REBUTTAL OF THE CALIFORNIAN IDEOLOGY
A seeming understanding of the Digital Revolution's crucial left-right fusion of free minds and free markets, followed by a totally out-to-lunch excursion into discussions of the role of the government, racism, and the ecology in California, ending with a startling admission of the need to marry "some of the entrepeneurial zeal and can-do attitude" of California to a uniquely European (but not even vaguely defined) mixed economy solution - all of it betraying an atavistic attachment to statism, and an utterly dismal failure to comprehend the possibilities of a future radically different than the one we currently inhabit, one that is actually democratic, meritocratic, decentralized, libertarian.
Far from building the Digital Revolution, the US Defense Department sucked up 6 to 7 percent of US GNP for 40 years and utilized up to 40 percent of all engineering talent, channelling these resources not into technological growth, but into tanks, bombs, and military adverturism. In point of fact, it was the cutback in American defense spending following the Vietnam War and the subsequent firing of thousands of California engineers which resulted in the creation of Silicon Valley and the personal computer revolution.
A descent into the kind of completely stupid comments on race in America that only smug Europeans can even attempt. (Any country which prohibits its own passport holders from residing within its borders, or any people who are currently allowing genocidal war to be waged in their own backyard after the stupefying genocide of WWII, shouldn't be lecturing Americans about anything having to do with race, much less events which occurred 200 years ago.) The charge of technological apartheid is just plain stupid: "Already 'red-lined' by profit-hungry telcos [isn't every company, by definition, "profit hungry?", although that description in this context is also stupid since telcos are regulated monopolies with government enforced rates of return], the inhabitants of poor inner city areas are prevented from accessing the new on-line services through lack of money." Oh really? Redlined? Universal telephone access is mandated in the US. And anyone with a telephone has access to online service. Lack of money? On-line is cheaper than cable television, and you can get a new computer for less than $1000, a used one less than $500.
The utterly laughable Marxist/Fabian kneejerk that there is such a thing as the info-haves and have-nots - this is equivalent to a 1948 Mute whining that there were TV-haves and have-nots because television penetration had yet to become universal, the logical conclusion being that, of course, the state had to step in and create television entitlements. This whole line of thinking displays a profound ignorance of how technology actually diffuses through society. Namely, there has to be a leading edge, people who take a risk on new, unproven products - usually upper tenish types, who pay through the nose for the privilege of being beta testers, getting inferior technology at inflated prices with the very real possibility that they have invested in technological dead ends like eight track or betamax or Atari. Yet they are the ones who pay back development costs and pave the way for the mass market, which, let me assure you, is every technology company's wet dream (the biggest market today for the fastest personal computers is not business, but the home). Not haves and have-nots - have-laters.
This anal retentive attachment to failed 19th century social and economic analysis and bromides is what allows you to claim that the laughable French Minitel system is a success, when in fact it is a huge impediment to France developing a real networked economy since the dirigisme which mandated an instantly obsolete closed technology for deployment into every home in France - and then conspired to stifle any alternative - has insured that France remain resolutely outside the mainstream of the Internet. A profound ignorance of economics. The engine of development of the Digital Revolution was not state planning, whether you call that an industrial policy or a defense policy. It was free capital markets and venture funds which channelled savings to thousands upon thousands of companies, enabling them to start, and the successful to thrive. Contrast this with the sorry history of European technology development, where huge plutocratic organizations like Siemens and Philips conspired with bungling bureaucracies to hoover up taxes collected by local and Euro-wide state institutions and shovel them into mammoth technology projects which have proven to be, almost without exception, disasters. The true measure of the failure of European (in other words, statist) direction of technology can be measured by the fact that in ten years, during the biggest technology boom the planet has ever witnessed, Europe has gone from a net exporter of technology, to a net importer.
Let's get real here: High European taxes which have restricted spending on technology and hence retarded its development; state telco monopolies which have kept prices high and service bad, again impeding networking in business and the home; state-directed technology investment, which has resulted in the monopolization of risk capital, uniformly bad technology policy, and the squandering of resources and opportunities; social welfare policies which reward parasitical living rather than risk-taking; a truly atavistic, sick attachment to the compulsion and non-meritocratic elitism of statism as a way of life; and a kneejerk disdain for truly radical social and political thought which falls outside Euro PC dogma (read failed Marxist/Fabian) - have all retarded and will continue to retard Europeans; if the US and Asian countries had conspired to insure Europe continued to cede export markets, they could not have come up with a better stategy that the one you advocate: continued statist meddling).
Meanwhile, it's Europeans who are discussing "Californian Ideology" not Californians who are discussing "European Ideology." And not because some clatch of bureaucrats in Strasbourg or Luxembourg have issued yet another directive. Because Europeans are recognizing that 19th century nostrums are not solutions to 21st century problems - on the contrary, they are the problem - and it's time to encourage competition, risk taking, democracy and meritocracy, and dare I say it, dreaming about a different, better future.
Ask me again, and I'll really tell you what I think.
Yours for the Revolution,
Editor & Publisher, Wired
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