by Barry A. Liebling
If you want to understand what inspires the elite progressive left there is no better source than The New York Times. In both its reporting and its editorializing the publication expresses and shapes the most up-to-date opinions, attitudes, and beliefs of its “socially aware” readers. Recently the “paper of record” published an essay by Noam Cohen which is based on his new book The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/10/13/opinion/sunday/Silicon-Valley-Is-Not-Your-Friend.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region®ion=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region
Mr Cohen’s theme is that the largest, most successful high technology companies – Google, Facebook, and Amazon – are too powerful and are menacing to the type of civilization that he endorses. The solution for Mr Cohen is to “restrain the monopolists before they smash the foundations of our society.”
Note well that if you understand and appreciate the concept of individual freedom you will recognize that Mr Cohen is recommending the exact opposite policy – a strong government supervising and controlling the high tech world and extinguishing (or at least slowing down) private initiatives.
In his essay Mr Cohen does not acknowledge that the companies he wants to fetter are owned and managed by people who are themselves leftist progressives. Top management (as well as nearly all of the professional staff) at Google, Facebook, and Amazon endorse and give money to the Democratic party. They tend to be enthusiastic supporters of “diversity” as a never-ending goal, human-caused climate alarmism, “sustainability,” and identity politics. The leading players of the most successful technology companies are highly involved and influential in leftist causes.
So what are the problems that disturb Mr Cohen. There are two – the big companies are making a lot of money and they are running their businesses independently (without close government supervision).
Take the money issue first. Mr Cohen makes a big deal in his essay of informing the reader that when Google and Facebook were started the founders explicitly said they were not focused on making money. Instead, they promised to deliver products that would make life easier for their users. Of course, this is exactly the sort of proclamation left-leaning business people are supposed to spout. Even if they are ambitious to make a fortune they know that their “socially conscious” peers want them to say that service to humanity – not profits – is what animates them. The appropriate justification for having wealth – to a leftist – is to bring about “social change” for the “common good.”
That Google and Facebook are now fabulously wealthy strikes Mr Cohen as a terrible turn of events. They promised they were not (overly) interested in money. Something has to be done to cut them down to size. In Mr Cohen’s world-view large amounts of money made (and controlled) privately are particularly worrisome. Wealthy individuals may or may not spend their money on causes endorsed by his “socially conscious” cabal. It is frightening to consider what they might do with their wealth. However, the government (which controls more wealth than all of the successful companies combined) has “pure intentions” and spends the money it takes from citizens wisely (especially if it is run, as it usually is, by people committed to leftist causes).
In one of his concluding paragraphs Mr Cohen succinctly hits several topics that are embraced by leftists and are riddled with fallacies. He writes, “We need greater regulation, even if it impedes the introduction of new services. If we can’t stop their proposals — if we can’t say that driverless cars may not be a worthy goal, to give just one example — then are we in control of our society? We need to break up these online monopolies because if a few people make the decisions about how we communicate, shop, learn the news, again, do we control our own society?”
Here are some obvious retorts.
Genuine monopolies are possible only by government intervention. For many years AT&T was a monopoly because other companies were forbidden by law to compete against it. Google, Facebook, and Amazon are not monopolies. In each case there are competitors that customers are free to use any time they wish. The top management of the big three companies are perpetually worried that an upstart will take away their lead. Note that the success of the largest high tech companies is due to voluntary actions on the part of customers.
Observe that the largest monopoly now operating in America is the USPS. At USPS “only a few people make the decisions.” Of course, they do not succeed at making a profit, but the post office has a complete corner (legally enforced) on first class mail. How is that “well regulated” concern working out Mr Cohen?
What does Mr Cohen mean when he writes, “if we can’t stop their proposals?” In a free society you can be a customer or decide to withhold your business. In an authoritarian regime a strong government has the power to “stop proposals.” When Mr Cohen says “we” he is referring to the members of his special clique, and he believes it is proper for his in-group to shut down any business they do not like. He would replace private initiative with state-run companies. Here is a pertinent question to ponder. How would you like to see the largest high technology companies run like the post office?
The author is disturbed that “a few people make decisions about how we communicate.” But the big three tech firms do not have the power to stop their customers from going elsewhere. Note that to Mr Cohen private companies pose a threat because “only a few people are making decisions.” But there are even fewer people making decisions in a monolithic government (bureaucrats who have the power to physically stop and imprison anyone who tries to defy them). Which situation poses the greater threat to individual liberty? The concern for Mr Cohen is that private interests always are at risk of doing things he does not approve of. His solution is to have the strong intrusive hands of government deciding what gets done and how it will be accomplished.
Articles that are published in The New York Times can be especially illuminating. They inform readers committed to a free society what they have to explain to their progressive left neighbors.
*** See other entries at AlertMindPublishing.com in “Monthly Columns.” ***