holding the center - a letter

Shortly before the election my Grandmother, who is the most ardent Hillary supporter I know, wrote me and asked if I could help explain Trump's popularity. She just couldn't understand it. Here was my letter in response:



Somehow I think the anger that manifested itself in Trump's campaign is related to the deep feelings of unfairness that manifested itself in the Occupy movement of 2011. It's why Bernie mounted such a strong challenge despite seeming like a kooky professor.

People are angry. Inequality and the growing divide has a lot to do with it. I'm not entirely sure that's everything though. I think some of it has to do with the loss of faith in a state that provides and supports for its citizens. This doesn't exist any longer in the US. The most "patriotic" people are also those that detest the US Government.

I think some of it has to do with the sterilization and alienation inherent to a society that has allowed corporate interests to grow virtually unchecked while defunding governments and local communities.

I'd also likely to touch on technology, which on one hand has been an unbelievable boost to productivity and is facilitating some wonderful things in terms of connectivity (I'm emailing you!). It's been a huge boon to society in many ways but we always have to be conscious about how we use the tools available to us. Because on the other hand technology and in particular cellular infrastructure has allowed companies to scale at an absolutely unprecedented speed.

I know about these business because it's my job to invest in them, and I know that software companies will enter every aspect of our society. While I believe in the power of capitalism to allocate resources more or less efficiently, history is rife with examples of where we need strong and clear-minded governments to help us steer the boat, to ensure that externalities like pollution are priced in, to ensure that people are not priced out of the basic goods, services and opportunities they should be afforded as human beings. In the long run it is about the governments ability to regulate these businesses fairly and ensure that the gains are accruing to all stakeholders. To founders, investors, employees, and back again to society (taxes).

The truth is, with the rapid development of artificial intelligence, automation, and robotics, fewer and fewer people are equipped with the requisite skills to work competitively in today's economy. On one hand, economists have argued that technological improvements historically haven't increased joblessness but instead changed the nature of the jobs we do (we become "machine managers"). There has also been a boosted demand effect that increases the volume of goods at equilibrium and thus stems job loss. I find these analyses short sighted because they miss the point that in an absolute sense machines are approaching the computing power of the human brain and the capacity for us to differentiate ourselves vs machines is undoubtedly shrinking.

So, in my and many other's view a Universal Basic Income (UBI) of some fashion will be necessary in the medium term. We have to do a better job of ensuring that everyone, across red states and blue, and not just coastal technologists or investors, are participating in the promise of tomorrow. Despite it's reputation a UBI could actually do much to foster a greater sense of fairness across our society, to ensure that everyone is equipped with the positive rights of education and opportunity and the right to live above poverty. The problem is that with the leaders we have now elected it will be likely impossible in the current environment of Fear and Others politics. The forces that have driven many people to such a feeling of displacement within their own society are only accelerating. Unless those of us who are lucky and well-off stop and think about how to reshape our society to make it fundamentally more fair, the discord and divide between red and blue, black and white, young and old, urban and rural, and between rich and poor, is only going to widen.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold