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Tech companies are misusing creativity in their quest to change the world (qz.com)
56 points by uyoakaoma 40 days ago | hide | past | web | 57 comments | favorite



>> One example is Endless, a computer company founded by a young Californian named Matt Dalio. I know his father, Ray Dalio, a successful businessman who became very interested in my ideas and my work

This is the real root problem - People are helping their already rich friends too much. Companies shouldn't be about the CEO and their friends, it should be about the product and the customers. Promoting the children of your rich friends in your news articles doesn't help balance out wealth equality.

There are thousands of other (poorer, more determined) entrepreneurs like 'Matt Dalio' who probably deserve the attention even more.

>> Dalio did not give up.

Yeah that totally deserves its own paragraph; not giving up is a huge achievement when daddy is a billionaire. It's almost like the author's subconscious is trying to tell us something.


Rich people can take risks. Poor people can't.


> Rich people may take risks. Poor people must.

This seems more accurate and realistic about the source of the discrepancy:

Rich people have the luxury to choose which risks they take and make calculated endeavors, but are never forced to take a risk and have great ability to manage their total exposure to risk.

Poor people are inundated with being forced to take bad risks and manage the danger between them constantly, such that they can't properly gather resources to take on additional voluntary risks (even when they have an expected reward) because it poses too much systemic danger with the additional risk.

That said, once you count in drug sales, the poorest 10% of people I know have a higher per capita entrepreneurship rate than the richest 10%. So in practice, poor people are actually taking on business risk at a higher rate as well, though it's again motivated by necessity.

The biggest discrepancy is, of course, access to capital and explain the vast majority of the discrepancy in outcome.


Anecdotally, I knew drug dealers in high school. It was not out of necessity, but greed. I'm sure some are out of necessity, but not all.


I think you have the implication reversed:

I'm not saying drug dealer -> poverty.

I'm saying poverty -> necessity to try something to escape a slow death.

(And for cultural reasons, the latter often appears as greed when successfully applied, rather than desperate necessity. Look at the motivation for the hustle, not the outcome. A fear of a very real death to poverty is usually the motivating factor.)

This means that you end up with a lot of people having some kind of hustle, which the statistics also reflect once you remember that drug dealers (and other criminals) are a form of business. So you find an unusual amount of businesses per capita, again remembering to include drug operations and similar activities.


> (And for cultural reasons, the latter often appears as greed when successfully applied, rather than desperate necessity. Look at the motivation for the hustle, not the outcome. A fear of a very real death to poverty is usually the motivating factor.)

Totally agree. Also depends where you go to school, though. There are drug dealers who are poor and do it because it's one of the more attractive (if risky) job options, and there are well-off student drug dealers who know that they can get away with being caught because of their socioeconomic status.

In either case, it's not a totally unreasonable risk-reward evaluation, especially (as with everything) if the dealer knows how to execute (i.e. be careful). I knew several people in the latter camp, and I wouldn't necessarily call them "greedy". Though I suppose I generally dislike the term "greedy" because it's usually pejorative without giving any definition of what greed is or why it is bad.


In this vein I think Basic Income should be rebranded as Basic Capital. It's clear to me now that policy where people get paid "wages" for not doing anything will fail, but if it's positioned as a way to allow all people to participate in capital investment (or risky labor choices) it might be viable.


I find this project by Endless/Matt Dalio to be a real life manifestation of this video:

What do the Rich really Want? Imagine if oddly, wealthy capitalists didn't primarily want money; but something odder and more hopeful: respect. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcUkgR4Op00

Would love to get people's opinion on this video.

Here's a set of videos of the Endless founder. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLUrqcWVF3uekfwjPrNpoq...

If you think of how he could have instead utilized his wealth (investing in non-renewable energy projects, high ROI defense/gun stocks) this definitely seems like a less bad alternative.

Also its way better in my opinion than the alternative of using public tax payer money being used for this effort. It needs to be designed to be self sustainable. OLPC seems to have diverted money away from other developing world causes.


Endless did an AMA on reddit [1] a few days ago where Matt gave some insights in the business model behind it.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/75pu2j/we_are_endless...


Devil's advocate regarding cronyism is that they "just need someone good enough" for the job, and on average wealthy people tend to be far better qualified (or have the free time to learn) than trying to filter through the GP for people similarly qualified who don't already have ties to existing businesses (and would thus need higher financial motivation to be pulled away to work on your thing).


These days, it's so hard to find a decent job, that it's no surprise many turn to illegal activities, such as hacking and fraud, especially in poorer countries. From a capitalistic standpoint there's nothing wrong with it because the only thing that matters is money.


Profit - rather the Willingness to Pay - indicates the true preferences of society/individuals. While we may claim otherwise, at the end of the day, we sometimes value pleasure over health.

And if society truly cared about quality of life for the poorest/weakest, the market would re-align itself, and the direction of creativity would be self corrected.

I feel capitalism and profits are working just fine, we just don't want to admit what our true preferences are.


That's not quite accurate. Willingness to Pay indicates the true preferences of people who have money. If you try to take it as a metric of the preferences of society you will get the preferences of individuals weighted by their net worth.


It took me way too long to understand this. I blame the term "value," which in the common sense definition is not weighted according to wealth, but in the economic definition, is.

Fudging the distinction is a fantastically pernicious way to sneak the "capitalism is enlightened altruism" assumption into your argument.


That's not quite accurate, otherwise there wouldn't be a wide variety of things to choose with lower incomes.

You forget that the market responds to the total volume of buyers at various levels. There are a lot more people in the 0-150k bracket than the people in the 150k+ bracket and when you count the total spending in dollars by each category as a whole, the first group is significantly more powerful.

The most successful companies sell to the masses (McDonald's, Walmart, Google, Facebook). The rich have a much smaller influence on the market than you would like to think.


The rich surely have influence in proportion to the total amount of wealth that they have. Wealth is unevenly distributed enough (a quick google says top 1% have control of 38% of wealth) for this to be a significant skewing factor away from an ideal market.


That seems to be exactly what Barraketh is saying, "the preferences of individuals weighted by their net worth"

The preferences of rich _individuals_ have a much higher influence than those of poor individuals.


If that was true we would have tons of restaurants serving caviar and foie gras and very few serving fast food.


If there were a basic income, this would be true.

In the absence of a basic income, willingness to pay represents the true preferences of "people close to the source of money creation", not people or societies in general.

When some parties can conjure money out of thin air, this idea that prices reflect what people want simply doesn't work. The prices begin to reflect, more and more, the desires of people with the ability to manufacture money.

What you seem to be saying is "if the large number of poor people in the world cared about _their own quality of life, they would have it".


The influence may not all be equal, but at least in the developed world, for the sake of a contrived example - the number of people who can choose to spend $2-5 on a coffee vs a non ad-supported app is pretty high - and unfortunately, people seem to be choosing the coffee most of the time.

> What you seem to be saying is "if the large number of poor people in the world cared about _their own quality of life, they would have it".

Definitely not - but what I won't mind saying is - if the large number of middle class people in the developed world cared about the poor people, the living condition of poor people would significantly improve.


"Society" is a construct greater than the sum of its components. Individually we may not care, but the society cares. The market is also a construct greater than the addition of individual choices, it doesn't behave to the benefits of all who partake in it, it behaves to the benefit to those in power [who have the greatest spending power].

"Working just fine" is a moral judgment you're making, which would be "just fine" in an amoral society (this being a contradiction proving that "morality" exists, "amorality" being one of its possible states).


Hmmm, while bigger patterns might emerge in a connected network, it is still driven by individual choices and actions. Emergent behavior still depends on individual choices.

I do agree that it might be skewed. But I believe there is a sufficiently large middle class that can still drive creativity in the right places if it was so inclined.


The title of the article should really get rid of "tech". This is an inherent feature(or bug depending on perspective) of a capitalistic system wherein companies are designed for profit and will target markets where there is more potential profit.

This is true of many other industries, not just tech, although tech has been capturing much of the interest and ire of not being different. Any time a company accepts outside money, they have a fiduciary duty to build their business in a manner that will lead to the highest return - "maximizing shareholder value."

Now, this is not inherently bad to maximize value as we have seen the largest growth the world has ever seen (not just at the top end, but for the poor as well) because of the innovation and creativity that has occurred due to chasing profits.

Maybe I'm cynical, but I really don't think tech companies truly are in a "quest to change the world" unless you believe every word spoken at demo day. Should be retitled: "Companies are using creativity to chase profits" because that is what they are doing and is what they should be doing in the current economic system.

I completely agree that incentives and structures should be changed to dramatically reduce the income and wealth disparities. The struggle is the will to voluntarily forego profits.


This reminds me of one laptop per child and this is similarly misguided. Poor people don’t want this and can’t make much use of it.

What poor people want is clean water, a stable source of food, security, health care, honest government, etc, etc. They’ll be happy to have a cell phone, but it’s not going to change their life.

The problem of poverty isn’t the result of lack of access to information.


The successful people I've talked to who came from poverty would disagree. They all have stories of some specific program that gave them some additional tools to help educate them, inspire them, and give them the ability and drive to lift themselves out of their original situation. Now, these individuals almost universally are putting at least some of their energy back into similar programs to help others. So no, giving out laptops won't magically eliminate poverty... but it might create the person who devises the solution that does.


I know this is all anecdotal so my input is ultimately useless and not applicable to society at large, but I grew up poor and am now "successful" (by conventional standards).

There was no specific program that inspired me or gave me a leg up - what worked was the fact that my parents were strict and absolute hard-asses who didn't put up with any of my bullshit growing up. I resented them for a long time, but have come to see that they were mostly right.

But hey, you may very well be correct in that a social program works for others.


Having access to information is vital if you want to do modern farming and need to know about the weather, droughts and seasonal patterns. And you need to know market prices for your products and be able to contact fair-trade organisations.

Also if you have to walk 20 kilometers for the nearest doctor, you want to make sure that the doctor is in today. Same with water, supplies and food.


> They'll be happy to have a cell phone, but it's not going to change their life.

I would like to disagree on that. Obviously a phone is less important than food and water but when it comes to everything else it is quite a basic component of modern life in all countries/social settings.

A phone is essential to communication, gathering information and education. It is also not prohibitively expensive for the value that it brings.


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I'm not asking you to reveal your age, but this sounds like an age related thing. In the US, most people grew up without phones. People can still do fine without a phone. However the access to information and ability to be contacted will make life much, much easier.

A working phone number is an invaluable thing to have when looking for work.


Most people did not grow up without phones. I know it's a bit pedantic, but people grew up without SMART phones. Most people on this website and I'd say most people successful under 35 grew up with access to the internet, though.


I don't think it's pedantic to point it out. It is what I meant, but I think it is a very important distinction. I thought GP meant smart phone, but they could have meant a landline as well.


I'm guessing you also grew up with a TV with local news, libraries, 12 years of schooling, plenty of drinkable water, grocery stores you could walk to that were plentiful and affordable, farmers who've been using modern farming techniques for decades and felt just as safe as you, had dialup, electricity in your home, no civil wars, no warlords, no constant raids by gangs. When cell phones first came into my life, you could pay $50/month for the cheapest privilege to make phone calls (that I wasn't going to use). The most useful things about them was you could pay $20/month extra for unlimited texting.

But a cellphone to many of them is their first affordable full-time internet access. They could use this to give their children half the childhood you were privileged with.


It's pretty unusual to grow up without access to a telephone.

I don't think that the fact that you did it is proof that the communication revolution enabling instantaneous communication over distance didn't change the world or that not having that ability doesn't negatively impact someone's ability to make money or have a fulfilling social life.


I thought the one laptop per child program was for people that have clean water, access to food, etc... It wasn't targeted towards to poorest people, was it?


GREAT article. It definitely reflects the current state of society, and most important, people. Selfishness is the standard, money is our god. We need to open our eyes and start acting, otherwise the results will keep being the same and nothing will change.

Capitalism should be reformed and a new economic system - based on sharing economy, but in the real sense - should arise.


> It is interesting to note that new technology products are never launched in the poor segment of the market and then gradually adapted to higher-level markets

Inclined to disagree. Plenty of wealthy people see the "market potential" of starting in poorer places (cough Africa) and 'locking up' marketshare.

hell, zuckerberg and others tried pushing through the precedent of zero-rated internet for proprietary services in india and other countries as a way to lock up precedent for when they'd bring the same tech to america. (Not that the latter has needed any help being complacent with zero rating - apparently india beat us on that front)


Technology is already changing the world in the way he wants and profit is only part of the reason, but still an important part. Many people have, for non-profit and profit reasons, attempted to fix the issues of computers not being wide spread or fix connectivity problems in developing countries.

The two groups that seem most likely to solve the connectivity problem(s) have profit incentives behind it: Facebook and Google.

There are almost certainly others as well.


> The more we advance in technology, improve our infrastructure, spread globalization, and bring efficiency to the economic system, the more intensely global corporations focus their strategies on competing to serve the wealthiest and the middle class

A question: is it actually true that these things are correlated? I don't know, but on the surface of it, it's not clear to me that they are.


"But statistics show that we only consume a fraction of what is actually available online."

"In practical terms, it is actually possible to take all of the images and data from every website the average person visits in a lifetime, compress them, and fit them onto a single 2-terabyte (TB) hard drive inside a computer."

These are among the many "unspoken truths" of the web, viz. that right now on your person or nearby you have enough storage space to hold every bit of information you will ever need in your lifetime.

I would like to see the statistics.

Obviously, companies like Google are not going to embrace truths like these.

When a user can search a database of downloaded data ("data dump") locally, even without a connection, how would a search engine track the user's queries?

Right now, public information, from academic research to user-generated content, is being hoarded by a few companies and used to collect information about those who wish to access it, which is then used to sell ads.

This is a relatively recent phenomenon and is not necessary.

This is supposed to be the Information Age. We can all access public information in large quantities at high speeds without constant monitoring in the name of pillaging advertising budgets.

While it may not be possible to save every piece of information one needs in advance, certainly much of the piecemeal access to static data that we do today could be averted. (Personally I have been doing this with DNS data for many years, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.)

Why is piecemeal access something anyone would want to avert? Matters of cost, reliablity and inefficiency aside, it is piecemeal access, one query at a time, each and every one traveling over a insecure network, logged and analyzed 24/7 by myriad third parties all desperate for cash, that gives rise to memes like "You are the product".

It is the gratuitous use of an insecure, invasively monitored network to query information which could be stored locally that is the root cause for many of the complaints that internet users have today. This type of use enables the practices by third parties that users complain about.


Greed and war has always been the best motivators.


Capitalism is an economic system and an ideology based on private ownership of the means of production and their operation for profit. You want creativity? Leave capitalism.


> Capitalism is an economic system and an ideology

That's the problem right there: Capitalism has proven to be excellent at organising an economy. It's excellent! It works with human nature. The largest problems automatically provide the largest reward for solving! It locates decisions at the lowest possible level!

The problem is when people use it as an ideology, i. e. as an end to itself. Intellectual property, for example, with its zero marginal costs, isn't as good a fit for capitalism as wheat: When you're charging $10 for a movie, many people will not watch it because it's only worth $5 to them. That's an inefficiency as glaring as communism ever produced, because it is value lost as a tribute to keeping the structure intact, even though no work would be required for it at all.

There are many more inefficiencies of capitalism that we conveniently ignore. The complete finance sector is nothing but the bureaucracy needed to organise capitalism. Competition is a great method to get better results, but it also involves a lot of duplicated efforts. Advertisement is–and this is the usual argument of people defending it-neccessary for the functioning of capitalism because it spreads information the market needs. The inequality needed to serve as motivation breeds unhappiness and crime.

These aren't arguments to abandon capitalism, because it quite obviously is the best system we've found so far. But that shouldn't preclude us from trying alternatives, especially in niches that are so different that the outcomes may be different from the traditional production of physical goods.


I don't think you described capitalism as an ideology. You seem to simply be talking about inefficiencies in capitalist execution.

Capitalism as ideology is a bit different. For example, if someone is rich, they are higher status, but not only that - they are assumed to have innate characteristics that make them better, such as discipline and intelligence. We've created, and this predates capitalism and allowed for its spread, a social system that equates wealth with social power.

That's a part of capitalism as an ideology. Another part is that people automatically view things in terms of cost. They weigh choices in monetary terms, as opposed to social, moral or physical.

I disagree with your example of capitalist inefficiency, as well - you've chosen a price equilibrium inefficiency but you're using that example to illustrate that a product is ill-suited for capitalism. It isn't; if the movie was priced correctly, the inefficiency would disappear. Plus, as you pointed out, there are negligible costs for distribution (it's not really zero, but who cares) so profits on a product like that would be significant. That seems to me to be a better product for capitalist exploitation than wheat.


> I don't think you described capitalism as an ideology

I wasn't trying to. I was saying that it works well as a means of organisation, before pointing out its weaknesses. Ideology is when you ignore those weaknesses, and try to shoehorn everything within the framework of capitalism.

> If the movie was priced correctly, the inefficiency would disappear

The problem is that it's hard to price it efficiently, because the value is different for different people. You can try price-separation, i. e. by geography, or the cascade of movie theatre to download to broadcast TV. But there's still a loss of welfare. As another example: I will never pay for a subscription to the WSJ, or to Adobe Creative Cloud, or to NGINX Plus. But my life would be marginally better if I had access to these products. And the only reason I don't is because there's no way to allow people like me access, without also allowing those free access that are currently paying.


Ideology isn't when you ignore something's weaknesses and shoehorn everything within its framework. Blind adherence to an ideology can cause that, but it's not what the word means.


>The largest problems automatically provide the largest reward for solving!

Is global warming a large problem? Because it would seem the destruction of the environment is highly profitable under the current system.


No. That's a side-effect of a highly profitable market. Subtle but important difference.


The OP said the largest problems get the highest reward. Not markets.

What is a more important problem, having a environment to live in, or being able to use fossil fuels?


Capitalism works well with, and propagates some aspects of human nature (whatever that is).

Due to our evolutionary past, humans are more focused on the physically nearby, the present and very near future, so capitalism fails when we have longterm wide-scale problems to solve, like climate change.


> The largest problems automatically provide the largest reward for solving!

In principle yes, but there are ways to game the system. Marketing is very good at creating false problems and aim consumers at them. Many of the things we work at are pretty much useless.


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We've banned this account for repeatedly violating the guidelines.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


Communism is not the only alternative to Capitalism. Also it is worth to discuss whether a self-described communist system was truly communist.


Also, pure communism, enlightened despotism and all other political ideologies that require top-down control, seem to all have the same failure mode. The violence is a side effect of the authoritarianism, not the economic model (I think). More democratic societies have fewer and less lethal political purges. I don't know what a fully democratic pure communist system would look like but I'd be very interested in seeing how it played out.


Maybe it can't exist as long as there are those who seek the aggrandizement which leads to a consolidation of power. If you have a state that owns everything, there will be people that will abuse such authority. Could there be a communist economic model alongside a multi-party state model?


Communism Light, all that great communism flavor with less murder (so far)


Please stop trolling.


Creativity for its own sake isn't better as a model for society than profit.

Furthermore having the richest pay for development of new technologies which are then later on distributed to the poorer is in my view the right direction it basically indirectly taxes the rich first.

Tesla would never have been successful if they started with cars for everyone. The fact that they made it a desirable item, to begin with, worked to their advantage. A better place is an example of the wrong strategy.

To me, this reads more like a PR piece than anything else.




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