Democrats spent a generation criticizing Republicans for their “trickle-down economics,” the assumption that tax cuts create investment and wealth that will “trickle-down” on everyone else in the form of jobs and growth.
But the Obama years proved that there is another type of trickle-down. Technology trickle-down.
Technology wealth is centered at the top, to a degree J.P. Morgan and Jay Cooke could have only dreamt of.
The wealth that has been created for corporate owners like Larry Page, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos is hard to contemplate. As hard as Bill Gates works to give away his Microsoft fortune, it just keeps growing, and he’s got Warren Buffett’s $60 billion to dispose of as well. Between them, Gates and Buffett have $135 billion, more than the GDP of Kazakhstan, more than what Morocco is projected to create in 2020.
Apple has $250 billion in cash just sitting around, yet CEO Tim Cook is treated like some sort of hero by the left. When is some of that wealth going to trickle-down on the rest of the country? You think journalism is terrible? You know how much good journalism you can create for even $1 billion? Oh, you say it doesn’t pay? Whose fault is that, exactly?
When seen regionally it’s worse.
It was in reaction to this “technology trickle-down” that Trumpism emerged. You don’t have to learn science to make money in oil, just live on oil-producing land. You don’t need a Ph.D to turn wrenches in Detroit, and manufacturing wages were the promise Trump made.
The problem for technology is that there is no Moore’s Law of Training, no Moore’s Law of Education. We seem to learn only as fast as we learn, and the speed with which we learn varies by person and subject matter. Americans seem to regard talent as a miracle, not something that can be created through hard work but something that just is. You either have it or you don’t. What does technology offer if you don’t?
Mostly it seems to offer unemployment. Stores are becoming obsolete. Middle management has disappeared. Think you’re going to get a job driving a car or a truck? Forget it. And even the people who voted for Trump realize that his promise of high-paying manufacturing jobs, available to anyone with a high school diploma, is a lie – robots make the cars already.
Because technology wealth has not trickled down, most Americans don’t have a stake in the technology industry’s health. That is why they voted for Trump.
Instead of crying about “fake news,” Tim Cook should be subsidizing the creation of real news. Apple TV can use documentaries. The iPod can use Podcasts. Google and Facebook should be subsidizing the creation of real content. Create writing prizes, editing prizes, and fund something like Niemen Fellowships. Create a Steve Jobs Award.
It’s true that big Internet companies can filter out fake news from their results. They should. This should be part of the service they provide. You mean you don’t have a business model for it? How about the protection of the business model you have?
Twitter and Facebook need to go after hate speech, and those who engage in it. Most of these people are not even in the U.S. It’s going to be harder to do now than it would have been six months ago, because the Administration is supporting hate speech, and Trump is likely to fight any attempt to do away with it. That’s what the $2.5 trillion valuations of the top Internet companies are there for. There is no way even the U.S. government can out-gun them, not when they have the support of content creators as well as programmers.
For now, they do.
Beyond creating credible content, and jobs involved in credible content creation, top tech companies need to be delivering hands-on support to schools and universities across the country, with free courseware on computer programming, but also on science and math. We’re talking about a few billion dollars to create courseware covering every subject from Kindergarten through an undergraduate education. Working together, tech companies can do this, and they can deliver it through real storefronts across the country.
Frankly, it’s infuriating how little tech titans have done to justify the rewards America has showered upon them. If that’s not going to change, tech companies are going to lose the goose that created these golden eggs.
To that extent, the election of Trump was merely a warning.