How the Repub­li­cans fell out of love with oh-so-pro­gres­sive Sil­i­con Val­ley

The Sunday Telegraph - - Sunday Comment - MOLLY KINIRY IRY READ MORE READ MORE

Such is the state of Mark Zucker­berg’s life that the ig­nominy of spend­ing 10 hours sit­ting on a big-boy cush­ion was not the worst part of his week. That came from dozens of Repub­li­can mem­bers of Congress, who had no time for his care­fully re­hearsed de­fences of in­ter­nal mon­i­tor­ing and po­lit­i­cal neu­tral­ity. Trip­ping over an­swers about the def­i­ni­tion of hate speech and look­ing even younger than his scant years, he was watched by the world as he swal­lowed his bur­geon­ing po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions (and plenty of wa­ter).

At first glance, it might seem odd that Mr Zucker­berg’s harsh­est crit­ics came from the Repub­li­can side of the aisle. The GOP, af­ter all, is the business-friendly party, al­ways ar­gu­ing for a mode of gov­er­nance that leaves busi­nesses alone and al­lows them and their share­hold­ers to hold onto as much profit as pos­si­ble. Even though Repub­li­cans take about as much money as Democrats from pri­vate com­pa­nies, they’re more re­li­ably lam­pooned as be­ing “in the pocket” of big business – and big business doesn’t get much big­ger than Sil­i­con Val­ley. What worry is it of ours how Face­book reg­u­lates speech in its do­main? What hap­pened to “cor­po­ra­tions are peo­ple, my friend”?

The key to un­der­stand­ing Mr Zucker­berg’s rough ride is twofold: money and history, those two great de­ter­mi­nants of why and how things are done in Washington. Af­ter the Supreme Court’s Cit­i­zens United de­ci­sion, which granted un­tram­melled rights of speech to cor­po­ra­tions, the line be­tween business and politics has been al­most erased. Com­pa­nies and unions can give un­lim­ited sums to po­lit­i­cal ac­tion cam­paigns, which are in turn al­lowed to sup­port po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates. While Amer­i­can business has al­ways lob­bied for spe­cific pol­icy out­comes and reg­u­la­tory ob­jec­tives, it used to limit it­self to ar­eas of self­in­ter­est. Now, in­deed like peo­ple, cor­po­ra­tions are get­ting into a wider range of is­sues.

This shift was ac­cel­er­ated by so­cial me­dia it­self. Through plat­forms like Face­book, in­di­vid­u­als can now pub­licly shun com­pa­nies that don’t “re­flect their val­ues”. Ac­tivist cam­paigns form and spread with un­prece­dented speed. Com­pa­nies, in turn, got savvy and hired so­cial me­dia teams who would mock those who posted com­ments out­side the new bounds of ac­cept­able dis­course. On the play­ground, we would call that bul­ly­ing – but in this age of click­bait virtue-sig­nalling, it’s good PR.

The re­sult has been the un­nec­es­sary politi­ci­sa­tion of business. On the Right and Left, pri­vate com­pa­nies en­gage in so­cial debates (like gay mar­riage) which have noth­ing to do with their day-to-day, prof­it­mak­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. Nowhere has this been more true than in Sil­i­con Val­ley, whose com­pa­nies seek to pro­mote life­styles, not prod­ucts. What con­sti­tutes an “ac­cept­able” way of liv­ing one’s life, of in­ter­act­ing with oth­ers and even of think­ing, has been nar­rowed, in re­cent years, by com­pa­nies like Face­book.

But this episode was about more than Repub­li­cans be­ing un­happy that tech com­pa­nies have helped to shift most of cor­po­rate Amer­ica left­ward (to

at tele­ opin­ion the detri­ment of GOP cof­fers). Politics aside, the party has a long history of mis­trust­ing any con­cen­tra­tion of power. Amer­ica was founded as an es­cape mech­a­nism for those op­pressed by capri­cious monar­chs with un­ri­valled po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sway. Mod­ern Repub­li­can ide­ol­ogy stems from the in­sti­tu­tional mem­ory of what can go wrong when we have no mech­a­nism to hold pow­er­ful peo­ple to ac­count. For all we re­spect and value pri­vate en­ter­prise, Mr Zucker­berg’s power to de­fine free speech – which matches any fed­eral judge, and maybe even the Supreme Court – makes us duly ner­vous.

Break­ing up mo­nop­o­lies is in Repub­li­cans’ blood. Teddy Roo­sevelt, one of the great­est pres­i­dents and a hero of the party, trust-busted his way into the 20th cen­tury and set the tone for how the US would han­dle com­pe­ti­tion pol­icy. The im­pulse to mo­nop­o­lise is an es­sen­tial com­po­nent of cap­i­tal­ism – why go into business un­less you be­lieve that you can and will be the best at what you do? But the ac­tual achieve­ment of a hor­i­zon­tal mo­nop­oly is right­fully con­sid­ered un­ac­cept­able by a party pri­mar­ily con­cerned with in­di­vid­ual lib­erty.

We did not need the 2016 elec­tion to know that Face­book has an out­sized in­flu­ence on our na­tional con­ver­sa­tion, just as we did not need the rev­e­la­tion that its prof­its of­ten come from sell­ing the data of its users to know that its in­ten­tions are not utopian. If the Democrats are too cowed to do so, then let us cel­e­brate Repub­li­cans for stand­ing up in de­fence of those peo­ple in whom Face­book can see only dol­lar signs.

Molly Kiniry is a re­searcher at the Le­ga­tum In­sti­tute

Bri­tain’s new homes aren’t as small as they’re made out to be. That’s not the jour­nal­is­tic equiv­a­lent of es­tate agent pat­ter, but a more ac­cu­rate assess­ment of the av­er­age size of the coun­try’s houses than the end­less re­ports about “rab­bit hutch Bri­tain”, in­clud­ing re­search last week that mis­lead­ingly said that new homes now are smaller than they’ve been for decades.

The truth may be far more in­vid­i­ous. While newer homes are, in fact, larger than older ones on av­er­age, that hides a di­ver­gence be­tween top and bot­tom. Anal­y­sis by hous­ing ex­pert Neal Hud­son found that “a large num­ber of smaller new-build homes (most likely flats) [was] coun­ter­bal­anced by a size­able pro­por­tion of much larger homes. Rel­a­tive to the ex­ist­ing stock there are far fewer homes in the mid­dle”. So more big, fewer of mid-size, and more flats. Although he was writ­ing in 2015, it’s doubt­ful that the sit­u­a­tion has changed dra­mat­i­cally.

Hous­ing is an is­sue pro­fuse with statis­tics: tar­gets, mort­gage rates, per­cent­age of owner-oc­cu­piers and, of course, prices. Al­most never dis­cussed is type, and aside from the ques­tion of whether they can buy in the first place, this is what most ex­er­cises those in my peer group, as well as older peo­ple who strug­gle to find more ap­pro­pri­ate homes in the ar­eas they al­ready live in.

Flats abound, which is fine for big cities where space is tight, but the

For all we re­spect and value pri­vate en­ter­prise, Zucker­berg’s power to de­fine free speech – which matches any fed­eral judge, and maybe even the Supreme Court – makes us duly ner­vous

What will Bri­tain look like if, in­stead of liv­ing in semide­tached homes, we live more and more in flats?

at tele­ opin­ion

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