President Barack Obama Talks With Mark Zuckerberg. Source: White House

An Attempt To Measure What Silicon Valley Really Thinks About Politics And The World (In 14 Graphs)

Quantifying What The Internet Elite Believe (Version 0.5)

Greg Ferenstein
Nov 6, 2015 · 17 min read

5 sentence takeaway:

This is a chapter from a data-driven series about Silicon Valley’s unique political ideology: a pro-business liberalism, which often gets mistaken as libertarianism.

3-Minute Visual Summary

I argue that Internet startup founders are best thought of as a completely new political category that mixes pro-capitalism libertarianism and government-friendly liberalism, taking root within the Democratic Party.

Philosophically, founders’ beliefs are based on both a radical optimism about the future and the interdependence of all of humanity.

Traditionally (and in the survey I conducted) Democrats tend to worry more about a conflict between corporations and citizens, while Republicans see a conflict of interest between the government and citizens. Comparatively, founders are the most likely to say that there is no conflict between any major institutions or groups in society. As a result, many they reject labor unions, immigration limits, smaller government, and regulation.

This moral idealism takes shape in a unique political ideology: a belief that the purpose of government is to help people from all over the world collaborate, share ideas, and become the best versions of themselves

Founders believe in massive investments in education because they see it as a panacea for nearly all problems in society; they want more global alliances at the expense of sovereignty, few restrictions on immigration, and believe in state incentives to make people healthier, more educated, and civically active.


Section I: Unconventional Political Loyalties

Alphabet (Google) Chairman Eric Schmidt working directly with President Obama’s campaign team

Nearly every billionaire under 40 has come from the tech industry. They will likely exert a strong influence over our lives.

Source: Forbes

Q: What party do most tech founders belong to?

Overwhelmingly Democratic: 83% of employees top tech firms gave to Obama in 2012, 64% of all donations from founders and investors have gone to Democratic candidates, and 43% of startup founders self-identify as Democrats (31% don’t identify with a party).

Q: Why do tech founders get stereotyped as Libertarian?

There are a lot of critiques of Silicon Valley’s politics. Nearly all of them claim, in some form or another, that the tech elite are apolitical technocrats who just want the government to get out of their hair while they build products that solve problems much better than bureaucrats ever could.

Q: Then Why Do Founders Fund Democrats?

Q: So, is there a label for this kind of thing?

A lot of writers have scratched their heads trying to classify the Valley’s unusual politics, calling it “quasi-libertarian” and “peer-progressivism”. Back in the 80s, a tech-obsessed faction of the Democratic party called themselves “Atari Democrats”.

Section II: Studying Something Entirely New

Photo Credit: The Atlantic

“I’m pro-knowledge Economy” ~ Mark Zuckerberg, on how he describes his political identity

What is the survey you conducted?

I conducted what I believe is the first randomized political opinion poll of startup founders. For two years, I spearheaded politics at TechCrunch, a leading Silicon Valley tech blog. TechCrunch built the largest database of technology founders and investors in the world, called CrunchBase.

How did you come up with your questions?

Initially, I tried giving founders standard survey tools, collected from established Pew polls or psychology questionnaires. My first batch of respondents, pulled from my personal network, immediately rejected the very premise of many of the questions. It was a disappointing failure.

How do founders describe themselves?

Almost universally, founders describe themselves, first and foremost, as optimists:

What does it mean to be an ‘optimist’ or ‘idealist’, exactly?

Calling oneself an optimist is more than just fluffy rhetoric; it’s founded on two core philosophical assumptions about the world: 1). Change will nearly always make things better, and 2). There’s no inherent conflict between major groups in society (workers vs. corporations, citizens vs. government, or America vs. other nations).

Why do Founders love “disruption” and change?

Why do founders really think that everyone can get along?

Because they hold extreme beliefs in interdependence; this faith is more of an organizational strategy than a moral code. They believe that nearly everything people do, even what someone eats for breakfast, makes a significant impact on other people’s lives. They reject an atomistic view of society.

Section III: Info-topianism


So, then, what is the philosophy of founders?

Founders believe that the solution to nearly every problem is more innovation, conversation or education. That is, they believe that all problems are information problems. The purpose of life is just a matter of discovering the ideal solution.

Don’t founders just want more information so they can advertise?

Yes and no; founders build information products because they seem to believe that transparency is a panacea. For instance, founders believe that we should prioritize sharing information at the expense of individual privacy and also believe that dialogue alone can solve disputes between military enemies.

  1. ‘How often do you believe that military enemies can resolve their differences through dialogue alone?’ If a respondent answers “rarely,” it means they don’t put much stock in the idea that conflict is just a matter of failing to understand the other side.

Is “belief in information” a new ideology?

Oh, definitely not. Belief in wisdom is a very old, somewhat forgotten ideology, made famous by the Ancient Greeks, European Renaissance philosophers, and American Jeffersonians.

Section IV: How Idealism Translates To Politics


How do Founders’ core values differ from traditional Democrats and Libertarians?

Libertarians care about liberty, traditional Democrats value equality, founders prioritize something entirely different.

Then, how do their beliefs on equality differ from traditional Democrats?

In comparison to Democrats, founders don’t believe in equality of outcome, but equality of ensuring opportunity. To be specific, equality of opportunity is not some social contract ethic about what people “deserve” to earn if they’re successful, but about maximizing people’s contribution to society.

Q: So, what do founders imagine an equal world looks like?

Founders’ honest beliefs on equality are hard to extract. They often skirt the issue by talking about opportunity instead of equality of outcome. So, I asked them a more difficult question: is meritocracy naturally unequal?

How do founders want to run public services, like schools and hospitals?

Founders want the government to be run like a business; they prefer competition among public services. This helps explain why tech elites, including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, have given hundreds of millions of dollars to charter schools.

How do founders think about foreign policy?

Generally, they’re not fans of sovereignty. They like international organizations, such as the United Nations, and are almost unanimously pro-free trade. Whenever they’re presented with options that pit sovereignty vs. global collaboration, founders are more likely to choose binding international alliances that require everyone to cooperate.

What about immigration? Don’t founders just want cheap high-skilled labor?

Founders support for immigration appears to be more of an extension of their foreign policy beliefs than some short-term business proposal.

Do founders have a unique political value?

Yes, founders value intelligent contribution and believe that citizens are the source of solutions.

  1. Reduce financial inequality
  2. Reduce government intervention
  3. *Reduce uninformed or inactive citizens (key response option)

Will This ideology take over the Democratic party?

I think it’s already happening, mostly because college educated Democrats identify more with this belief more than labor union workers (and college-educated Democrats are now the majority of voters in the presidential elections).

Notes:

  • Some quotes have been edited for clarity
  • Methodological details and raw data here.

The Ferenstein Wire

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