Month: January 2021

Entrepreneurship and Privilege

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The change in owner of the “richest man in the world” spot triggered some spluttering about inequality.

There was an interesting point emerged about the last three occupants: Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. While none of them inherited their great wealth, all of them came from families that were rich (but not super-rich).

There was a conservative narrative, “Isn’t equality of opportunity wonderful — the richest people in our society are self-made. Yay equality of opportunity”

The opposing socialist narrative was “Yes, anyone can be successful so long as they have parents who own an emerald mine or can lend them $200,000 to help start their business”

On the merits, I would say the socialists had the better of the argument. However, nobody seemed to notice how self-defeating that argument is for any kind of moderate socialism.

My reactionary narrative is, “if rich parents were a vital ingredient in creating Microsoft, Amazon and Tesla, surely we would all benefit enormously from there being more rich parents. Down with inheritance taxes”

I expect to see a bunch of reflex responses along the lines “Microsoft, Amazon and Tesla are Bad, Actually”. Yes, I’m taking a somewhat economistic attitude, and yes I could make a long list of bad things about Microsoft, Amazon and Tesla. There are long lists of good things, too. This piece is not relevant to arguments against any kind of capitalist economy. Within a capitalist context, I believe we all benefit if that economy produces more innovation and more efficiency. There are arguments against a capitalist economy, but none for “capitalism but with less entrepreneurship”.

The relevant argument is between fairness and the common good. It is not fair that Bill Gates was born rich and I wasn’t. It is good for all of us that someone young and ambitious was able to raise a modest amount of capital in the 1970s to make software for microcomputers. If the mechanism for making that happen was the inequality of birth, then in that instance it benefitted us.

Digging into that mechanism, the key fact is that it is hard to convince people to lend you money when you are twenty-two and have no track record. There are people who would be willing to do so if they knew all about you, but for a professional investor finding out all about you will take more time and money than is available to make a small investment. This is the exact problem that Paul Graham wrote about repeatedly for years before attempting to solve it with Y Combinator. Parents know their children far better than any venture capitalist could without spending thousands of dollars worth of work. If the parents are also investors, the impossible becomes possible.

There may be parallel mechanisms: the networking opportunities available to rich families, and the self-confidence that comes from being brought up in privilege. It might be more feasible to reproduce these benefits without sacrificing equality. But the concrete fact of being able to borrow six months to a few years of a basic working person’s income from family to take a risk seems to me to be the largest one, and no egalitarian policy can reproduce that. A funding bureaucracy will inevitably mirror existing VCs, and favour those with sales flair and longer track records.

I went a bit further on Twitter, suggesting that Britain’s economy might have benefited had the aristocracy not been deliberately impoverished by inheritance taxes. That’s admittedly a much more debatable proposition — the titled British have not been conspicuous for their entrepreneurship. But such was not always the case, I think: in the very early stages of the Industrial Revolution it was landowners that were investing in the inventors for steam-powered mining pumps and so forth.

In substance, my central argument here — that the privilege of wealth provides a unique opportunity to take risks — is identical to the one I made about science in 2010. That’s because real science of the most valuable kind is the same kind of risk as starting a business. There might be treasure here, and there probably isn’t. The only people who can devote serious resources to looking for it are those who can afford to lose them — to devote years of work to looking for something that was never there.

Who could have predicted this?

More history dredged from my Twitter backup

Democracy, like all conventions of limited war, is fragile. It’s hard to establish and easy to destroy. One of my main concerns is that I think the principal check that keeps the US from degenerating into actual violence is the 75-year-old informational dominance of “responsible” broadcast and newspaper journalism. This system is dying. It is being replaced by people like Amanda Marcotte and Michelle Malkin. And their followers, if not them personally, seem to have enough pure, 24-karat hate stored up for ten or fifteen really juicy civil wars.

Without “Informational Dominance”, you get civil war.

In case anyone doesn’t recognise it that’s from Unqualified Reservations, 2007, The BDH–OV conflict.

NRx is anti-journalist, in that it identifies journalists as part of the ruling system. Without informational dominance of responsible journalism, the Modern Structure falls.

My last main post was coming to grips with that informational dominance being restored. I was reflexively against it, and the post was merely adjusting to the fact it is inevitable. Good thing, Bad thing? What does that even mean. it is a thing.

Obviously a key question for the future is, will the reestablishment of informational dominance succeed? I have been anticipating that it will — the deplatforming of Trumpism is going swimmingly. It will be curious if major Trumpist figures attempt to publish via non-US internet resources, and if the establishment is willing to reverse its principles to impose a “Great Firewall of America” to block it, and if large numbers of normies are willing to use VPN or related technologies to reach them anyway.

But Moldbug was right 14 years ago: if they cannot reestablish dominance, the system will fall.

Defining the Facebook Era

This is just an addendum to the previous post — a few tweets from three years ago

My tweet reads,

Early 20th century politics was organised around printing presses. To be a party, you needed printing equipment. Today’s establishment is the group of people who got control of television. There’s no other worthwhile definition.

An earlier Tweet from Carl Miller said

Whatever the ‘mainstream’ is, it’ll never again have a monopoly on an ability to raising large amounts of money quickly, reaching millions of people, coordinating logistics on the ground. The money, experience and machinery of the political mainstream matters a lot less now.

Half my timeline is now trying to fight to keep that true. I think they’re going to lose.

The End of an Era

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The Internet began somewhere around 1970

The World Wide Web began somewhere around 1990

Mass participation in the internet was reached a little before 2000

With that, anyone could communicate with anyone else, or with any group, easily and free of charge.

That did not mean that anyone could whip up ordinary people with ordinary interests into political hysteria like Black Lives Matter or QAnon. Ordinary people with ordinary interests would not pay attention to that stuff.

Facebook hit a billion users a bit after 2010. It is Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube that meant that anyone, if they pitched it just right, could reach a mass audience. And that sent politics insane.

The Trump presidency was a glorious carnival, but a carnival is all that it was. When the Saturnalia ends the slaves go back to work. I said when he was elected that it was a setback for neoreaction, and it probably was.

I got a lot wrong though. I did not expect the anti-Trump hysteria to endure. Facebook-era politics was too new, then, for me to have understood how it works.

The Facebook era of politics ends today. As with the Trump presidency, I will miss the fun and excitement. I miss eating a packet of biscuits a day too. But man was not meant to eat that much sugar, and democracy was not meant to exist with uncontrolled access to mass media. From the invention of journalism until the twenty-first century, ability to reach the public with your propaganda was power, and power had its say on who could do it. A decade of unconstrained mass media gave us Trump and Brexit and the Gilet Jaunes1, and it also gave us Open Borders, Trans Rights, Russiagate2 BLM, PornHub, and QAnon. It was destroying our society, and it was going to be stopped sooner or later.

We only really had one thing to say to the normies – that democracy was an illusion, and they were not in charge. I don’t think we need Twitter to tell them that any more. The events of the last week have exposed the relationship between government and media much more obviously than weird technical blog posts.

I spent the night bitching about the hypocrisy and dishonesty of the censors. I suppose I had to get it out of my system.

The pogrom will go a bit wider at first, but in the end I don’t think it will do more than roll back to 2005 or so. I do not expect to be censored, because I do not speak to voters. It was the frictionlessness of the Facebook news feed that pulled normies into these games — if you have to go out of your way to find me, then I am doing the regime no harm, and I expect to be ignored, at least if I get through the next few months.

This, of course, is also the system in China. And I admire the Chinese system. When I tried to imagine neoreactionary victory, I struggled a bit with how a monarchical regime could exist in a world of uncensored internet. I don’t have to worry now.

Some practical resilience steps are sensible. Back up everything. Try not to depend on the Silicon Valley giants (GMail is nice, but you’re not the customer you’re the product). It’s possible that something like RSS could make a comeback if it’s awkward enough to use that the normies aren’t included, but don’t chase after the holy grail of a censorship-resistant mass media because that’s a coup-complete problem. Keep your head down, keep the channels open. I had this blog working as a Tor hidden service once, I’ll revisit that but I don’t expect to need it.

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