Get Ready for High-Tech Innovators To Be Demonized
In an Economist article called “The coming tech-lash,” columnist Adrian Wooldridge predicts that “one of the big developments of 2014 will be the growing peasants’ revolt against the sovereigns of cyberspace.” According to the article’s subhead, high-tech elites will “join bankers and oilmen in public demonology.”
Although Wooldridge suggests that extravagant parties and flashy lifestyles are helping generate the backlash, the evidence he offers suggests that what’s really at work is resentment of the high-tech innovators’ achievements.
In past decades, hostility toward the productive rich was rationalized by blaming them for imagined social evils. Executives in the oil and gas, agriculture, and automobile industries were accused of causing environmental harm. Executives in the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries were accused of sacrificing health to profits. And so forth.
But the haters have dropped that charade. What evils can plausibly be ascribed to the innovators who brought us affordable cell phones, tablet computers, and easy access to music, movies, and information? There are none. Wooldridge can only observe that high-tech “oligarchs sit on top of a huge money culture” in which millionaires and billionaires are joined by young people making more than $100,000 a year, he also predicts that “popular anger about inequality” will be taken out on “some of the most ruthless capitalists around.”
Echoing President Obama’s “you didn’t build that” theme, Wooldridge also claims that government deserves credit for “investing heavily in the creation of everything from the internet to digital personal assistants.” But, he says, the “tech giants have structured their business so that they give as little back as possible.”
His conclusion? “The Silicon elite will cease to be regarded as geeks who happen to be filthy rich and become filthy rich people who happen to be geeks.”
For all their unsubstantiated ill will, Wooldridge’s predictions seem apt. In fact, I would say it’s already happening. For instance, I’ve recently blogged about the attacks on Steve Jobs (now that he’s in the grave and can’t defend himself) that suggest he would be in jail for antitrust offenses right now if his fatal illness hadn’t spared him that ignominy.