Global fintech and funding innovation ecosystem


Scott Gallway | Jan 8, 2020

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Shadow Government

As our institutions have retreated, private capital has emerged as a shadow government. Banks command our economy, the shareholder class commands the politicians, and big tech reigns over it all. Our idolatry of innovators equates wealth with virtue, and does not hold the innovator class, or their firms, to the same standards as old economy firms (or the general population). Twenty-four hours after a failed coup, the lead story on Twitter is Elon Musk becoming the wealthiest man in the world.

When Trumpism began its march, it wasn’t the government or the media that we turned to for help, but big tech. Today, we plead with @jack to suspend the President’s account. The FBI, voters, our laws … all of them sit secondary to thirty-something innovators who hold the real power: algorithms that decide who sees what, how often, and from whom.

In this rudderless environment, where information flow is not a public good but a revenue stream, is it any wonder that misinformation — call it what it is, disinformation — has taken hold?

What can be done? A virus should be monitored. An epidemic must be cauterized.

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The striking arrogance of our American exceptionalism allowed us to ignore the virus of fringe ideas fueled by algorithms and profit. The sight of a mob overrunning the U.S. Capitol, under the direction of a U.S. President, forces us to acknowledge that we have an epidemic that demands swift, severe action(s). Put another way, putting the President in a social media timeout is insufficient.

We need greater attribution and accountability. President Trump should be stripped of power immediately. The incitement of violence against a co-equal branch of government is grounds for impeachment, conviction, and removal from office by Congress. If he had just one day left in office, Trump would still be a clear and present danger to the republic. More importantly, the first declaration in years that our leaders face consequences for their actions should be in bold type.

If there is any question that big tech is our new government, then register that these are the only entities whose actions seem to have a meaningful impact (or what we view as meaningful). Which has had more impact? Futile discussions about the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, or Facebook and Twitter suspending President Trump’s accounts and Shopify closing MAGA stores? Applaud these actions if you like, but accountability for sedition should not be meted out by private companies (in the case of Shopify, a foreign one). We should not be pandering to part-time CEOs to save the nation they demonstrate no regard for.


In The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity, former Berkeley professor Carlo M. Cipolla posits that a stupid person causes damage to others while deriving no gain, or even possibly incurring losses. We invariably underestimate the number of stupid individuals in circulation as the probability that a certain person is stupid is independent of other characteristics or credentials (e.g., they can have a Ph.D. or be President). We (the non-stupid) are vulnerable to the stupid and their actions as we find it difficult to imagine and understand — or to organize a rational defense against — an attack that lacks rational structure or predictable movements. Or, as Friedrich Schiller put it, against stupidity the gods themselves fight in vain.

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At a deeper level, we must find ways to reassert the primacy of truth and reason in our discourse. No sooner had the mob been cleared from the halls of Congress than did Representative Matt Gaetz take to the podium to knowingly spread disinformation: that facial recognition determined the mob was Antifa. (It wasn’t.) Elected officials who knowingly spread disinformation should be censured and denied federal and state matching funds for their next election.

We are justifiably concerned about the declining state of math and science education, but it won’t be enough to teach more calculus. We need to teach our kids the tools of science: statistics, critical thinking, and then … civics. Mark Zuckerberg is what happens when you replace civics with computer science. We must also find a way to inculcate empathy and commitment to the commonwealth in the next generation, as the evolution of our economy leads to dispersion and segregation.

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