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Who Strikes Fear into Silicon Valley? Margrethe Vestager (nytimes.com)
63 points by imartin2k 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 35 comments

I wonder if there will ever come a time when the biggest danger to SV from Europe is competitors, rather than regulators.

It may be that competitors can't become more of a threat till regulators become less of one. It's hard for a society to focus simultaneously on multiple things, and regulation and startups seem not merely orthogonal, but opposed.

There's a big difference between regulation that affects all players fairly and equally (like safety codes requiring buildings be built to certain specs, requiring insurance, food labeling laws, etc.), and regulation like antitrust which affects only select companies that are successful and meet unpublished post-facto and mostly arbitrary criteria.

Antitrust and competition regulation is built entirely on arbitrary quantitative definitions of competition rather than reasoned and objective qualitative definitions of competition.

There's a big difference between qualitative and quantitative definitions of competition. Anyone is free to compete with Google (qualitative), while Google dominates search with ~90% market share (quantitative). Even if they had 100% market share, they still exist in a qualitatively competitive market. But antitrust and competition regulation isn't concerned with that, and we've heard calls by EU regulators to break up Google based on their market share. Same with Facebook.

A few years back i looked into some European tech news to counterbalance all the hype from the valley.

What i recall finding was that European tech focused more on helping the sick and elderly (or at least that was what got coverage).

Things like garbage bins that would move to the curb on its own when full.

Is she the one to blame for those silly cookie warnings all over the internet?

No, Vestager left danish politics in 2014 to serve as European Commissioner for Competition. The EU cookie law was adopted in 2011.

The EU has the most to fear from Margrethe Vestager. At a time when the US and China are accelerating rapidly out ahead of the EU in tech, her policy approach adds up to regressive protectionism that will do nothing but further cripple the EU's tech industries (which are already 10 to 20 years behind the US).

Margrethe Vestager is doing the US a favor by breaking the leg of the EU as a competitor. If the US were more clever, it would poach all of the EU's best engineers and scientists, paying them 2x what they can ever earn in the EU and stapling a green card to a welcome note.

For the US, now is the time to take advantage of the EU's policies to drain as much talent out of Europe as possible. That goes for Russia as well, which is loaded with talented engineers and scientists that are being entirely wasted in Putin's authoritarian nightmare featuring zero economic progress.

An average engineer that I employ in the public sector is paid $86544 a year with a yearly pension of $12981 added on top of this.

They get 7 weeks paid vacation a year.

Stuff like New Years, January first, Easter and Christmas as well as a range of other national holidays is considered paid leave.

They get paid sick leave with no questions asked for the first 3 days, then a follow up on day 3 and 7 and an actual meeting on day 14.

They get paid leave on their child’s first two sick days, per child.

If they have children under 3 they get 2-4 days of paid leave a year per child to spend quality time with them.

If they are older than 55-60 they get a suited amount of time off each year ranging from 4 days a year to one day each week. At 4 days it’s paid leave, at one day a week they are only paid for a 34 hour week (down from 37).

They work 37 hour weeks. Have flexible hours and can to work from home when it fits their schedule.

They get $4000 worth of paid education a year + paid days to actually take it. The $4000 doesn’t sound like that much, but it’s enough to cover 2 university courses of around 20 ECTS.

Good luck attracting them. :)

It's not like that in every region of Europe. Though that is what I would expect getting in Oslo, Norway.

The region I'm from publishes it's figures. The best engineers (or at least the ones making the most new science) are assistants at university. Their pay is published, and public (this is North West Europe)

Starts at 23k5 EUR, goes up to 40k EUR per year, if you keep it up for 20+ years (note: it is only this "high" if you're on a full time scholarship. The average, even though the universities hide this fact, is 20% or so lower, mostly because there's more than a few that "aren't full time". In reality not working full time as an assistant is a stupid piece of fiction: that simply does not happen, although it is true that you really do have much flexibility if you do well)

Engineers in public service make around 30% more in theory, but pay more taxes. In reality they make the same amount of money.

If you get promoted to professor, you start at 40k, tops out at 70k. You can make more, but not spectacularly more, by becoming a university administrator.

In Silicon valley, pay for someone who knows javascript starts at 95k USD (75k EUR, 5% more than a university administrator with 20+ years of experience), and tops out at 5x that. Needless to say, if you can be a university professor, you are very likely to be a great engineer, you should be able to quickly make it to 300k pay, but even if you don't, you're still making a lot more.

Good luck retaining these people. One of the leading AI researchers, Pieter Abbeel, is one of the people who seems to have made the choice not to be retained.

I also have lots of anecdotal evidence that seems to indicate this is in fact what is happening. The brain drain from Europe is once again at or exceeding what it was in 2000: people are getting whisked away before they even graduate, and it's once again getting ridiculous : people get whisked away even before the last year.

It’s on the very high end even for Norway for engineers.

Which European country are you referring to?

I’m Danish, but it’s like this in all of Scandinavia. Most of Western Europe offer great benefits though. That’s part of Macrons problem in France, because they haven’t managed to reform their institutions and it’s really hard to have a functional economy when everyone is off on paid leave. ;p

The pay is also for actual engineers with a candidate degree. It’s around $40000-$50000 + a 15% pension if your education is only academy or bachelor level.

"I’m Danish, but it’s like this in all of Scandinavia"

Here in Finland the figure you referred (86k$) would be equivalent to director level pay in the public side. An engineer with the package you described would be above average in compensation here. We get 4 to 6 weeks of paid vacation.

The average wage in software engineering here is around 40k$ - 57k$ (i.e more or less what you referred). In software engineering, depending on the employer, the degree does not necessarily affect compensation though. Top of the line engineers are well compensated (in the Finnish scale) regardless of their degree.

Of course, Finland is not strictly geographically speaking part of Scandinavia (although it is a nordic country) :)

I wasn’t counting Finland, but that was rude of me and I apologize. Finland is certainly part of Scandinavia!

Norway and Sweden are the same.

In fact most people I know in Denmark don’t break the €55k (converted from DKK) salary, experience also has very little effect on your salary so you aren’t going to double or more your salary over the life time of your career.

You also forget to mention the tax rate you pay.

“Vestager has been a professional politician since the age of 21”

This is kind of sad. A little for Europe, but mostly for her.


Most our top politicians (I’m Danish) are career politicians. They typically get a candidate in law or political science at the university and then get into national politics where they do little else until they are done with politics if ever.

It’s much more of a trade or a career in Scandinavia than it is in America. If you’re building a space program, you hire engineers. If you’re leading a country you hire people who know law, economics and political science.

Aside from that the road to the top in Europe is a little different than it is to the top of America. You need to be actually great at the political craft because you can’t just buy your way up.

Vestager is so great at the craft that even though she’s in the opposition to the three parties that currently lead our country, they still appointed her. Possible because they fear her return to national politics, but more likely because she’s actually that good.

Vestager is an extremely skilled politician and I'm certain she's not sad about the situation. Denmark and Europe (and to some degree, the US) have certainly benefitted from her work.

It's not sad that she has chosen to apply her many skills in something she's passionate about and good at.

So her whole career is based off of playing different people against each other and pandering to whomever holds the most power?

I don't think it's any better than an American politician but still a far cry from those who felt that politicians should serve their communities for a few years and then go back to an actual career.

> So her whole career is based off of playing different people against each other and pandering to whomever holds the most power?

That's a very loaded and negative way to portray a career politician, but more importantly it's also completely unsubstantiated -- how is this relevant to Vestager?

For instance, why do you use the word "pander" to describe her work? Pander means to "gratify or indulge (an immoral or distasteful desire, need, or habit or a person with such a desire, etc.)". I think that sort of language should be used carefully, and at the very least it should be substantiated in terms of how it relates to the person you're talking about.

I've followed Vestager's career for over 15 years, and I don't think your characterization of her work is accurate at all. You might be able to clarify why you describe her that way, and that seems to be necessary for a substantive discussion on this.

> I don't think it's any better than an American politician

There are great American politicians for sure, but one thing I would note here is that there are significant differences in public trust and corruption levels between the US and Denmark (where Vestager has spent the vast majority of her public life). There's a high level of accountability, public scrutiny and public interest in how politicians work, and corruption is very low [0].

I think this plays a role in terms of how "good" the politicians are "on average" in a country, and to what degree they can be trusted.

[0] Corruption is obviously hard to quantify, but one way to measure/approximate it is the Corruption Perceptions Index [0] where "Denmark is the least corrupt country in the world, ranking consistently high among international financial transparency", and the U.S. ranked 18th in 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corruption_Perceptions_Index

If you view the "Athenian" version of democracy as the purest form, career politicians (aka, the political class), should not exist. But in theory, it did exists in antique Greece and even more so later in the Roman Republic.

Career politicians create the "political class" which eventually over time becomes a corrupted class.

What the OP meant, is that a country is best served by normal citizens, or specialist (in their industry), helping out, getting elected, serving their term, and moving on with their private lifes, then people that pursue politics for the politics sake. They will/tend to create dramma, even when it is not there.

"Political class, or political elite is a concept in comparative political science originally developed by Italian political theorist theory of Gaetano Mosca (1858–1941). ... Elected legislatures may become dominated by subject-matter specialists, aided by permanent staffs, who become a political class."


Sure, but the commenters I've responded to have in my opinion failed to explain how the issues related to political elites etc are relevant specifically in the context of Vestager's battles with major tech companies. It reads a lot more like unsubstantiated smearing and hand-waving.

I personally don't think that the battles Vestager/the EC are picking are out of touch with the competition and antitrust challenges faced by the EU, US and world as a whole. It'd be interesting if someone could explain how Vestager's extensive political career disqualifies her. In fact, it's worth considering that it might be exactly what qualifies her / has made her more effective than her predecessors (and US counterparts); perhaps this level of political and regulatory experience is necessary in order play a meaningful role, and protect the interests of the people she and the EU represents?

By the way, I don't think the Athenian version of democracy is particularly relevant here (or most discussions about modern democracies for that matter). Governing a very small 5th century BC city is completely different from governing regions comprising hundreds of millions of people in societies that are vastly more developed and complex.

The Athenian model wasn't exactly developed to address the challenges that we're facing today - although some ideas, such as how long a politician should serve, can still have value. That does however at best seem like a tangential discussion with little significance in the context of this article.

If she isn't in a generally elected role I suppose she hasn't had to gratify or indulge the needs of any voting bloc or compromise her principals to appeal to needed voters. Good for her and my apologies for using a word that triggered such a strong reaction for you.

My point was not to attack her but the entire concept of a political class as described by other commenters. It's likely very different in Europe but having a ruling class is seen as more distasteful when looked at from the viewpoint of the founding principals of the US. E.g the New Hampshire state legislature has a salary of $100/year which would make being nothing but a professional politician rather difficult. I believe one of the other responses better summed up the historical viewpoints.


Some people believe that entering politics "dirties" a person since some politicians are corrupt or self serving. People like that tend to believe that private enterprise is somehow more wholesome or honorable.

That's quite clearly not the only reason (and I'm be surprised if it was the majority reason in Europe) that people object to "career" politicians.

The other, reason I've heard is that people who have not worked in industry (at any level) do not have real world experience required to guide policy effectively, and means they are out of touch with voters in general.

Guiding policy is a rather small part of being a politician and usually something (at least in the US) that is dealt with partially by aides. Being a politician in a democracy is about winning elections and forming consensus in democratic bodies once elected. Being in industry doesn't necessarily prepare one to have those skills - example left to the reader.

Which is mighty hilarious, in 2018 :)


It's European politics. In Western Europe, there are career politicians who actually fight for the common people and get good things done.

Vestager is an extremely skilled politician, but she is also extremely ambitious. She is leveraging a crusade against American tech companies to try and vault into the EU President's office. Vestager is very slick and talks a great game about protecting competition but this is just a thinly veiled attempt to raise populist support for her own political ambitions and implement protectionist policies across the EU.

It's too bad the US doesn't have someone like Vestagar at the FTC, too.

The FTC almost never seems to use anti-trust laws anymore, and when it punishes companies it's more of a symbolical punishment than an actual deterrence. And that's when it doesn't settle with the wrongdoers, where they don't even have to admit any wrong or stop what they've been doing in the future.

Not sure why this is currently being downvoted, the U.S. does seem to be relatively less effective at enforcing anti-trust laws. That's hurting American companies as well and one example of it is included in the article:

“Europe is acting to enforce antitrust laws where the U.S. is not,” said Jeremy Stoppelman, the chief executive of Yelp, who feels that American regulators dropped the ball when they decided not to pursue a case against Google in 2013 (Yelp is a longtime Google antagonist). “Ironically, many of the complainants in the E.U. antitrust case against Google are U.S. companies, pursuing justice in Europe precisely because the U.S., has not acted,” he said in an email.

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