Famed New Yorker writer George Packer wrote a fairly straightforward takedown of Silicon Valley boosterism last week (article is behind paywall), implying that tech titan’s attempts at public policy lobbying were amateurish at best, dangerously elitist at worst. He focuses on the Valley’s libertarian streak, ‘change the world’ ethos, and general hollowing out of the middle class as signs that San Fran is actually a punishing dystopia for the majority of citizens, and a self-aggrandizing ‘rich-kid problems’ factory for the rest.
The article poked enough of a nerve to draw some impassioned responses. PandoDaily’s Hamish Mackenzie thinks that Packer deliberately overlooked high-profile companies like Tesla and the Social+Capital Partnership, which “can have a deep and meaningful effect on the way the world does business.”
Steven Johnson — whose book ‘Future Perfect’ is mentioned in the Packer article — rightly points out that Packer glosses over the Valley’s strong liberal roots. Google employees gave more than 97% of their donations to Obama in last fall’s election, and Obama won almost all Northern California districts by wide margins. Even Ben Horowitz — of Andreessen Horowitz — is the son of radical left-wing activist David Horowitz, and anyway, this is San Francisco we’re talking about.
Valleywag writer Sam Biddle righteously responded to both Mackenzie and Johnson, saying that Mackenzie is a sycophantic cheerleader who is more public relations than journalism (kind of true).
And then the man himself, George Packer, responded in a blog post to the article’s criticism, basically thanking people for their time but noting that he ain’t correctin’ nothin’.
Packer — generally an unbiased journalist — volunteered in the Peace Corps following his Yale education, and there are a few paragraphs where he lets his staunchly liberal (I call them ‘freak-flag’) views color his writing. He throws around factoids like, “The number of Latinos is increasing much more slowly than elsewhere in California,” without providing any specific reasons for why this is bad. We’re basically supposed to assume that Latinos are poor, and expected to pity. In another instance, he admiringly quotes a London Review of Books writer who explained that, “Right by the Google bus stop on Cesar Chavez Street immigrant men from Latin America stand waiting for employers in the building trade to scoop them up, or to be arrested and deported by the government.”
Packer’s logic, I suppose, is that the Google employees are blind to the plight of their fellow San Franciscans — even the illegal San Franciscans. And he got plenty of Valley leaders — including LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman — to admit that the skill set required for a technology company to ‘change the world’ is entirely different from efficacy in politics.
But is there really such a problem with another California gold rush? Some might be tempted to proclaim that the market will work things out once all these inflated tech millionaires go bust — that’d be closer to the libertarian viewpoint anyway. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.