Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

How Silicon Valley Turned Off the Left and Right

by Victor Davis Hanson// National Review

 

After years of regulation immunity and radical profiteering, Silicon Valley mega-corporations are alienating their friends on both sides of the political aisle.

 

When Left and Right finally agree on something, watch out: The unthinkable becomes normal.

 

So it is with changing attitudes toward Silicon Valley.

 

For the last two decades, Apple, Google, Amazon, and other West Coast tech corporations have been untouchable icons. They piled up astronomical profits while hypnotizing both left-wing and right-wing politicians.

 

Conservative administrations praised them as modern versions of 19th-century risk-takers such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller. Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs, and other tech giants were seen as supposedly creating national wealth in an unregulated, laissez-faire landscape that they had invented from nothing.

 

At a time when American companies were increasingly unable to compete in the rough-and-tumble world arena, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook bulldozed their international competition. Indeed, they turned high-tech and social media into American brands.

 

The Left was even more enthralled. It dropped its customary regulatory zeal, despite Silicon Valley’s monopolizing, outsourcing, offshoring, censoring, and destroying of startup competition. After all, Big Tech was left-wing and generous. High-tech interests gave hundreds of millions of dollars to left-wing candidates, think tanks, and causes.

 

Companies such as Facebook and Google were able to warp their own social-media protocols and Internet searches to insidiously favor progressive agendas and messaging.

 

If the Left feared that the tech billionaires were becoming robber barons, they also delighted in the fact that they were at least left-wing robber barons.

 

Unlike the steel, oil, and coal monopolies of the 19th century that out of grime and smoke created the sinews of a growing America, Silicon Valley gave us shiny, clean, green, and fun pods, pads, and phones.

 

As a result, social media, Internet searches, texts, email, and other computer communications were exempt from interstate regulatory oversight. Big Tech certainly was not subject to the rules that governed railroads, power companies, trucking industries, Wall Street, and television and radio.

 

But attitudes about hip high-tech corporations have now changed on both the left and right. Liberals are under pressure from their progressive base to make Silicon Valley hire more minorities and women.

 

Progressives wonder why West Coast techies cannot unionize and sit down for tough bargaining with their progressive billionaire bosses.

 

Local community groups resent the tech giants driving up housing prices and zoning out the poor from cities such as Seattle and San Francisco.

 

Behind the veneer of a cool Apple logo or multicolored Google trademark are scores of multimillionaires who live one-percenter lifestyles quite at odds with the soft socialism espoused by their corporate megaphones.

 

Conservatives got sick of Silicon Valley, too.

 

Instead of acting like laissez-faire capitalists, the entrenched captains of high-tech industry seem more like government colluders and manipulators. Regarding the high-tech leaders’ efforts to rig their industries and strangle dissent, think of conniving Jay Gould or Jim Fisk rather than the wizard Thomas Edison.

 

With the election of populist Donald Trump, the Republican party seems less wedded to the doctrines of economic libertarian Milton Friedman and more to the trust-busting zeal of Teddy Roosevelt.

 

The public so far has welcomed the unregulated freedom of Silicon Valley — as long as it was truly free. But now computer users are discovering that social media and Web searches seem highly controlled and manipulated — by the whims of billionaires rather than federal regulators.

 

The public faces put on by West Coast tech leaders have not helped.

 

For years, high-tech grandees dressed all in hip black while prancing around the stage, enthralling stockholders as if they were rock stars performing with wireless mics. Some wore jeans, sneakers, and T-shirts, making it seem that being worth $50 billion was hipster cool.

 

But the billionaire-as-everyman shtick has lost its groove, especially when such zillionaires lavish their pet political candidates with huge donations, seed lobbying groups, and demand regulatory loopholes.

 

Ten years ago, a carefree Mark Zuckerberg seemed cool. Now, his T-shirt get-up seems phony and incongruous with his walled estates and unregulated profiteering.

 

Of course, Silicon Valley’s critics should be wary. They wonder whether the golden tech goose can be caged without being killed.

 

Both liberals and conservatives are just beginning to ask why Internet communications cannot be subject to the same rules applied to radio and television.

 

Why can’t Silicon Valley monopolies be busted up in the same manner as the Bell Telephone octopus or the old Standard Oil trust?

 

Why are high-tech profits hidden in offshore accounts?

 

Why is production outsourced to impoverished countries, sometimes in workplaces that are deplorable and cruel?

 

Why does texting while driving not earn a product-liability suit?

 

Just because Silicon Valley is cool does not mean it could never become just another monopoly that got too greedy and turned off the left wing, the right wing, and everybody in between.

 

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About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

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