A new study has found that Silicon Valley tech elites are mostly liberal, except they don’t like government regulations. Nor unions.
Why should we care? The study’s authors – a couple of Stanford political science professors and a journalist – make the case that tech entrepreneurs and executives are poised to wield political power like never before.
That’s because these tech elites are wealthy, employ millions of Americans and own the technology and platforms that we’ve all become dependent on.
“Insofar as technology entrepreneurs continue to attain greater economic success, they may gain power within and boost the fortunes of the Democratic Party, thus potentially serving as an unexpected source of support for liberal policies in many domains,” the authors of the study – deemed the first of its kind – write.
“At the same time, technology entrepreneurs’ hostility to government regulation, especially of labour markets, and their extremely negative views towards unions appear likely to lead to high-profile conflicts within the Democratic Party coalition going forward.”
The study’s main conclusions may not come as a surprise to many tech-industry observers: Companies such as Uber have tended to have run-ins with regulators because they act first and ask permission (if at all) later; Tesla has been accused of being anti-union; the many tech companies involved in developing self-driving technology are holding their noses as they push for quicker action on federal guidelines.
On the other hand, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, LinkedIn chairman Reid Hoffman and others have given their moral and financial support to causes that are traditionally aligned with Democrats, as well as their opposition to President Trump.
A fresh example: Microsoft President Brad Smith has declared that the company will defend “Dreamer” employees in the wake of the Trump administration’s announcement Tuesday that it will kill the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. This means Microsoft would pay for legal costs if Dreamers – undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children – were to be threatened with deportation, Smith said.
Other social and economic-equity issues that the tech industry has backed include transgender rights, gay marriage, net neutrality and diversifying the workforce. Some execs have championed a universal basic income.
But the industry’s other practices, such as using low-paid contractors to clean its massive, gleaming campuses and to shuttle employees around, run counter to its professed support of economic equality.
Also, the National Labour Relations Board recently ordered Tesla to respond to worker complaints that the Silicon Valley electric-car maker restricts its workers from talking about work and safety issues. And the Labour Department has accused Google of a massive gender gap in pay.
Then there’s the recent New York Times opinion piece titled “In Silicon Valley, Working 9 to 5 is for Losers” which explored tech industry workaholism. It’s become so bad that there’s a backlash, complete with books that seek to change the culture.
Yet, the Stanford study found that “technology elites generally favour policies that would increase economic, social, and global equality. They express similar attitudes on taxation and redistribution as existing constituencies in the Democratic Party.”
But their feelings about unions veer away from other Democrats, the study shows: “74% of technology entrepreneurs say they would like to see labour unions’ influence decrease, versus only 18% of Democratic donors and 33% of Democratic citizens.”
A perfect example of the study’s paradoxical conclusions may be the political efforts of Sam Altman, president of tech incubator Y Combinator. He launched over the summer a campaign to back California political candidates, saying “I want to help candidates who believe in creating prosperity through technology, economic fairness, and maintaining personal liberty.”
The Stanford study’s findings are based on a survey conducted the last week of February, and involved nearly 700 tech executives who responded out of the few thousand who were approached. They are millionaires and founded/run a company with at least 100 employees.
The study was conducted by Stanford’s David Broockman, assistant professor of political economy, Neil Malhotra, political science professor, and journalist Greg Ferenstein.
The study is being peer reviewed and was presented last week to the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, according to the New York Times. — San Jose Mercury News/Tribune News Service