There’s A Newfound Hatred Of Silicon Valley

L: (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for The New York Times) R: (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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For quite a long time, Silicon Valley was the angelic, do-no-wrong industry, adamantly supported by people on the left end of the political spectrum, presumably due to the tech companies’ enormous economic contributions to society, but also more likely because their respective leaders often espouse like-minded ideals.

Now, as the corporations’ individual and collective power perpetually grows to almost unprecedented levels, so too does liberals’ dislike for Silicon Valley.

“Make This Amazon Charade Illegal,” reads one headline from the outlet Splinter (a part of the Gizmodo Media Group), referring to Amazon’s bid to find the best suitor for its second headquarters colloquially known as “HQ2.”

“This is all fucked,” the author wrote of the situation.

Not to be outdone, a headline from the same site reads, “All the Thirsty Shit Cities Are Doing to Woo Amazon,” which aptly points out that some cities, like Stonecrest, G.A., are more than willing to bend over backwards for the corporation. The town offered to sector off part of its land so Amazon could essentially create its own city, and appoint CEO Jeff Bezos its unelected mayor. Georgia as a state is including the prospect of Amazon choosing the capital of Atlanta as its HQ2 location in many policy debates typically considered outside the bounds of concern for a tech company’s investment, according to details outlined by The Wall Street Journal.

“It’s especially depressing to watch the spectacle of economically abandoned post-industrial cities vie for the spot, even in the face of almost-certain failure,” the Splinter writer said. “But under techno-capitalism, bid they must! So here is a running list of the thirstiest, most dismal acts that Bezos has forced cities across America to perform,” the cheeky reporter continued before laying out several examples of localities ostensibly whoring themselves out.

“Amazon’s New Headquarters Should Be in Hell,” reads another Splinter headline.

“Who wouldn’t love to land Amazon’s HQ2?” Bret Swanson of the American Enterprise Institute told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “But tax giveaways, beyond a certain point, serve mostly politicians, not taxpayers. Tax competition that encourages organic growth is good. But too often states and localities favor some firms over others.”

Re-upped criticisms arose again Monday and Tuesday because of an attempt by employees of The Washington Post, which Bezos owns, to unionize.

Bezos is the richest man in the world (although that grand title can change depending on the naturally fluctuating stock price of his company). And many on the left abhor that level of wealth and its apparent relationship with employees of one of his holdings.

“The Bachelor: Corporate America Edition,” an article from the liberal outlet Slate is titled, with the subhead “North American cities have debased themselves in the Amazon HQ2 reality show. The worst is yet to come.”

But it’s not only Amazon that is the recipient of the hate. Google (or more aptly parent company Alphabet), Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft — which along with Amazon are referred to as the “big five” — are also recipients of severe forms of criticism, and calls for federal regulatory oversight.

“The ‘Big Five’ Could Destroy the Tech Ecosystem,” a Bloomberg columnist opines.

“Is It Time to Break Up Google?” reads an op-ed in The New York Times.

“Should America’s Tech Giants Be Broken Up?” a Bloomberg writer wonders.

“Break up Google and Facebook if you ever want innovation again,” The Register wrote in a report detailing author Jonathan Taplin’s viewpoints.

While it’s been a while, or ever, since it’s been so palpable, Wayne Crews, vice president for policy and senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), says this clamoring over Silicon Valley’s stature is not exactly new.

He recalls loud appeals after the turn of the century to classify Google as a public utility because its search engine had become so dominant, ubiquitous, and necessary to use the internet.

“Silicon Valley has always been left-leaning, while some folks saw them as small ‘L’ libertarians,” Crews told TheDCNF. “They tend to align left-of-center on issues, except interestingly enough, when their own company has been targeted for antitrust,” he continued, adding that rent-seeking often occurs in which firms don’t want regulation for themselves — usually aligning them with conservatives — but don’t mind it so much for others.

Crews adds, though, that intense skepticism is probably more prominent due to a confluence of factors; the levels of wealth and influence these companies have been able to attain and the confluence of (for the most part) usually-opposing ideologies.

“Any company that people love across the board, but grows too powerful, gets targeted,” said Crews. “What we have on our hands now is a growing trend from both sides.”

Scott Cleland, former deputy U.S. coordinator for international communications and information policy in the George H.W. Bush administration, wrote a BuzzFeed op-ed in early September that stated “Facebook, Google, and Amazon Wield Power Over Us All, And Everyone Should Be Worried.”

He argued that “the economic and social problems caused by the exceptional unchecked power of three companies — Google, Amazon, and Facebook — has created a rare bipartisan opportunity for the right and left to come together around common interests: holding abuses of unaccountable power accountable.”

U.S. undersecretary of commerce for former President Bill Clinton wrote an op-ed making highly similar arguments as Cleland.

“Time for a Conservative Anti-Monopoly Movement” reads a literary appeal from The American Conservative.

And it might not even be as clear cut as to be a binary movement. Pseudo-conservative Bill Kristol noted how this outcry and apparent desire to break up or do something ambiguous about the biggest in the tech industry is making strange bedfellows of the so-called camps of the “New Center,” “liberal,” and “neo-libertarian.”

Many tech elites themselves spoke out against their own industry, specifically the ever-growing influence of Silicon Valley. (RELATED: Silicon Valley Billionaire Calls Out His Own Industry, Says Regulators ‘Have No Choice’ But To Intervene)

Swanson pointed out the progression, what he calls “The bipartisan Silicon Valley squeeze.”

“No good deed goes unpunished, Silicon Valley CEOs mutter, as they watch much of the liberal commentariat and policy world turn against the Tech Titans, labeling them monopolists and destroyers of the news and civic culture,” said Swanson. Despite years of natural support due to being proponents of fairly unfettered capitalism, now “conservatives have finally had enough. They believe the Silicon Valley firms have become explicitly partisan entities — in politics and the culture wars.”

Essentially, the former corporate darlings of America are now the punching bag. Yet, there haven’t been many suggestions of what should be done to bring these companies down a peg, besides some vague calls to enforce antitrust rules on the books.

“The very thing the antitrust laws were designed to prevent don’t really apply,” Eli Lehrer, president of the think tank R Street, told TheDCNF. “A lot of relevant complaints are about underproducing and then overcharging. But how could you raise the price of something you’re providing for free,” he continued, referring to many services on platforms for Amazon, Facebook, Google, and the ilk.

Crews concurs, insisting that the “big is bad” argument doesn’t hold water.

“Antitrust law concerns businesses restricting output and raising prices, which is the opposite of what’s happening,” said Crews. “They’re expanding output and lowering prices, or it’s simply free.”

He argues that “in free markets, things can be choppy, but that’s not a bad thing,” as in the long run, it’s almost always fruitful.

Blockbuster and Hollywood Video tried to merge in 2005, Crews recounts, but the proposed incorporation was declined by the federal government due to worries that they would just maintain, if not increase, a disproportionate stake in the video-viewing market.

“If they were allowed to merge,” the amalgamated company “could have been able to compete once Netflix and others came around,” Crews said, which could have led to a more robust, and concentrated market today, yielding benefits for consumers.

Lehrer says he finds the attacks on Amazon from the left “particularly ridiculous” because online sales, which Amazon dominates, only account for roughly 9 percent of total sales in the U.S.

So while it’s not just the left who have become incensed, or at least pensively concerned, about big tech, their ire and its growth seems to have become the starkest, especially relative to just a few years ago.

“The tech giants have generated important innovations and vast consumer benefits. Critics of their size have trouble pointing to real consumer harms – or how more regulation would help anyone,” Swanson argued. “But the tech giants have invited some of the criticism. Their support for heavy-handed net neutrality regulation over the past 15 years undermines their own case for for a continued free hand.”

This now-deep-seated animosity from the left flies in the face of other viewpoints shared by Bezos and other teach leaders.

Both informal and formal coalitions of prominent tech companies spoke out against the Trump administration’s immigration policies, arguing that illegal immigrants known as “Dreamers” should be able to stay in the U.S. The immigrant-laden tech industry also tried to take the White House to court over the temporary immigration ban issued earlier in the year, with the leaders disavowing publicly in their own respect.

And it’s not just immigration that both liberals and big tech care about, but not enough for liberals to completely excuse, as both parties generally spoke out against the Trump administration mandated policies relating to transgenders. There’s also the Paris Climate Agreement, which many liberals and Silicon Valley executives championed, and subsequently mourned when President Donald Trump voiced his intention to exit the accord.

Despite such a harmony in conviction, it’s not enough for liberals, both hardcore and moderate, to reign in critiques or condemnation.

And the skepticism and criticism is not just coming from more irreverent sites like Splinter and other Gizmodo affiliates, as previously mentioned, but even more straightforward publications as liberal, left-leaning, or with a more nuanced editorial stance.

The Intercept wondered last week “Why Don’t The 20 Cities On Amazon’s HQ2 Shortlist Collectively Bargain Instead Of Collectively Beg?”

Other suggestions include “Cities should respond to Amazon’s squeeze play by saying no to subsidies” (Los Angeles Times). Another column from the same author and same outlet asserts that “asking civic leaders to make presentations about these [business and societal] factors is very much a sham” and makes it clear that the overall overarching analyses of Amazon’s actions is “not a compliment.”

An NBC News writer offered a multivariate explanation as to “Why Amazon’s New $5 Billion Headquarters May Ruin Your City.”

Business Insider more mildly outlined the potential problems for a city taking Amazon’s hand in proverbial matrimony.

The underlying cause of such a trend is certainly multifaceted, but certain political movements that don’t necessarily cut across party lines could be a key indicator.

“A general trend towards populism is part of it, which we’ve seen with Trump’s” ascension to power, Lehrer added, even though much of the left disagrees or abhors Trump.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, is also likely a contributing component, as he also promulgated some protectionist policies that overlap with Trump’s stated agenda.

In general, the objections sort of seem like a loose, less energetic, but potentially more bipartisan reincarnation of the Occupy Wall Street movement, except with Silicon Valley — once the darling of America — playing the villains.

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