According to CNet, Counsyl co-founder Balaji Srinivasan delivered an enthusiastic presentation at last weekend’s Y Combinator startup school, titled “Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit,” on how Silicon Valley could possibly secede and develop a highly effective society outside U.S. government regulations.
Srinivasan, who is also a lecturer at Stanford, gave a lot of reasons for the necessary abandonment of the U.S. — slow-moving bureaucrats, special-interest groups, petty regulations, Wall Street — and he’s far from the first tech denizen to voice his disdain for government.
Peter Thiel’s Seasteading Institute raised $27,000 on Indiegogo earlier this year, with the goal of funding a floating city where citizens can live “with minimal regulation.” In an interview with venture capitalist/podcast host Jason Calacanis last week, Social+Capital founder Chamath Palihapitiya reasoned that, “Companies are transcending power now … If companies shut down, the stock market would collapse. If the government shuts down, nothing happens and we all move on, because it just doesn’t matter.”
When it comes down to it, Silicon Valley’s standard of living is sky-high, while American government literally stopped functioning for most of the past month. Everyone’s jumping on Srinivasan for being a shortsighted douchebag — check out the venom flying from Kevin Roose of New York Magazine and Sam Biddle at Valleywag — but as a Mr. Chris Brown once said, “If you get what I get, what would you say?”
To an extent, these techno-cultists are right! Silicon Valley has become insanely more efficient and powerful (it was already more beautiful) then the rest of the country; this is all ground covered by George Packer of The New Yorker, who considered a grim future where 0.1% of the population — the tech geniuses — enjoy 99% of a new society’s benefits.
Kevin Roose at New York has labeled the current situation a “secessionist movement,” and while the ‘movement’ seems to have leaders — Thiel, Srinivasan, Palihapitiya — I’m not quite sure where the followers are. That’s the problem with cutting out the middle class…eventually you’re just rallying in an echo chamber. Granted, Srinivasan’s speech received a rousing applause from the Y Combinator audience, but by and large, I don’t think America’s young entrepreneurs want to stop being American.
But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that 300,000+ Bay Area high-tech workers all agree that the tech community is blowing away the rest of the U.S. in lifestyle developments, salary and career potential. Within Silicon Valley, then, we have two camps: those who believe in civic responsibility, and those who don’t.
The leaders who believe that Silicon Valley has a duty to help the rest of America, rather than abandon it, include Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose FWD.us lobbying group represents the tech industry’s first major foray into public policy*.
The people who see themselves as irreconcilably separate from their fellow Americans include, evidently, people like Srinivasan.
Srinivasan is being taken seriously because he has the power of Stanford and Y Combinator behind him; his legitimacy is stamped. But you don’t need a Stanford degree to understand that technology cannot fill the role of government — it can only grease the wheels. Larry Page’s dream of a private island for tech-experimentation is one thing, but Srinivasan’s plan for an “opt-in society, outside the U.S., run by technology” is a half-baked vision that only extends to the edge of the Silicon Bubble.
*It ain’t perfect, but it’s a start.