This week I took time out from my regular schedule to swim among the geeks. I traveled to the Las Vegas Convention Center and wandered the halls of a technology conference. While I was there, I listened to at least 30 speakers and talked with participants ranging from the hardcore hackers and spammers to run-of-the-mill web masters.
Tech people are mysterious. Many are more comfortable with machines than people. They communicate using words most Americans will never understand. But they’re also admirable. Most are smart and hardworking – and many build amazing companies to solve problems that have long plagued humankind.
However, it’s also clear to me that this talented and savvy group of thinkers and entrepreneurs has sadly accepted what I will call, for lack of a better term, the hardcore, leftwing politics of Obama. Never in my life have I seen such smart people with so little understanding of government and economics.
The first keynote speaker – noted internet entrepreneur Jason Calacanis – was no exception. Calacanis is well-known as the chief executive and founder of Inside.com. And he gave a brilliant speech. His grasp of technology issues is unparalleled. He’s truly a visionary, and he has an amazing telescope into the future.
Calacanis spoke passionately about how technology startups are improving life and changing the world. But just as he should have been ending his speech, he launched into a rant that showed how this brilliant technologist has no understanding of our free economy.
Calacanis said, and I paraphrase…
“The technology business is destroying America’s jobs. Soon robotics will destroy what jobs the internet hasn’t killed. I think the solution to this problem is for the government to pay every American $2,000 a month. That way, when unemployment spikes above 20% because of technology, we won’t be overcome by riots in the streets. Let’s just give every American this living wage whether they work or not.”
Unfortunately, Calacanis is way out of his league here. He sounds like a buggy whip salesman worried about the horseless carriage. The truth is, technology has been relentlessly destroying jobs throughout history. So this isn’t a new phenomenon. For example, we no longer need livery stables, telegraph and telephone operators, blanket weavers, or typewriter repairmen. The list of jobs destroyed by technology is nearly endless.
Calacanis is also clearly unfamiliar with the creative destruction described by economist Joseph Schumpeter – the idea that economic development arises out of the destruction of some prior economic order. Creative destruction is being unleashed on our free economy by technology firms, but it’s not going to put millions of people out of work for good.
Technology also creates jobs as its destroying them. Just think: How many search engine optimization positions existed twenty years ago?
So the solution isn’t paying people to not work. Payment for no work degrades character and leads to dependency and aimlessness. The solution is to allow a wealthier society to encourage more people to engage in nonprofit and charity work, higher learning, the arts, music and research. Create incentives for young people to better themselves. Perhaps they could earn $2,000 a month working with disadvantaged youths as opposed to spending the day playing videogames or doing nothing.
Sadly, it seems that mushy-headed thinking is truly alive and well outside of Washington, D.C. Heck, even the geeks have trouble with basic economics.
Your eyes on the Hill, Floyd Brown
This commentary originally appeared at CapitalHillDaily.com and is re-published here with permission
Photo Credit: Standard Compliant