Thanks to venture capitalist Fred Wilson, a backer of hip tech companies like Twitter and Tumblr, there's a new catch phrase to describe Silicon Valley politics: "Obamacare scares me." That's what Wilson wrote in this post, "The Far Center Party," where he discusses his inability to fit in with our current political parties and praised New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "I am socially liberal. I was thrilled when Obama recognized a gay couple's right to marriage. I am fiscally conservative. Obamacare scares me," he writes. "I am not really comfortable in any political party." His comment has had quite the polarizing effect on Twitter, eliciting mocking responses like this from New York Times developer Matt Langer. "LOL @ Every Single Word Of This," he tweeted. But, there's a good amount of people hear-hearing Wilson. "Agree 100% with @fredwilson. The Far Center Party," tweeted Darren Herman, a Silicon Valley ad guy, demonstrating the tech world's particular breed of libertarianism.
Wilson has a lot of money, so it makes sense that he calls himself a fiscal conservative. But the Obamacare comment reveals a more complex version of libertarianism, embodied by PayPal founder and Silicon Valley investor extraordinaire Peter Thiel -- a "libertarian futurism" as George Packer described it in The New Yorker. Packer highlights the following quote from Thiel's essay 'The Education of a Libertarian,' which sums up the contradictory position of these Silicon Valley libertarians.
In our time, the great task for libertarians is to find an escape from politics in all its forms—from the totalitarian and fundamentalist catastrophes to the unthinking demos that guides so-called ‘social democracy.’ . . . We are in a deadly race between politics and technology. . . . The fate of our world may depend on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism.
Like Thiel, Wilson calls for an escape. "Our country is hostage to the two political parties who control our electoral process. Those of us in the Far Center Party should figure out how to change that," he writes. Though he doesn't call for a complete removal from American politics, like Thiel he believes American politics have failed. Thiel traces that failure back to 1920 -- the beginning of the American welfare state. He continues:
The 1920s were the last decade in American history during which one could be genuinely optimistic about politics. Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women—two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians—have rendered the notion of “capitalist democracy” into an oxymoron.
Although it doesn't come off quite as offensive, Wilson is having this same realization with Obamacare, also a "vast increase in welfare beneficiaries." Obamacare is the marriage of his opposing liberal and conservative political values, to him, an oxymoron.
The rich of Silicon Valley have found themselves in a political predicament: They want to make the world a better (more progressive) place, but they think technology (a.k.a their businesses) should be the ones to do it -- not government. That doesn't fit well with the current political structure, neither the social nor economic policies. Politics is broken, they say, so let's abstain. Although it might sound like a particularly depressing political theory -- This isn't working, let's just ignore it -- Thiel hasn't lost all hope, he explains to Packer.
I actually think it is a big step just to ask the question ‘What does one need to do to make the U.S. a better place?’ That’s where I’m weirdly hopeful, in spite of the fact that a lot of things aren’t going perfectly these days. There is a very cathartic crisis that’s gone on, and it’s not clear where it’s going to go. But at least everyone knows things are rotten. We’re in a much better place than when things were rotten and everyone thought things were great.