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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

VCs, Techno-optimists and the Search for Exit

More Silicon Valley, less Washington, DC

The New Yorker, that bastion of capitalism, recently profiled venture capitalist Marc Andreessen and gave readers a glimpse into the minds of some of Silicon Valley’s finest VCs. The author suspends most of the snark we’ve come to expect from writers in the New York salon and allows the reader be as snarky or admiring as her inclination guides.

One passage sticks out for me in particular. The author quotes a New York VC named Andy Weisman:

Silicon Valley V.C.s are all techno-optimists. They have the arrogant belief that you can take a geography and remove all obstructions and have nothing but a free flow of capital and ideas, and that it’s good, it’s very good, to creatively destroy everything that has gone before.

One might quibble with “everything.” But there is a certain Schumpeterian delight we can take in seeing cars go driverless, Uber replace taxi cartels, and bitcoin replace dollars. Whatever gets left behind is what probably should be left behind – because we want it to be. That’s us, the market, not them, the elites.

Usually we think of creative destruction as an “is.” But increasingly, Silicon Valley VCs are thinking of creative destruction as an “ought.”

Some Silicon Valley V.C.s believe that these values would have greater sway if their community left America behind: Andreessen’s nerd nation with a charter and a geographic locale. Peter Thiel favors “seasteading,” establishing floating cities in the middle of the ocean. Balaji Srinivasan, until recently a general partner at a16z and now the chairman of one of its Bitcoin companies, has called for the “ultimate exit.”

Ultimate exit.

Yep. These guys think laws and norms – our social technology – need upgrades just like our operating systems or HTML standards. And why shouldn’t they? Any protocols for human interaction should be subject to the same competitive pressures as online products, systems, and apps.

Arguing that the United States is as fossilized as Microsoft, and that the Valley has become stronger than Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., combined, Srinivasan believes that its denizens should “build an opt-in society, ultimately outside the U.S., run by technology.”

Maybe this is one of those passages put in there to chum the progressive waters. On the other hand, it might also offend more patriotic sensibilities.

Indeed, some of our own readers may not appreciate the decidedly cosmopolitan approach to finding and keeping freedom. But even those readers should ask themselves: If pioneering, tech-savvy people were to create a situation somewhere on earth that was more in-line with the vision of the American Founders, wouldn’t you want that place to exist?

We’d all like that place to be the United States. But that’s rather beside the point. And it’s hard to argue against more freedom in the world.

To get a better idea about how these guys think, check out the following videos…

Here’s VC Balaji Srinivasan from a 2013 Y Combinator talk:

Here’s my own talk from the prototype Voice & Exit event in 2013, from about six months prior:

And finally, here’s Joe Quirk expressing Peter Thiel’s vision at Voice & Exit 2014.

There is something happening; a change in consciousness. These techno-optimists are incredibly resourceful people. In many ways, they’re developing an ethos along with their technologies – one closer to what we are used to reading in these pages. It’s a new human algorithm based less on power and more on persuasion.

If you are fascinated by this sort of pioneering spirit, come to Voice & Exit 2015 on June 20-21. FEE’s own Jeffrey Tucker will be speaking about how technology is liberating the world. 

  • Max Borders is author of The Social Singularity. He is also the founder and Executive Director of Social Evolution—a non-profit organization dedicated to liberating humanity through innovation. Max is also co-founder of the Voice & Exit event and former editor at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE). Max is a futurist, a theorist, a published author and an entrepreneur.