Feelin' the Bern, Silicon Valley Style
I'm back with my first blog post in years to make what I hope is a novel case for supporting Bernie Sanders in the 2020 Democratic Primary. The "Silicon Valley" or "Startup" take. I've got a lot of thoughts, but I don't see a ton of people expressing the techie/entrepreneur rationale for supporting Sen. Sanders, so that's the case I'm gonna make.
Support the Startup Economy
TL;DR - no policy would create more startups in the next ten years than establishing universal health care and eliminating student debt.
The economy around startups isn't what it should be. I'm from this world, and I honestly believe in the upsides of innovation and creativity that come from entrepreneurialism. But in spite of all cool things that have been built, all the new millionaires and billionaires, and the increasingly prominent role tech plays in our culture, the startup ecosystem is unhealthy.
The data tells us that fewer new businesses are forming in the US than prior to the great recession. While VC funds hover around all-time highs, those eye-popping numbers are driven more by big pools of finance going into late-stage deals vs forming new companies. There are still plenty of great exits, but a lot of that is just mergers and acquisitions into existing Big Tech behemoths. In other words, the action is more scale and consolidation than creativity and innovation.
There's also the uncomfortable reality that startup-land's demographics are still overwhelmingly pale and male. I don't love the cliche of calling it a "brotopia" but the numbers don't lie. It's not an egalitarian picture, so if you philosophically believe in entrepreneurialism, and are intellectually honest, that's troubling. Something is wrong.
This isn't something we can fix by fiddling around the edges with tax credits. Highly concentrated economic capital isn't just unhealthy for legacy "main street" businesses getting strip-mined. It's honestly not great for tech either. We'll have a much more vibrant Silicon Valley if big firms are broken up, and if more individuals are freed up to try new things.
It's the Infrastructure
The economy runs on infrastructure, which works best when it is a public utility. Power, pipe, and ping are all the result big state investments that have been neglected over the past decade, and beyond that there's a layer of human and knowledge infrastructure also begs for re-investment.
Universal health care will do more than eliminate a lot of suffering while saving a bunch of money; it will also enable a massive amount of economic freedom and experimentation. People will be free to quit a job to try something else without literally risking their lives. Economists have known for years that market dynamics are actually counterproductive for medicine and health care. We pay more for worse outcomes. It's just a terribly sub optimized system.
Infrastructure investment works by taking some necessities out of the market, or establishing a publicly-guaranteed minimum, which actually boosts activity overall. Productivity moves up the stack.
In a world before robust public roads, long distance commerce was a lot more risky and expensive. In a world before universal K-12 education, you couldn't reliably hire literate employees. In a world before the internet (which, remember, was a massive public works project) you just had a few closed corporate networks, and nothing in my career was possible. We need to move up the stack.
Bernie’s Democratic Socialism is the political project we need to reboot pubic investment. The government can currently borrow money at comically low interest rates, and there's an enormous amount of idle wealth sitting on the sidelines. We need to put that capital to work on the REALLY BIG projects that no private interest will ever reasonably take on.
Climate Change and a Green New Deal
The biggest and most important of these projects is dealing with the reality Climate Change. Bernie's been endorsed by the Sunrise Movement and is an original and un-qualified backer of the Green New Deal. This is important, because we're not going to make a dent in this problem without building the political will for a massive investment, overriding resistance from established interests. This kind of mobilization can be hard to imagine, but is historically well precedented.
Even if my generation does everything right, in our lifetime (let alone my kids') there's going to be significant turbulence. If we don't start now, and start big, it'll be worse. Moreover, given that there's guaranteed disruption already baked in, it's important to begin laying down the stabilizing infrastructure needed to better handle shocks to our system.
Finally, if we want to build a real 21st century economy, we need to retool. This is an opportunity to make foundational and fundamental investments in our power grid, transportation, and agricultural systems. The Green New Deal is all about that.
Bernie Beats Trump
From a practical standpoint, a Sanders candidacy is the best option to defeat the GOP this November. The polls clearly show this, but more importantly it's not hard to see how this works from a human narrative standpoint.
Very few Clinton 2016 voters will ever pull the lever for Trump, but there are many 2016 non-voters who could be persuaded to turn out, especially across midwestern swing states like Michigan and Wisconsin. His agenda will absolutely alienate some high-income voters, but these people are numerically few, and can be easily offset. For every McMansion-living independent he might lose, there are 5 votes to be picked up in the same district by organizing the baristas at their local Starbucks.
There is one constituency we have to write off with Bernie: the "never Trump" Republicans. That's actually a bonus in my opinion. Those people are not our allies and Democrats should not have them in the tent. They're also massively over-represented in media and are not a meaningful constituency outside of a few micro geographies like the DC suburbs, or Orange County. Let them go.
Finally, it's important to recognize that the alternate theory of peeling off "moderate Republicans" is effectively a non-starter. Trump enjoys record approval among the GOP. He is their guy and they love him. If they were going to abandon him they would have already, and elections only heighten partisanship. They'll demonize anyone he runs against as a socialist, elitist, and out of control culture warrior, and to that core audience it will work. While some are persuadable on the margins, we should expect virtually every single Trump 2016 voter to show up and do it again.
That's why the path to victory lies in holding on to the Dem base (which any candidate should be able to do), and then expanding it by engaging the "unlikely" voters: younger, less educated, more diverse people. Service industry people. This is exactly the campaign Sanders is running. He's also going to be capable of fielding meaningful operations in all 50 states, which is how you win down-ticket and local races.
Super Tuesday could effectively bring the primary process to an end. That would be to everyone's benefit, and let us get on with the more important business. Let's do it.
Voting is the Least You Can Do
Democracy is a team sport; participate!
If you agree with all of the above, you're on the hook to do something about it now. If you live in California like me, voting is the least you can do. I've got a six-week-old so I'm not able to canvass, but I am giving money and posting! That's my "more than voting."
There are actually a ton of ways to get involved with the Sanders campaign that you can do from home. Phone and text-banking are good options. But spreading the word and opening your wallet are good too.
Ultimately I'd be thrilled to pay higher taxes to live in a more just world. I also think there will be net positives for me as an entrepreneur, but beyond that it's totally worth it for my to give up some income so that we can start doing some of the necessary collective work. There’s no way to buy a better world on the market. We have to build it together. Hence the motto: “Not me, us.”