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Today’s Robber Barons Wear Sneakers

No one who has worked for any length of time in or around Silicon Valley was under the illusion tech companies were somehow more enlightened than old school corporations, ping pong tables and lap pools aside. But it is clear. Greed and surpassing arrogance have long run rampant.

Other old school flaws from sexism to racism to unethical behavior are also found in as much abundance along Sand Hill Road as on Wall St. If anything these problems are worse because they are compounded by the fact that regulators & overseers barely understand these businesses.

The ignorance that surrounds new technologies and business models is a shield even more effective that armies of corporate lawyers (though they have them too). Recent Congressional hearings and the ineptitude of the questioning from members of the House and Senate reveal this.

As we’ve also recently discovered the size & ubiquity of these companies makes the impact of their malfeasance or nonfeasance or arrogance or greed even greater. The use of social media for election interference, the involvement with these companies in gov’t surveillance schemes…

…the consequences of giant hacks that have compromised the private of hundreds of millions (or the corporate business models that do so daily as a matter of course all illustrate this problem. And we are only in early days yet.

A storm is on the horizon. As abuses mount as social & national security risks grow, the government must step in to do more active regulation. This will require a new generation of politicians, policymakers & bureaucrats be trained to understand the companies they’ll investigate.

That will take a while to happen. But when it does, those who can do will and must become the “trust-busters” of this era (although the public trust has already long ago been broken by these companies.) These companies see the hand-writing on the wall.

It is not just patriotism that has Amazon building one of its headquarters on the outskirts of the nation’s capital. Millions will pour in to DC to seek to head off this day of reckoning and to set rules while our lawmakers still don’t really understand the stakes.

Abuses will continue. But the reaction to this week’s gross exploitation of potential headquarters cities by Amazon or the stunning and often sickening revelations in the New York Times excellent story on Facebook, will fuel public outrage.

Fat cats who exploit the marketplace and fuel record levels of national inequality can still wear sneakers to work. In fact, today, they do it as a sign of their station. They make the rules. They believe they will define the future.

And only a functioning democracy retrained to meet the challenges of that future will ensure that they do not…or we will end up an even more unequal, more corrupted, less secure society than we even are today.

 

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