, which he slams for "staggering income inequalities", employs 3500 people and many thousands more through feeder industries like gaming (Zynga, for instance). He also didn't mention that many, if not most, of these businesses, which employ so many people, were launched only because of the prospect of the founders becoming "billionaires overnight." Take away these incentives, or "mitigate" them as Friedman puts it, and watch what happens.

The story is a careful, measured argument for communism and the ideology's necessary increases in taxes (called "investments" here) and government spending. It's nothing more, nothing less. 'Indeed, it is.'

No comments: