NewCo Shift
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NewCo Shift

The State of the Future

A new Medium series argues that if we want to know what American politics could look like in 15 years, we should look to California right now

My only copy of “The Pacific,” a publication I started while at a grad student at Berkeley.

I’ve been a student of California my entire life — I’m a fourth generation Californian whose great grandfather came over in a covered wagon. My fifth grade history lessons prominently featured the Donner Party, whose ill fated journey to the Golden State included an unfortunate descent into cannibalism. It seemed people would do anything to get to California — I always felt lucky to have landed here in relative comfort.

I attended UC Berkeley, California’s crown jewel university, as my father, mother, sister, and grandfather had before me. I also went to graduate school there, and I taught at Cal for a few years as well. My daughter is now a sophomore at Cal, marking four generations of us who’ve had the honor. When my grandfather graduated, in 1922, nearly his entire tuition was picked up by the state. By the time my daughter graduates, 100 years later, barely ten percent of her tuition will be covered. As goes California (and our society’s commitment to government as a means of education and wealth redistribution), it seems, so goes the rest of the country.

Our economy’s two largest creators of intellectual property — entertainment and technology — are based in California. From time to time, the state is convulsed with shared cultural hallucinations — a Gold Rush, a Great Migration, a Summer of Love, a Digital Revolution. Through it all, the “State of the Dream” grew larger and more prominent in the social topography of our nation.

Today California is 40 million people strong, the world’s sixth largest economy. Its population is “minority majority” — whites became the minority here a while ago, and our state has had time to figure out what that looks like politically and socially. For whatever reason, California’s always been a more progressive, open-minded place, even when wracked by paralyzing partisan politics. We did offer the world Ronald Reagan, remember, as well as Tricky Dick Nixon.

The state is growing far faster than the rest of the country, and it’s become a laboratory for grappling with the world’s most pressing problems. Climate change, racial divisions (yes, we also bequeathed the world Rodney King), income inequality — you name it, California has been in the throes of dealing with it. And as Peter Leyden and Ruy Teixeira detail in the opening salvo of their Medium series California Is the Future, if we want to understand an optimistic scenario for the future of our country, we’d do well to study California today.

The authors argue that California’s Democratic super majority presages a similar end game for our national politics. Trump represents the “last gasp” of a failing conservative ideology — the death rattle of a party still clinging to outdated and unworkable social policy. If today’s national climate has left you bereft and hopeless, read Leyden and Teixeira’s detailed argument about why California has always been fifteen years ahead of our national dialog. It just might cheer you up.

Meanwhile, the News Keeps Getting Weirder

Ya gotta love it when Supreme Court justices get into intellectual jousting during formal arguments. Money quote: “In short, Ginsburg was saying to Gorsuch that he and his allies might control the future of the Supreme Court, but she wasn’t going to let them rewrite the history of it — at least not without a fight.”

The “Tech Is Too Powerful” meme gets another push, this time in the form of an anti-utopian essay in Quartz. Money quote: “It’s not surprising that our technocapitalist overlords, who have concentrated wealth at a level that would make the Gilded Era barons proud, are appropriating the language of public spaces. They do, in fact, want to reshape politics and culture in their image.”

Well, the Valley’s favorite soap opera has had a big week. Uber’s board has adopted a founder-unfriendly one share, one vote policy, among other “radical” actions. Money quote: “The 11-person board voted unanimously Tuesday to approve sweeping changes to the company’s power structure, the San Francisco-based company said. The plan would expand the size of the board to 17 seats, people familiar with the matter said. The unusually large board would accommodate two spots for SoftBank representatives and more independent voices. The SoftBank deal isn’t yet finalized, but board approval represents a major step.”

Read this. It pretty much sums up how the Trump organization did business. It ain’t pretty, featuring criminal Russian partners, damning emails, outright lies, and nearly $50,000 in targeted and highly suspicious political donations. Money quote: “In one email, according to four people who have seen it, the Trumps discussed how to coordinate false information they had given to prospective buyers. In another, according to a person who read the emails, they worried that a reporter might be onto them. In yet another, Donald Jr. spoke reassuringly to a broker who was concerned about the false statements, saying that nobody would ever find out, because only people on the email chain or in the Trump Organization knew about the deception.”

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John Battelle

John Battelle

A Founder of The Recount, NewCo, Federated Media, sovrn Holdings, Web 2 Summit, Wired, Industry Standard; writer on Media, Technology, Culture, Business