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Transcript: Balaji Srinivasan on Silicon Valley’s ultimate exit

with 42 comments

Video here. Had to transcribe it for a Theden article so here’s the whole thing.

——

So what I’m going to talk about today is something I’m calling Silicon Valley’s ultimate exit. So as motivation here, it’s a bit topical: is the USA the Microsoft of nations? We can take this sort of thing and we can expand it: codebase is 230 years old, written in an obfuscated language; system was shut down for two weeks straight; systematic FUD on security issues; fairly ruthless treatment of key suppliers; generally favors its rich enterprise customers but we still have to buy it.

And if we think about Microsoft itself, there’s a great quote from Bill Gates in 1998: what displaced Microsoft, what did he fear, it wasn’t Oracle or anybody like that, what he feared were some guys in a garage, who happened to be ultimately Larry and Sergey back in 1998.

And the thing about what Larry and Sergey did is: there’s no way they could have reformed Microsoft from the inside. At that time, Microsoft already had 26,000 employees; joining its numbers as 26,000 and 26,001 and trying to push for 20% time or free lunches… they probably wouldn’t have gone too far. So what they had to do was start their own company: they had to exit. And with success in that alternative, then Microsoft would imitate them. And this is actually related to a fundamental concept in political science: the concept of voice versus exit. A company or a country is in decline, you can try voice, or you can try exit. Voice is basically changing the system from within, whereas exit is leaving to create a new system, a new startup, or to join a competitor sometimes. Loyalty can modulate this; sometimes that’s patriotism, which is voluntary, and sometimes it’s lock-in, which are involuntary barriers to exit.

And we can think about this in the context of various examples and start to get a feel for this. So voice in the context of open source would be a patch; exit would be a fork. Voice in the context of a customer would be a complaint form, whereas exit would be taking your business elsewhere. Voice in the context of a company, that’s a turnaround plan; exit is leaving to found a startup. And voice in the context of a country is voting, while exit is emigration. So if there are those two images on the left is the Norman Rockwell painting on voice; on the right is actually my dad in the center, and that’s a grass hut on the right-hand side, so he grew up on a dirt floor in India, and left, because India was an economic basket case and there’s no way that he could have voted to change things within his lifetime, so he left.

And it turns out that, while we talk a lot about voice in the context of the US and talk about democracy… that’s very important, but you know, we’re not just a nation of immigrants, we’re a nation of emigrants: we’re shaped by both voice and exit, starting with the Puritans, you know, they fled religious persecution; the American Revolutionaries which left England’s orbit, then we started moving west, leaving the East Coast bureaucracy to go to the Western nations; later, late 1800s, Ellis Island, people leaving pogroms, and in the 20th century fleeing Nazism and Communism. And sometimes people didn’t just come here for a better life; they came here to save their life. That’s, you know, the airlifting at the end of Saigon.

And it’s not just the US that’s shaped by exit; Silicon Valley itself is also shaped by exit. You can date it back to the founding of Fairchild Semiconductor with the Traitorous Eight, the founding of Fairchild… the fact that non-competes are not enforceable in California, and the fact that DC funds disruption, not just turnaround. The concept of forking in open source, if you think about the back button, that is, in some ways, the cheapest way to exit something. And of course the concept of the startup itself. That right there, if you guys haven’t seen, is one of Y Combinator’s first ads. Larry and Sergey won’t respect you in the morning.

So the concept here is that exit is actually an extremely important force in complement to voice, and it’s something that gives voice its strength. In particular, it protects minority rights. In the upper left corner, for example, you imagine two countries, and country 1 is following policy A, and country 2 is following policy B. Some minority is potentially interested in following policy B, but policy A is very stridently promulgated by the majority. However, there’s some other country, maybe a smaller country, maybe another country, that’s actually quite into B, and so that person leaves. And they’re not necessarily super into B, but they think it might be interesting, thus B question mark. And what happens is that all the other guys in A see that people are actually leaving. They really care about this particular policy so much that they actually left. It could be a feature where people are leaving for a competitor; it could be a bug that you haven’t fixed so people fork the project and take it somewhere else—what happens is that exit amplifies voice. So it’s a crucial additional feature for democracy is to reduce the barrier to exit, to make democratic voice more powerful, more successful. And so a voice gains much more attention when people are leaving in droves. And I would bet that exit is a reason why half of this audience is alive. Many of us have our ancestors who came from China, Vietnam, Korea, Iran, places where there’s war or famine, economic basket cases. Exit is something that I believe we need to preserve, and exit is what this talk is about.

So exit is really a meta-concept: it’s about alternatives. It’s a meta-concept that subsumes competition, forking, founding, and physical emigration. It means giving people tools to reduce influence of bad policies on their lives without getting involved in politics: the tools to peacefully opt out. And if you combine those three things: this concept of the US is the Microsoft of nations, the quote from Gates, and Hirschman’s treatise, you get this concept of Silicon Valley’s ultimate exit. Basically, I believe that the ability to reduce the importance of decisions made in DC in particular without lobbying or sloganeering is going to be extremely important over the next ten years. And you might ask, “Why? What does this have to do with anything?” So the reason why is that today it’s Silicon Valley versus what I call the Paper Belt. So there’s four cities that used to run the United States in the postwar era: Boston with higher ed; New York City with Madison Avenue, books, Wall Street, and newspapers; Los Angeles with movies, music, Hollywood; and, of course, DC with laws and regulations, formally running it. And so I call them the Paper Belt, after the Rust Belt of yore. And in the last twenty years, a new competitor to the Paper Belt arose out of nowhere: Silicon Valley. And by accident, we’re putting a horse head in all of their beds. We are becoming stronger than all of them combined.

And to get a sense of this: Silicon Valley is reinventing all of the industries in these cities. That X up there is supposed to be a screenplay, the paper of LA, and LA is going to iTunes, BitTorrent, Netflix, Spotify, Youtube… that was really the first on the hit list, starting in ’99 with Napster. New York right alongside: AdWords, Twitter, Blogger, Facebook, Kindle, Aereo. We’re going after newspapers; we’re going after Madison Avenue; we’re going after book publishing; we’re going after television. Aereo figured out how to put a solid-state antenna in a server farm so you don’t have to pay any TV fees for all of their recording. Recently Boston was next in the gunsights: Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity. And most interestingly, DC, and by DC I’m using it as a metonym for government regulation in general, because it’s not just DC: it includes local and state governments. Uber, Airbnb, Stripe, Square, and the big one, Bitcoin… all things that threaten DC’s power. It is not necessarily clear that the US government can ban something that it wants to ban anymore.

The cause of this is something I call the Paper Jam. The backlash is beginning. More jobs predicted for machines, not people; job automation is a future unemployment crisis looming. Imprisoned by innovation as tech wealth explodes, Silicon Valley, poverty spikes… they are basically going to try to blame the economy on Silicon Valley, and say that it is iPhone and Google that done did it, not the bailouts and the bankruptcies and the bombings, and this is something which we need to identify as false and we need to actively repudiate it. So we must respond via voice: the obvious counterargument is that Valley reduces prices. The top is a little small, but that’s a famous graph: consumption spreads faster today. That shows the absolute exponential rise of technologies over the last century. Anything that is initially just the province of the one percent, whether it be computers or cell phones, quickly becomes the province of the five percent and the ten percent, that ??? that barely works that someone is willing to pay thousands and thousands of dollars for allows you to fix the bugs, to get economies of scale, to bring it to the ten percent and the twenty percent and the fifty percent and the middle class and the 99 percent. That’s how we got cell phones from a toy for Wall Street to something that’s helping the poorest of the poor all over the world. Technology is about reducing prices. The bottom curve there is Moore’s Law. And by contrast, the Paper Belt raises them. There’s the tuition bubble and the mortgage bubble and the medical care bubble and too many bubbles to name. The argument that the Valley is a problem is incoherent, but it’s not going to be sufficient to respond via voice. We can make this argument, but the ultimate counterargument is actually exit. Not necessarily physical exit, but exit in a variety of different forms. What they’re basically saying is: rule by DC means people are going back to work and the emerging meme is that rule by us is rule by Terminators. We’re going to take all the jobs. Whereas we can say, and we can argue, DC’s rule is more like an overrun building in Detroit, and down right there is a Google data center. And so we can go back and forth verbally, but ultimately this is about counterfactuals: they have aircraft carriers; we don’t. We don’t actually want to fight them. It wouldn’t be smart.

So we want to show what a society run by Silicon Valley would look like without actually affecting anyone who still believes the Paper Belt is actually good. That’s where exit comes in. So what do I mean by this? What do I mean by Silicon Valley’s ultimate exit? It basically means: build an opt-in society, ultimately outside the US, run by technology. And this is actually where the Valley is going. This is where we’re going over the next ten years. That’s where Mobile(?) is going: it’s not about a location-based app, it’s about making location completely irrelevant. So Larry Page, for example, wants to set aside a part of the world for unregulated experimentation. That’s carefully phrased: he’s not actually saying take away the laws in the US—if you like your country, you can keep it. Same with Marc Andreessen: “The world is going to see an explosion of countries in the years ahead. Doubled, tripled, quadrupled countries.” Since the end of the Cold War, we’ve just been seeing them burst up in all kinds of places. And some of the best will have lessons for all the rest. Singapore’s health care system is an example to the rest of the world. Estonia actually has digital parking meters and all kinds of things. We can copy those things without necessarily taking the risk: let them take the risk and then we can copy them. It amplifies voice.

So, importantly: you don’t have to fight a war to start a new company. You don’t have to kill the former CEO in a duel. So a very important meta-concept is to create peaceful ways to exit and start new countries. So, you know, two of the founders of Paypal: Peter Thiel is into seasteading; Elon Musk wants to build a Mars colony. And you can scale it back too: even on Hacker News, just recently, within the realm of someone on startup number 1 or startup number 2, these guys just went and bought a private island. It’s random, it’s in the middle of Canada, it’s freezing cold, there’s sticks over there, it doesn’t exactly look like Oahu… but the best part is this: the people who think this is weird, the people who sneer at the frontier, who hate technology—they won’t follow you out there. That’s the thing about exit is: you can take as much or as little of it as you want. You don’t have to actually go and get your own island; you can do the equivalent of dual-booting or telecommuting. You can opt out, exit at whatever level you prefer. Simply going onto Reddit rather than watching television is a way of opting out. There is this entire digital world up here which we can jack our brains into and we can opt out. The Paper Belt may stop us from leaving, and that’s actually what I think of as one of the most important things over the next ten years, is to use technology, especially Mobile(?), to reduce the barriers to exit. With it, we can build a world run by software: for some examples, 3D printing will turn regulation into DRM, it’ll be impossible to ban physical objects, from medical devices to drones to cars: you can 3D print all these things, and there are entire three-letter regulatory agencies are just devoted to banning goods. With Bitcoin, capital controls become packet filtering. It’s impossible to do bail-ins if everyone’s on Bitcoin, to seize money as they did in Cyprus or in Poland. With Quantified Self, medicine is going to become mobile: you’ll be able to measure yourself. Telepresence, your immigration policy is going to turn into your firewall. Double robotics is just a start: any bots, these robots that you can control remotely, moving around like a Doom video game, soon they’ll be humanoid on their side and they’re going to get pretty good, so you can be anywhere in the world with a humanoid robot walking around on your side, and without paying a plane ticket. Drones, warfare is going to become software, laws are going to become code, management via robotics is going to become automation, and property rights are going to become a network ??? Bitcoin and smart property.

These technological details, these are topics for the next MOOC, you can sign up at ???, it’ll be better the third time around… But that’s what I think… you know, if you want to think big, if you want to think about things that are next, build technologies as minimal or as maximal as you want for what the next society looks like. It could be something as simple as allowing middle-class people to make tax shelters, apps that allow people to travel and relocate better because it’s a huge pain to move from city to city. Anything you can think of that reduces the barrier to exit that produces lock-in. If we work together we might be able to build something like this.

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Written by nydwracu

October 28, 2013 at 23:39

Posted in technology

Tagged with , ,

42 Responses

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  1. Aereo is a service that does an end run around content providers’ restrictions by using over-the-air antennas in a server farm to provide TV streaming for Internet users. Stripe and Square are credit card processors.

    Perhaps “it doesn’t exactly look like Oahu”?

    ashr

    October 29, 2013 at 02:15

  2. […] (Balaji Srinivasan), יזם היי-טק ומרצה בסטנפורד, נשא נאום ליזמים צעירים, ובנאומו טען שעל עמק הסיליקון – האזור העשיר, ההיי-טקי, […]

  3. A great transcript. Of course, I agree strongly in principle with a competitive market for governance. But I’d submit that some forms of technological exit are easier than others. At the end of the day, unless Silicon Valley can threaten PaperGov with something equivalent to overwhelming military force, then if any form of exit becomes problematic, PaperGov will go as coercively kinetic as it has to in order to stop it.

    Handle

    October 29, 2013 at 20:44

    • I say, bring it on. Let their mask come off.

      There are two scenarios if Silicon Valley and the rest merely withdraw as much as possible into a technological cocoon.

      (a) PaperGov goes “coercively kinetic”. Then the mask is off. The masses may not understand when the administration ignores laws passed by Congress, blows off the Constitution, or uses QE to infinity as a hidden tax to pay for its extravagence.

      But the masses would understand government violence quite nicely. Then the charade ends.

      (b) PaperGov doesn’t go “coercively kinetic” because it can’t without showing itself as a monster. Then the withdrawal can work. As an example, after crime got out of control in the cities, all the good people peacefully left. The elite had to undertake extraordinary measures to fight crime, just to bring the good people back, after their cities fell apart.

      Dan

      October 30, 2013 at 10:28

      • Too optimistic for two reasons. 1. Masses can ‘understand’ something, 2. And that understanding has actual implications (vs something that can be manipulated), and 3. The government, faced with a choice between ‘monster’ and ‘impotent and rapid collapse’ chooses the latter.

        Did it ever stop any long-lived totalitarian nation. CCP still rules the roost.

        The government will say that of course it abhors the (minimized, narrowly tailored, carefully vetted and adjudicated) violence that conducts on the people’s behalf, but alas, it is necessary in order to protect your children from terrorist pederasts. And people will believe it.

        Handle

        October 30, 2013 at 12:46

  4. […] Srinivasan, another charming young rich person living in the Bay Area, has given a speech that has rippled and ricocheted about. In the New York Times, Anand Giridharadas asks, “Is Silicon Valley trying to secede from […]

  5. […] Transcript: Balaji Srinivasan on Silicon Valley’s ultimate exit (nydwracu.wordpress.com) […]

  6. I got all excited about this 15 years ago when I read a book (“The Sovereign Individual”) about how cryptography and the internet were going to free us all from government soon. The book argued that we would all be able to move our economic transactions into the encrypted digital sphere, beyond the reach of government, and government would be forced to bargain with us, giving us lots of freedom in return for a little bit of revenue.

    But it didn’t happen because our real world bodies don’t exist in cyberspace, they exist on this earth where government can exert force on us. We need to buy real goods, not virtual, cyber-encrypted goods, and it is that point of sale where the nice theories all fall apart. All the government has to do is imprison a few people for money-laundering and tax evasion when they accept digital currencies for payment without reporting it as income on their tax returns, or when they, say, use more than $10,000 worth of bitcoins to buy something and don’t report it on the proper form, and the whole thing goes up in smoke. If you run a grocery store, for example, would you risk accepting bitcoins for payment if the government declared them illegal, and if you never knew when a government agent was going to try to pose as a bitcoin user to trap you? Of course not. If you think the powerful people benefiting from running the government are going to sit by while bitcoin ends their money-printing and taxing monopoly…well, look, don’t put all your eggs in the bitcoin basket, ok?

    Exit is an important concept but when I look around I see governments using technology to become more and more intimately informed about every detail of what their subjects are doing. This is going to make it increasingly difficult – perhaps even impossible – to exit. The exit may have to be to an internal, intellectual, spiritual world and not to another physical location. You may have to live in voluntary poverty, John Galt-style, and get your enjoyments out of intellectual pursuits and culture rather than from prosperity and freedom, as the people in the Soviet Union were forced to do for a few generations.

    Anon Guy

    November 4, 2013 at 13:51

  7. […] called ”Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit.”  —(Read the transcript of the talk here.) After arguing that the rest of the country wants to put a stop to the Valley’s rise, […]

  8. All SV does is invent ways for idiots to talk to other idiots faster (twitter, facebook, etc). Most of the real technology happened long ago. And SV people are just as excited about working with government to created economic rents as anyone else.

    asdf

    November 8, 2013 at 01:23

    • BINGO. He’s a super Aspy brat.

      Really Admin, this impresses you?

      He describes the language of the Founders as Obscurantist. Only to him. Perhaps to others.

      Fatwa on he, Anil and his. F*ck ‘em. Thanks for the laser. Now leave, and take the leavings and retarded and Aspy kin with you. That’s the super-brains they’re bringing.

      VXXC

      November 8, 2013 at 12:34

    • Correct.

      The dirty secret of silicon valley is that many of the major names: Microsoft, Google, Facebook, etc, are essentially government contractors. Indeed, Facebook was funded by the VC fund that was established by the CIA in ’99. This is how they survived the tech crash resulting from the end of the dot-bomb period. I suspect they are contractors for the intelligence agencies (NSA, CIA, NRO, etc.) the same way that the aerospace manufacturers were defense contractors during the Reagan era and before.

      The exception is Apple, which is primarily a hardware manufacturer that does most of its design and manufacturing in Taiwan and Mainland China respectively.

      Silicon valley not only no longer has manufacturing (semiconductors, computers) like it did during the late 70’s and early 80’s, it no longer produces software development tools either. It is all internet and social media stuff now. Silicon Valley is more hype than anything else.

      Abelard Lindsey

      November 28, 2013 at 17:40

  9. “So, importantly: you don’t have to fight a war to start a new company. You don’t have to kill the former CEO in a duel.” So more importantly, what if that’s exactly what you have to do?

    This is what he did. It’s not an option open to Americans. Which he and many of his repulsive sidekicks aren’t. Good luck with the incorporeal existence.

    VXXC

    November 8, 2013 at 12:49

  10. In the NYT even.

    Handle

    November 8, 2013 at 14:24

  11. […] for Srinivasan, his speech wasn’t really about secession. He relied on the work of the late economist Albert O. […]

  12. […] A talk on exit. And some additional […]

    Randoms | Foseti

    November 13, 2013 at 07:07

  13. Well, that didn’t last too long I guess.

    Hazlitt:

    It “looks like there has been a bit of telephone with respect to the original presentation,” Srinivasan writes me in an email. “I’m not a libertarian, don’t believe in secession, am a registered Democrat, etcetera etcetera.

    “This is really a talk that is more about emigration and exit,” he adds. “The US is a nation of immigrants, so it’s also a nation of emigrants. There’s nothing wrong with thinking about leaving the country of your birth in search of a better life, especially when children are worse off than their parents for the first time in US history. Most of this country originated from people who did exactly that. Contrariwise, most of the population (in any country) likes it just fine and doesn’t want to leave.”

    Then again there’s this:

    “Utopias at sea, Miéville writes, have to understand what they are: pirate ships, where genuine outlaws can create their own communities, or privateers, the advance guard of empire:”

    It’d be fun to rewrite Mieville’s line four hundred years ago in terms of the New English Puritan colonies of North America.

    Handle

    November 23, 2013 at 08:57

  14. […] Neo-reactionaries are among the first of Silicon Valleians to see this backlash building hence their only half joking efforts to retreat to artificial islands or into outer space. Here’s one of the dark illuminati, Balaji Srinivasan: […]

  15. […] Balaji Srinivasan, “Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit” (HT: Nydwracu) […]

  16. […] a speech titled “Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit,”  Balaji Srinivasan argued that tech founders should leave the U.S. and form their own […]

  17. […] a speech titled “Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit,”  Balaji Srinivasan argued that tech founders should leave the U.S. and form their own […]

  18. […] a speech titled “Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit,”  Balaji Srinivasan argued that tech founders should leave the U.S. and form their own […]

  19. […] a speech title' “Silicon Valley’z Ultimate Exit,”  Balaji Srinivasan argue' dat tech founderz should drop da U.S. an' form they own […]

  20. […] a speech titled “Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit,”  Balaji Srinivasan argued that tech founders should leave the U.S. and form their own […]

  21. […] a speech titled "Silicon Valley's Ultimate Exit,"  Balaji Srinivasan argued that tech founders should leave the U.S. and form their own […]

  22. […] a speech titled “Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit,”  Balaji Srinivasan argued that tech founders should leave the U.S. and form their own […]

  23. […] a speech titled “Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit,”  Balaji Srinivasan argued that tech founders should leave the U.S. and form their own […]

  24. […] a speech titled “Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit,”  Balaji Srinivasan argued that tech founders should leave the U.S. and form their own […]

  25. […] a speech titled “Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit,” Balaji Srinivasan argued that tech founders should leave the U.S. and form their own […]

  26. […] a speech titled “Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit,”  Balaji Srinivasan argued that tech founders should leave the U.S. and form their own […]

  27. […] a speech titled “Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit,”  Balaji Srinivasan argued that tech founders should leave the U.S. and form their own […]

  28. […] entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan contemplates Silicon Valley’s ultimate exit at Startup School […]

  29. […] Transcript: Balaji Srinivasan on Silicon Valley‘s ultimate exit … […]

  30. […] a notorious speech last fall at the Y Combinator Startup School, Balaji Srinivasan channeled Leary when he called for […]

  31. […] so disgusted by the rest of San Francisco, in fact, they’ve publically (and seriously) suggested seceding from the United States or even building their own private island […]

  32. […] missed Srinivasan’s diatribe back in October 2013 and recently herd of it as the inertia builds among the newly rich people who […]

  33. […] Exit, in many ways, is more attractive than voice. Voice requires conflict, persuasion, coalition-building: in short, politics. Voice is slow; exit is fast. Voice is often coercive; exit is peaceful.  Voice is messy; exit is clean. Balaji Srinivasan thinks exit is just plain better than voice. […]

  34. Your style is so unique compared to other folks I’ve read stuff from.

    Thank you for posting when you’ve got the
    opportunity, Guess I will just book mark this blog.

    telegraph.co.uk

    September 1, 2014 at 23:14

  35. […] taking the next step, and are attempting to reach escape velocity. Balaji Srinivasan’s infamous exit speech was one such attempt. It was perceived as a threat largely because it was. In the same way, the […]

  36. […] out at Startup School 2013 in a manifesto of sorts, titled “Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit” (transcript – […]


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