For-Profit Corporations Cannot Be Woke

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Wunderkind entrepreneur and billionaire Randian centerfold Elon Musk announced that he plans to collaborate with the Trump administration.

His hope is that his influence will steer the President toward supporting a carbon tax.  “The more voices of reason that the President hears, the better,” he said in Gizmodo,

“Simply attacking him will achieve nothing. Are you aware of a single case where Trump bowed to protests or media attacks?”

Donald Trump has famously asserted that climate change is a myth invented by the Chinese, and is currently moving to reinstate coal as a major energy source for the nation.  He also leads the Republican Party, which is adamantly opposed to any kind of carbon tax or climate change regulation.

He announced his support for nominee for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying in a tweet that “Rex Tillerson supports a carbon tax. This is what is really needed to move the needle.” Rex Tillerson is a former CEO of ExxonMobil.

Why would Elon Musk ignore the myriad abuses that Trump has already enacted and promised to inflict on Americans and people abroad?

Simple.  Money.

Elon Musk’s flagship company Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) manufactures electric cars.  His company would benefit immensely from a higher global cost for carbon-based fossil fuels.  He is personally motivated to seek government help in securing extra advantages for his own enterprises over the competition.  He also runs SpaceX, a company which depends on government permission and contracts to fly rockets to and from the International Space Station.  He stands to profit from maintaining a cozy relationship with the White House.

Do I think that Musk has some altruistic intent behind his support for climate change legislation? Sure, why not.  But what’s more important is that his altruism seems to end exactly where his portfolio begins.  Are we supposed to believe that Musk is so overwhelmed by his effort to save the environment that he has made a difficult but rational and moral choice to ignore the pointless and xenophobic border wall that Trump plans to build, because climate change affect more people?  Has he weighed the utility of collaborating with the Trump’s administration’s decimation of the healthcare system, and the impoverishment and disease of millions, because a marginal tax on carbon will be that much better for everyone else?

Of course not.  He’s focused on climate change to exclusion of the other evils of this government because it is his narrow charge as a corporate officer and investor.  He is in charge of a company, and companies cannot have conscience except where shareholder returns are involved.

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Uber has already proven itself to be a shady company in so many ways.

If you’re not already familiar, I’ll point you to reporting by PandoDaily founder Sarah Lacy on Uber’s plan to pay people to smear journalists who are critical of them.  Also of note are their shady approaches to contract labor to avoid worker’s compensation and liability for drivers who rape their passengers.  This magnificent four-part essay by Yves Smith shows that their model is totally unprofitable and depends on the total eradication of other forms of urban transportation in order to provide return to their investors.  Their plan is to gain a global monopoly and then extract rent from travelers, and to use billions in unicorn blood to do it.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick held a company-wide meeting this week to explain to their no doubt incredulous workforce why the company will be working with the Trump administration, despite its racist policies and affiliation with white nationalists, and its commitment to violate human rights and the international laws of war.

“We’ll partner with anyone in the world as long they’re about making transportation in cities better, creating job opportunities, making it easier to get around, getting pollution out of the air and traffic off the streets.”

That’s right, they’ll partner with anyone in the world, as long as they commit to making the trains run on time.

Uber, like any other privately held company with a $66 billion dollar valuation, has an urgent need to produce growth and an eventual return on investment to the venture capitalists and Saudi royals who have funded its global expansion thus far.  No policy regarding the bodily autonomy of women or the rights of immigrants to live without harassment, detention and extradition will get in the way of prompt personal car service for the affluent.

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Forget the cartoon villainy of vampire capitalist and John Galt cosplayer Peter Thiel for a second.

He’s the guy who destroyed Gawker out of spite, and then spoke on the floor of the RNC to a throng of misfits and virgins who think he’s going to hell for doing anal with other men.

Instead, focus on the woman seated to the right of Donald Trump and Mike Pence: Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) and the undisputed champion of capitalist feminism in Silicon Valley, who scored big with her bestseller Lean In.

Like so many other women in tech, Sandberg has been all but silent since Trump’s election, despite his total disdain for the values she previously espoused to the sound of applause and book sales.  Only just this week did she speak out against the reinstated Global Gag Rule which will cripple women’s health around the globe.  It’s great to see her entering the fray again.  But such tepid advocacy pales in comparison to the stature she claimed prior to the election, as she caped for an economic system that devalues women and girls and asks them to do extra work to overcome that.

Also notable at this meeting are Larry Page, cofounder of Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), whose unofficial motto of ‘Don’t Be Evil’ apparently doesn’t include cavorting with wanna-be totalitarians.

Other tech CEOs have peeped up about Trump’s proposed immigration policies – but only to beg him to continue to issue the H1-B visas that allow them to hire South Asian and Eastern European engineers instead of American ones.  They give lip service to improving education in the United States to make those visas unnecessary, but then hide their profits in Ireland and classify workers as contractors to avoid employment taxes.

Should immigrants be able to stay in the US to find lucrative jobs in the tech sector? Of course.  Should they be tied to a single employer or be deported if their startup goes defunct?  No.  Should this opportunity be limited to immigrants who are fortunate enough to work in technology fields, while construction and agricultural workers are forced into near slavery and threatened with deportation at the whim of local sheriffs?  Fuck no.

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Maybe the rest of us should just ‘Think Different?’

Apple’s CEO Tim Cook (NASDAQ: AAPL) also expressed support for some of Trump’s proposed corporate tax cuts and offshore cash reserve holidays, a move that wouldn’t help the Treasury at all but would provide more flexibility to multinationals to move capital around the world without having to pay their bills in the United States.

Cook has also met with the Trump scions to open a more permanent relationship with the new regime, leaving the Democrats in the dust.

In an internal communication attempting to deal with employee fallout over his meeting with Trump, Cook made nods toward human rights and the environment.  But his primary point was: “Governments can affect our ability to do what we do. They can affect it in positive ways and they can affect in not so positive ways.”

Apple has a job to do: sell hardware, sell music, sell information, make money for investors.  Collaboration with government will always be to that end, anything else is an externality.

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Our last hope for woke Silicon Valley political power is the kid who turned ‘Hot or Not’ into a global advertising and surveillance machine.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook, sure seems like he might be entering politics.  After a brief romance with Cory Booker where they brought VC money to Newark to try and softly privatize the school system (it didn’t work), Zuckerberg is now making appearances in some very strange places for a Silicon Valley magnate. And while Zuckerberg will be 36 in 2020, just old enough to serve as President, the fact that he owns the most proliferate news source on Earth and reams of personal data on nearly every voter in the country makes him a terrifying prospect for public office, regardless of his views.

Folks closer to Facebook say the more likely candidate is Sheryl Sandberg, who has already begun to establish her national profile as a ‘progressive who gets things done,’ as they say. But in a world where only the rich can feasibly compete for the Presidency, and where celebrity is the lynchpin to any campaign, Zuckerberg would make an attractive candidate for the dullards in the Democratic Party who saw The Social Network and decided they want the rude nerd who’s friends with Justin Timberlake to be Commander-in-Chief.

If someone like Zuckerberg, or Sandberg, or Musk, or any other corporate celebrity rises up to challenge Trump in 2020, they will lose worse than Clinton ever could have.

Silicon Valley is so monumentally out of step with the needs and desires of most Americans that the only solution they have to the jobs crisis they are creating is to literally write people checks to stay home.  (I’m for that, by the way.)  You can create an app that lets people share photos and messages – good for you.  A 50th grocery delivery service, but this one focuses on farm-to-table eating for the richest people in the country?  Fuck you.  You can’t appify politics.  Twitter is literally all you need, and those guys can’t even turn a profit.

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The idea of a Woke Silicon Valley was always a total lie.

The birth of the Internet and the open source movement grew from some of the best traditions of the 60’s movement.  But that movement has been entirely co-opted by finance, and a generation of brilliant engineers have been corrupted by the lure of six figure equity packages that encourage them to build better and better shopping tools and funny face filters and hope that their firm cashes out of the bubble before it’s too late. The workers who drive these companies may prefer ethically sourced beef, but they also use their enormous incomes to buy apartment buildings and evict families so they can live a little closer to the private bus services that bring them to and from work.  They cause the homelessness epidemic that plagues California cities.

They and their employers are more than happy to use the force of government when it suits their ends.  They fight city hall when it impedes their businesses, they embrace it when it protects their colonization of neighborhoods and the appropriation of public services for the wealthy.  They ignore the injustices in their own backyard but claim the mantle of progressivism and tolerance in the media and popular culture.  Because they’re the ‘good kind of corporation.’

Corporate power will always appease those with governmental power. And because workplaces have little to no democracy, when democracy fails at the ballot box, our lives from top to bottom are utterly dominated.

The tech industry has created a number of important innovations which can better the lives of regular people.  But its investors and boardrooms are narrowly focused on producing goods and services for the luxury class where margins are high, adoption is swift, and planned obsolescence isn’t a problem.

In fact, it is the opinion of most venture capital funds that the economy itself is undergoing a long term obsolescence, and that average people will have little to no part to play in the industries of the future.  Their focus is on biotech that will help the dwindling number of people who can afford health insurance live longer and longer. They love transportation deinfrastructurization that will let a robot drive expensive produce directly to their door, bypassing markets where your grandmother could shop.  Their eyes are on China as a consumer market, where they have no trouble collaborating with a totalitarian government for access and preferential treatment.

It will be the same here.

 

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