Twitter Is So Hopelessly White Its Only Black Engineering Boss Just Quit in Protest

Twitter Is So Hopelessly White Its Only Black Engineering Boss Just Quit in Protest

Leslie Miley was “the only African-American in [engineering] leadership” at Twitter, a company that employs thousands, and owes much of its success to adoption by non-white users. Then he quit, as he explains in a new blog post, because the company is absolutely brain-dead on race.

Despite repeated “commitments” “to” “improving” “diversity,” Twitter remains as lily white as the day it was founded by a cabal of white people. According to Miley’s account, it’s because everyone inside either doesn’t really give a shit about diversity in hiring, or is too clueless to be helpful:

There were also the Hiring Committee meetings that became contentious when I advocated for diverse candidates. Candidates who were dinged for not being fast enough to solve problems, not having internships at ‘strong’ companies and who took too long to finish their degree. Only after hours of lobbying would they be hired. Needless to say, the majority of them performed well.

Especially painful is this quote by Twitter’s (white) Senior VP of Engineering:

Personally, a particularly low moment was having my question about what specific steps Twitter engineering was taking to increase diversity answered by the Sr. VP of Eng at the quarterly Engineering Leadership meeting. When he responded with “diversity is important, but we can’t lower the bar.” I then realized I was the only African-American in Eng leadership.

In other words, hiring more black leaders at Twitter would require Twitter to “lower the bar” on talent and ability, which is absurd.

Miley also says the few black employees at Twitter often felt like they’d been forgotten:

Twitter sponsored an event celebrating the work of Freada Kapor Klein and the Level Playing Field Institute. The former Head of the NAACP, Ben Jealous was a featured speaker. This event was attended by many a variety of leaders in tech representing a broad cross section of races, genders, and backgrounds. However, the employee resource group representing Twitter’s black employees (@blackbirds) did not receive an invitation.

And in June of 2015, Jesse Jackson was allowed to present at the Twitter shareholder meeting. Again, there was no communication to Twitter’s black employee resource group. In comparison, when Hillary Clinton and Mellody Hobson visited, the Twitter Women Engineering resource group was notified and given an opportunity to meet privately.

When Twitter did make an effort to find non-white talent, it derailed itself by taking a painfully dense data-centric approach, rather than just trying to act like humans. It’s Silicon Valley to a dumbass T:

As we continued the discussion, he suggested I create a tool to analyze candidates last names to classify their ethnicity. His rationale was to track candidates thru the pipeline to understand where they were falling out. He made the argument that the last name Nguyen, for example, has an extremely high likelihood of being Vietnamese. As an engineer, I understand this suggestion and why it may seem logical. However, classifying ethnicity’s by name is problematic as evidenced by my name (Leslie Miley) What I also found disconcerting is this otherwise highly sophisticated thinker could posit that an issue this complex could be addressed by name analysis.

Miley laments that now that he’s gone, “Twitter no longer has any managers, directors, or VP’s of color in engineering or product management.” This doesn’t sound good for the chances of including people who don’t look like Jack Dorsey.

Contact the author at

From Shanghai to New York, the rent is too damn high

By Jerome Roos On October 28, 2015

Post image for From Shanghai to New York, the rent is too damn high

Fueled by years of record-low interest rates, a new housing crisis is rearing its head from London to L.A. This time, however, it will not go uncontested.

This article was originally written for teleSUR English. Photo: a protest for increased corporate taxes and affordable housing in San Francisco.

Capitalism is a strange beast. Though incredibly resilient in the face of systemic crises and remarkably adaptive to ever-changing conditions, it never truly overcomes its structural contradictions. As the Marxist geographer David Harvey often points out, it merely displaces them in space and time.

The global financial crisis of 2008-’09 has been no exception in this regard. In fact, the very response to that calamity has already laid the foundations for the next big crisis. And just like its immediate predecessor, it looks like this one will be centered, at least in part, on a massive speculative housing bubble.

Officials and investors may still be turning a blind eye, but the warning signs are flashing red everywhere. From Shanghai to San Francisco, from London to L.A., a wave of real-estate speculation is washing over the world, gentrifying popular neighborhoods, pushing housing prices and rents to historically unprecedented highs, and forcing low-income tenants out of their increasingly unaffordable homes. The result is widespread social displacement and deepening discontent.

Unlike the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-’08, which was centered on the complex packaging of risky loans to low-income households across the U.S., the new housing crisis is a product of real-estate speculation in the world’s major metropolitan areas. Take London, which according to the Financial Timesfinds itself confronted with “its biggest housing challenge since the Victorian era.” Residential property prices in the British capital have risen 44 percent since 2008, and are now well above their pre-crisis highs.

According to an analysis by the UK charity Shelter, there are currently only 43 homes in Greater London that could still be considered affordable to the average first-time buyer, pushing everyone but the richest of the rich into the rental market, where landlords are known to exact more than a pound of flesh in return for a roof and running water. In the majority of London boroughs, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is now over £1,000 per month. On average, Londoners spend about 60 percent of their income on rent.

A similar picture has emerged in New York, where property prices — in thewords of the BBC — “have gone turbo-ballistic, as global capital in search of a safe haven has rocketed in.” The average monthly rent in Manhattan now exceeds $3,800, even as half of New York’s urban population lives near or below the poverty line. As a gubernatorial candidate for New York once aptly pointed out, “the rent is too damn high.”

Again, the unsurprising result has been widespread social displacement. Al Jazeera recently reported that “evictions [in New York] have reached epidemic proportions and created a new homeless crisis born out of an affordable housing shortage.” Other major cities like Boston and Los Angeles are not doing much better, as gentrification proceeds apace from coast to coast. Today, even the downtown area of derelict Detroit is rapidly gentrifying, while much of the city still languishes in a state of post-industrial decline.

It is San Francisco, however, that has emerged in recent years as the most paradigmatic case of unbridled gentrification. With median monthly rent hitting $3,530, the city has become the most expensive in the U.S. Desperate to get rid of old tenants who still enjoy rent controls and attract high-income professionals from the tech industry in their place, landlords have gone on an eviction spree: in the past five years, the eviction rate has soared more than 50 percent. Immigrant and working class neighborhoods like the Mission have been reduced to multi-million dollar playgrounds for the “bohemian bourgeois”, complete with snazzy coffee places and expensive vegan restaurants.

The urban sociologist Saskia Sassen has encapsulated the nature of this violent process in strikingly succinct terms: the social reality of financialized capitalism, she argues in her book Expulsions, is all about “systemic complexity producing simple brutality.” And as usual, those feeling the brunt of this brutality are the urban poor and marginalized communities, especially immigrants and people of color, who — along with artists and precarious youths — are increasingly being displaced from city centers towards the periphery.

It is not just cities in the advanced capitalist countries that have been undergoing this turbulent process of urban stratification: the major metropolitan areas of the Global South are firing on all cylinders as well — with the notable difference being that the bubble in emerging markets already appears to be in the process of popping, raising fears of a new international financial crisis centered on China, Brazil and Turkey, among others.

In China’s biggest cities, property prices shot up 60 percent between 2008 and 2014, with residential prices in Shanghai and Beijing rapidly closing in on those of London, Paris and New York. According the consultancy firm McKinsey, some$9 trillion — almost half of China’s total debt, excluding financial sector debt — “is directly or indirectly tied to real estate.” Price increases have exceeded the rise in income by 30 percent in Shanghai and by 80 percent in Beijing.

Other major cities that have been experiencing similar real-estate booms include São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where residential property prices in the most-desired neighborhoods doubled between 2008 and 2013, and Istanbul, along with the other big cities of Turkey, where a credit-fueled construction boom has accounted for 30 percent of GDP in the period since Erdogan’s AKP came to power on the heels of a previous financial crisis in 2002. Since 2007, property prices in Turkey have shot up 36 percent.

To be sure, the local specificities vary from place to place. In London, the housing crisis has been fueled at least in part by massive capital inflows from wealthy elites in countries like China, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, as well as the municipality’s failure to build adequate housing for the large influx of new inhabitants. In Barcelona, by contrast, it has been driven primarily by the tourism industry, while in San Francisco it is largely driven by the tech industry. In Rio, the process has been intensified by preparations for the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games, while widespread cronyism and corruption have been an important catalyst for the construction boom in Istanbul.

Yet for all differences between them, the gentrification processes and housing crises in each of these global cities share two crucial commonalities: first in their causes, and second in their consequences.

In terms of the underlying causes, the new housing crisis should be seen as a direct outcome of the response to the previous crisis, which was based on massive bank bailouts and central banks opening the floodgates of cheap credit. With the notable exception of the ECB, which only embarked on quantitative easing earlier this year, the world’s largest central banks dropped interest rates to historic lows, kept them there for years on end, and pumped trillions of dollars of fresh liquidity into the global financial system, effectively subsidizing private investors out of bankruptcy.

This unlimited flow of free money (for the 1% only, of course) produced a tide of surplus capital that had to be absorbed somewhere. With “secular stagnation” taking hold across the developed world, investors were still wary to direct this surplus towards the productive economy, where profit margins remained relatively low. And so, in their insatiable quest for yield, they turned to speculative investment in various asset classes instead: stocks, bonds — and, once again, real-estate. The profits were phenomenal. By 2012-’13, the resulting speculative boom had led U.S. corporate profits back to a new all-time high.

But now that the first signs of overheating have become apparent, we can already begin to identify the second crucial commonality between today’s urban housing crises; a commonality that sets the current crisis apart from the last one: in almost all of the major world cities today, ordinary citizens are already actively mobilizing and fighting back against processes of gentrification, dispossession and displacement, building innovative social movements and powerful political platforms in the process.

From urban insurrections to defend the last-remaining green space of Istanbul or the favelas and public transport system of Rio, to the local direct action of anti-gentrification activists targeting Google buses in the San Francisco Bay Area and reclaiming housing projects in London, it is already clear that the next major crisis, unlike the last one, will not go uncontested.

Of all the urban struggles that have ignited across the globe in recent years, the radically democratic municipal platforms of Spain are undoubtedly among the most advanced and the most promising. With the left-wing anti-eviction activist Ada Colau now holding the mayoralty of Barcelona, an important sign is being sent to the landlords, gentrifiers and real-estate speculators of the world: even in the deepest crises, there will be a limit to your capacity to evict us from our homes and destroy our cities — and that limit, ultimately, is us.

Jerome Roos is a PhD researcher in International Political Economy at the European University Institute, and founding editor of ROAR Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at @JeromeRoos.

The Dangers Ahead if Tech Unicorns Get Gored

Some venture capitalists are sounding the alarm about mega-startups and the terms under which these tech companies are financed

The pressure to join the “unicorn club” is enormous, in part because having a billion-dollar-plus valuation is a signal to potential new hires that yours is a company that is going somewhere.
The pressure to join the “unicorn club” is enormous, in part because having a billion-dollar-plus valuation is a signal to potential new hires that yours is a company that is going somewhere. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

If venture capitalists were as imaginative about what could go wrong in their industry as they are about what could go right, maybe we wouldn’t be in this situation.

“A lot of VCs might think about this privately, but they don’t talk about it publicly, because you’re sort of shooting yourself in the foot if you do,” says Rui Ma, an investor at 500 Startups, a global early-stage investment fund.

“This” is the state of the mega-startups, the privately held tech “unicorns” worth more than a billion dollars, and the terms under which they are financed. From the outside, everything looks great—at least 124 unicorns are, according to their backers, glowing with health, growing their revenue aggressively, if not their profits.

But with ever greater frequency and urgency, a chorus of the very same venture capitalists who are investing in these companies are sounding the alarm, declaring that many of them aren’t only worth less than their paper valuations, but some may cease to exist altogether. And while this tech “bubble” may be different than the one that popped in 2000 when many startups went public too early, what is at stake is much more than just billions of dollars in private equity.

That is because, while the unraveling of these privately held companies may not directly affect the stock market, I think we have so far underestimated the potential impact of an implosion of relatively large, extremely visible companies that are supposed to be the vanguard of our brave new tech economy.

Investors are herd animals, after all, and the same forces that are currently leading to what investors including Bill Gurley of Benchmark, Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital and Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures are calling irrational exuberance will lead to just as much flight to less risky investments when markets inevitably turn—and not just in tech.

So far most people—including me—have thought that the damage from a correction in pre-IPO tech companies would be fairly contained. But the complex financial machinations propping up some of these companies now have the potential to lead to a chain reaction of failures and pullbacks. The direct consequence would be the loss of thousands of highly compensated jobs, but the indirect consequences could include everything from trouble for commercial real-estate markets to problems even for publicly traded companies that are still in high growth mode and need a steady supply of investors willing to part with cash in order to follow through on their ambitions.

I used to think that it would take some kind of global economic shock to crash tech’s current valuation mania, but the more I talk to VCs, the more convinced I am that some of today’s largest startups will simply collapse on their own. One reason for this is simply that many of them are losing money on every transaction, writes Mr. Wilson, in hopes of building a “natural” monopoly in markets in which there may be no such thing.

The pressure to join the “unicorn club” is enormous, in part because having a billion-dollar-plus valuation is a signal to potential new hires that yours is a company that is going somewhere, says Ms. Ma. The problem with this logic is that raising more money is often, paradoxically, a bad thing.

As venture capitalist and Stanford Professor Heidi Roizen wrote in May of 2015, “Venture capital is not free money. It’s debt.” And owing to conditions put on that debt, we’re now at a point where, writes Ms. Roizen, for many startups the headline valuation of that company matters less than the terms put on that investment.

Those terms, or “liquidation preferences,” are written so as to guarantee that investors get their money back, and then some, even if the company doesn’t perform as promised. It is these terms that led Mr. Moritz to call many unicorns “subprime”—an analogy that works perfectly if you look at these investments as debt with usurious interest rates, as in the subprime housing crisis, rather than investments that happen to have fine print attached.

You might ask why startup founders and their boards aren’t warier of these terms. I think the answer is that the tech industry is currently in the grip of a powerful cultural phenomenon: the cult of the unicorn.

It manifests in a hundred ways large and small—over-the-top compensation, exploding prices for office space, startup founders prioritizing valuation above deal terms, and most disturbingly, an increasingly complicated menagerie of means by which financiers can convince startups to take on more debt.

What I worry about most in this climate isn’t the individual deals signed at questionable valuations and under potentially onerous terms, but the sum of all of these deals, and the unpredictable way they could all quickly unravel at once if companies are unable to go public, be acquired or continue through endless rounds of private financing.

Despite their fondness for playing them on Twitter, venture capitalists aren’t macroeconomists. And to those who seem to believe that the current state of affairs is sustainable, I would ask this: When in history has ever-increasing financial complexity, lack of transparency, perverse incentives and new ways to extend credit and increase leverage not eventually led to disaster?

Write to Christopher Mims at

Where Is Steve Jobs Buried?

Diehard Apple Fans Searching For Unmarked Grave Travel Thousands Of Miles

By @Jackie_Salo on October 20 2015 8:18 PM EDT
The grave of the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs is unmarked, and the cemetery has not revealed its location. But that hasn’t stopped fans from trying to find it. Pictured: Tributes to Jobs are left outside the Apple Store in London, Oct. 6, 2011. Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

Die-hard Apple fans have been known to go to great lengths in the name of the tech brand: Some camp out in lines days in advance to get their hands on the latest products. Others cling onto every word of the 2-hour unveiling event each year to show off new laptops, tablets and phones. And a few have made pilgrimages to Cupertino, California, where Apple Campus is headquartered.

But now there is a new way to show devotion to the Apple empire: Fans are traveling from all over the world in pursuit of the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ unmarked grave in Alta Mesa Memorial Park in Silicon Valley.

Jobs died in October 2011 and was buried in the 72-acre cemetery at a location that at his family’s request has not been revealed to the public, according to the San Jose Mercury News. For some of Jobs’ biggest fans, it has become a great treasure hunt, and they’re determined to find his final resting place.

“We had people wandering a lot around the cemetery with the claim they are going to find him,” cemetery general manager Marilyn Talbot told the Mercury News. “Good luck.”

Talbot said visitors hunting for his grave will come across a number of unmarked ones.

“It’s not a requirement to mark your grave,” she said. “Sometimes people don’t mark it for a certain length of time due to religious beliefs. Sometimes people want to think about it for a while. We tell people if they want to put an epitaph, to give it some time. Sometimes it grows to years before they put it on, but it’s hard to think about what to put on there.”

Biographer Walter Isaacson, who wrote “Steve Jobs,” said the Apple co-founder is buried in an area near an apricot orchard where there are no future plots planned.


Is Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky Telling Us the Truth About His Company?

Posted: 10/17/2015 9:46 am EDT Updated: 10/19/2015 11:59 am EDT

The following post was excerpted from:
RAW DEAL: How the “Uber Economy” and Runaway Capitalism are Screwing American Workers
Reprinted with permission from St. Martin’s Press
(c) 2015 by Steven Hill, published on October 20, 2015


The third actor in this passion play is Mr. Brian Chesky himself, Airbnb’s 34 year old CEO and co-founder. A former bodybuilder and graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Chesky’s rise to the ranks of billionaire hospitality mogul has been remarkable. A video floating around online of Chesky’s commencement speech that he gave at his college graduation shows, if nothing else, major amounts of chutzpah. The future Airbnb chief struts on stage in full cap and gown to the throbbing bass line of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean,” and proceeds to rip off his black graduation gown, revealing a white tuxedo underneath. He starts clumsily moonwalking and crotch-grabbing to the beat, egged on by the cheers of his classmates, before delivering his address to the graduates, families and faculty. His speech is more entertaining than profound, mixing quips, funny one-liners and even occasional bodybuilder flexes with a 22-year-old’s version of wisdom. The young man in the video is working hard to be liked, is slightly grandiose but also self-aware enough to say that he is uncertain of his future (with an art and design degree, after all). He is confident enough to relish his moment on the graduation stage, and displays definite leadership qualities, kind of like a head cheerleader urging on his homies at their final big hurrah.

That was in 2004, and now in his new role, the chutzpah, leadership and cheerleading have remained and come to the fore. When Chesky spoke at a hospitality conference sponsored by the University of San Francisco in April 2014, he offered no acknowledgement of the complexities, much less the downsides, of his business model. People like Theresa Flandrich and her elderly and disabled neighbors who are being evicted under the pressures of the assault on the San Francisco housing market, which Airbnb’s service has greatly contributed to, are not on his radar. Instead, rather unbelievably, he cast his company into another role in this script–that of the blue helmets saving the world.

“[Airbnb] is like the United Nations at every kitchen table. It’s very powerful,” said Chesky. In the masthead of his company, Chesky has assumed the role of Ideologist-in-Chief. His early interviews as CEO, viewable on YouTube, show an awkward young man, wide-eyed, hands flailing, who scarcely can believe his and his cofounders’ good fortune. He has an “aw shucks” charm. But several years later, as the same old questions become more pointed and specific, Chesky’s vague responses come off as evasive.

It’s not just that Airbnb refuses to be responsive to the increasingly wide path of destruction it is hewing. It’s also that Chesky wraps it all into a New Age-y kind of rap about trust, sharing, community and belonging. In early 2014, Chesky and his cofounders took a deep breath from their incredible success story to reconsider their mission. Chesky posted his thoughts about the newly revamped Airbnb, an 1100-word sermon to his public that, like his college graduation speech, was another revealing moment into this young phenom.

“Joe, Nate, and I did some soul-searching over the last year,” wrote Chesky. “We asked ourselves, ‘What is our mission? What is the big idea that truly defines Airbnb?’ It turns out the answer was right in front of us. People thought Airbnb was about renting houses. But really, we’re about home. You see, a house is just a space, but a home is where you belong. And what makes this global community so special is that for the very first time, you can belong anywhere. That is the idea at the core of our company: belonging.”

Like that young, slightly presumptuous college speaker holding forth at center stage, Chesky then goes on to wrap his company’s growing commercial empire in a grandiose vision that he positions as a solution to a civilization gone awry, indeed as a reaction to the wrongful drift of history.

“We used to take belonging for granted. Cities used to be villages,” wrote Chesky. “Everyone knew each other, and everyone knew they had a place to call home. But after the mechanization and Industrial Revolution of the last century, those feelings of trust and belonging were displaced by mass-produced and impersonal travel experiences. We also stopped trusting each other. And in doing so, we lost something essential about what it means to be a community… Belonging is the idea that defines Airbnb. . . Airbnb is returning us to a place where everyone can feel they belong.”

Like a newly converted evangelical, Chesky explicitly tries to tap into a rich, red vein filled with the loneliness and isolation of this modern life. He does this as a bid to position his company as more than simply a hospitality business: it’s a vehicle for building a global movement, a community of trust and sharing. But not over religion or to provide humanitarian aid, or to end human rights abuses, as previous visionaries have tried to do – no, Chesky is no Albert Schweitzer. Instead, in a sign of the times, his revolutionary act involves. . . a commercial transaction . . . providing short-term rentals to tourists.

Chesky’s Hallmark greeting card homily to his public was brilliant, akin to channeling John Lennon’s “Imagine” and merging it with a hotel business. It’s even more audacious than Nike’s “Just Do It” or Apple’s “Think Different.” In a topsy-turvy world, in which both government and big business have let us down, leading to the most disastrous economic crash since the Great Depression, Chesky’s words sound reassuring. He simultaneously attempts to mine feelings of loneliness and isolation, a longing for community, a sense of history and an economy gone off the rails, as well as the desire for travel to exotic places–and merge it all with a real financial need among Airbnb hosts in difficult economic times to use their own homes to earn income. To “monetize” their lives and their loneliness. It is one of the most audacious marketing pitches ever deployed.

Like any true evangelical, Brian Chesky seems to sincerely believe his newfound faith. But like so many fundamentalists of one kind or another, he is blinded by it. He deletes from his picture whatever fact or story doesn’t fit. In his talk at the University of San Francisco conference, Chesky crowed, “For us to win, no one has to lose,” and like that college commencement speaker he championed his “on-message” message with such a boyishly good-natured enthusiasm that audience members keyed into the hipness and coolness of his rosy version of the world. Yet sadly, Chesky has rendered invisible all those people like Theresa Flandrich and so many others across San Francisco–across the world–who in fact are not winning because they are being evicted under the housing pressures that Airbnb has helped unleash. He ignores all the upset neighbors who have some pretty strong feelings about the hotelization of their neighborhoods, with complete strangers and their rollaway luggage now traipsing in and out at all hours. He slickly hides the fact that increasingly “regular people” renting spare rooms are not the core of his business — instead it comes from professional landlords and multi-property agents, some of whom have converted entire apartment buildings into tourist hotels, even if they have to evict elderly and sick people to do it. Indeed he ignores all the disappearing housing stock and rising rents for local residents, not all of it attributable to Airbnb but his company has become a key catalytic factor.

Brian Chesky and the rest of Airbnb’s executives and venture-capitalist backers seem to feel little responsibility for upending so many people’s lives. Their company is like a rumbling jetliner that flies low overhead, but doesn’t want to be blamed for its noise. They are either oblivious to their impact, or they have rationalized it away as the necessary collateral damage for their “sharing revolution.”

Perhaps the biggest tragedy in all this is that at the core of Airbnb is a really good idea-it has cleverly used Web- and app-based technology to bust open a global market that connects tourists with financially strapped homeowners. After interviewing some of Airbnb’s “regular-people” hosts, I’m convinced that this service legitimately does help some of them make ends meet. But by taking such a hands-off, laissez-faire attitude toward the professionalization of hosting by greedy commercial landlords and multiproperty agents, Airbnb has become its own worst enemy. As the number of victims piles up, it undermines its own “sharing and trust” ethos.

If Airbnb and Chesky really believed in that ethos, the company could partner with local governments and tenants associations to draft laws that take account of this new business model. Chesky could delist the professional landlords and multi-property agents from the Airbnb site, severely limiting their ability to turn badly needed housing into tourist hotels. He could forbid any professional property agency from managing the listing of another person on the Airbnb site, which would crack down on absentee hosts. He could cooperate with cities like San Francisco and Portland, that require hosts to register with local officials, by delisting any unregistered hosts. Airbnb has the data and knows who all of these violators are.

Chesky’s company also could pay hotel taxes in all 34,000 cities in which it operates, or collect it from the hosts and hand it over to local authorities. He could stop refusing to supply the data that cities need to enforce regulations and taxation, including the number of rental nights and rates charged by each host. This is not rocket science, all that’s needed is the will.

The clear and simple truth is that Airbnb has drifted very far from its origins, and is no longer simply a platform of “regular people” hosts. It has morphed into a giant loophole for professional real estate operatives, allowing them to evade local laws and taxation, evict long-time tenants and convert entire buildings into tourist hotels. Brian Chesky can preach all he wants about sharing, trust and belonging, but he and his investors have shown no willingness to kill their golden goose, despite the damage that greedy professional landlords and multiproperty agents are causing to the very fabric of the cities where they operate. That’s not “sharing,” it’s just raw, naked capitalism.

Mouthbreathing Machiavellis Dream of a Silicon Reich


One day in March of 2014, a Google engineer named Justine Tunney created a strange and ultimately doomed petition at the White House website. The petition proposed a three-point national referendum, as follows:

1. Retire all government employees with full pensions.
2. Transfer administrative authority to the tech industry.
3. Appoint [Google executive chairman] Eric Schmidt CEO of America.

This could easily be written off as stunt, a flamboyant act of corporate kiss-assery, which, on one level, it probably was. But Tunney happened to be serious. “It’s time for the U.S. Regime to politely take its exit from history and do what’s best for America,” she wrote. “The tech industry can offer us good governance and prevent further American decline.”

Welcome to the latest political fashion among the California Confederacy: total corporate despotism. It is a potent and bitter ideological mash that could have only been concocted at tech culture’s funky smoothie bar—a little Steve Jobs here, a little Ayn Rand there, and some Ray Kurzweil for color.

Tunney was at one time a prominent and divisive fixture of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Lately, though, her views have . . . evolved. How does an anticapitalist “tranarchist” (transgender anarchist) become a hard-right seditionist?

“Read Mencius Moldbug,” Tunney told her Twitter followers last month, referring to an aggressively dogmatic blogger with a reverent following in certain tech circles.

Keanu Reeves cartoon

Keanu cartoon by Pete Simon

Tunney’s advice is easier said than done, for Moldbug is as prolific as he is incomprehensible. His devotees, many of whom are also bloggers, describe themselves as the “neoreactionary” vanguard of a “Dark Enlightenment.” They oppose popular suffrage, egalitarianism and pluralism. Some are atheists, while others affect obscure orthodox beliefs, but most are youngish white males embittered by “political correctness.” As best I can tell, their ideal society best resembles Blade Runner, but without all those Asian people cluttering up the streets. Neoreactionaries like to see themselves as the heroes of another sci-fi movie, in fact, sometimes boasting that they have been “redpilled,” like Keanu Reeves’s character in The Matrix—a movie Moldbug regards as “genius.”

“Moldbug.” The name sounds like it belongs to a troll who belches from the depths of an Internet rabbit hole. And so it does. Mencius Moldbug is the blogonym of Curtis Guy Yarvin, a San Francisco software developer and frustrated poet. (Here he is reading a poem at a 1997 open mic.)

According to Yarvin, the child of federal civil servants, he dropped out of a graduate computer science program at U. C. Berkeley in the early 1990s (he has self-consciously noted that he is the only man in his immediate family without a PhD) yet managed to make a small pile of money in the original dot-com bubble. Yarvin betrayed an endearingly strange sense of humor in his student days, posting odd stories and absurdist jokes on bulletin board services, contributing to Wired and writing cranky letters to alternative weekly newspapers.

Yet even as a student at Brown in 1991, Yarvin’s preoccupations with domineering strongmen were evident: “I wonder if the Soviet power ladder of vicious bureaucratic backbiting brings stronger men to the top than the American system of feel-good soundbites,” he wrote in one board discussion.

Yarvin’s public writing tapered off as his software career solidified. In 2007, he reemerged under an angry pseudonym, Moldbug, on a humble Blogspot blog called “Unqualified Reservations.” As might be expected of a “DIY ideology . . . designed by geeks for other geeks,” his political treatises are heavily informed by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and George Lucas. What set Yarvin apart from the typical keyboard kook was his archaic, grandiose tone, which echoed the snippets Yarvin cherry-picked from obscure old reactionary tracts. Yarvin told one friendly interviewer that he spent $500 a month on books.

Elsewhere he confessed to having taken a grand total of five undergraduate humanities courses (history and creative writing). The lack of higher ed creds hasn’t hurt his confidence. On his blog, Yarvin holds forth oneverything from the intricacies of Korean history to contemporary Pakistani politics, from the proper conduct of a counterinsurgency operation to macroeconomic theory and fiscal policy, and he never gives an inch. “The neat thing about primary sources is that often, it takes only one to prove your point,” he writes.

In short, Moldbug reads like an overconfident autodidact’s imitation of a Lewis Lapham essay—if Lewis Lapham were a fascist teenage Dungeon Master.

Yarvin’s most toxic arguments come snugly wrapped in purple prose and coded language. (For instance,“The Cathedral” is Moldbuggian for the oppressive nexus of liberal newspapers, universities and the State Department, where his father worked after getting a PhD in philosophy from Brown.) By so doing, Moldbug has been able to an attract an audience that welcomes the usual teeth-gnashing white supremacists who haunt the web while also leaving room for a more socially acceptable assortment of “men’s rights” advocates, gun nuts, transhumanist libertarians, disillusioned Occupiers and well-credentialed Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

When Justine Tunney posted her petition online, the press treated it like comic relief that came from nowhere. In fact, it is straight Moldbug. Item one, “retire all government employees,” comes verbatim from a 2012 talk that Yarvin gave to an approving crowd of California techies (see video below). In his typical smarmy, meandering style, Yarvin concluded by calling for “a national CEO [or] what’s called a dictator.”

“If Americans want to change their government, they’re going to have to get over their dictator phobia,” Yarvin said in his talk. He conceded that, given the current political divisions, it might be better to have two dictators, one for Red Staters and one for Blue Staters. The trick would be to “make sure they work together.” (Sure. Easy!)

“There’s really no other solution,” Yarvin concluded. The crowd applauded.

This plea for autocracy is the essence of Yarvin’s work. He has concluded that America’s problems come not from a deficit of democracy but from an excess of it—or, as Yarvin puts it, “chronic kinglessness.” Incredible as it sounds, absolute dictatorship may be the least objectionable tenet espoused by the Dark Enlightenment neoreactionaries.

Moldbug is the widely acknowledged lodestar of the movement, but he’s not the only leading figure. Another is Nick Land, a British former academic now living in Shanghai, where he writes admiringly of Chinese eugenics and the impending global reign of “autistic nerds, who alone are capable of participating effectively in the advanced technological processes that characterize the emerging economy.”

These imaginary übermensch have inspired a sprawling network of blogs, sub-Reddits and meetups aimed at spreading their views. Apart from their reverence for old-timey tyrants, they espouse a belief in “human biodiversity,” which is basically racism in a lab coat. This scientific-sounding euphemism invariably refers to supposed differences in intelligence across races. It is so spurious that the Wikipedia article on human biodiversity was deleted because, in the words of one editor, it is “purely an Internet theory.” Censored once again by The Cathedral, alas.

“I am not a white nationalist, but I do read white-nationalist blogs, and I’m not afraid to link to them . . . I am not exactly allergic to the stuff,” Yarvin writes. He also praises a blogger who advocated the deportation of Muslims and the closure of mosques as “probably the most imaginative and interesting right-wing writer on the planet.” Hectoring a Swarthmore history professor, Yarvin rhapsodizes on colonial rule in Southern Africa, and suggests that black people had it better under apartheid. “If you ask me to condemn [mass murderer] Anders Breivik, but adore Nelson Mandela, perhaps you have a mother you’d like to fuck,” Yarvinwrites.

His jargon may be novel, but whenever Mencius Moldbug descends to the realm of the concrete, he offersfamiliar tropes of white victimhood. Yarvin’s favorite author, the nineteenth-century writer Scot Thomas Carlyle, is perhaps best known for his infamous slavery apologia, “Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question.” “If there is one writer in English whose name can be uttered with Shakespeare’s, it is Carlyle,” Yarvin writes. Later in the same essay Yarvin calls slavery “a natural human relationship” akin to “that of patron and client.”

As I soldiered through the Moldbug canon, my reactions numbed. Here he is expressing sympathy for poor, persecuted Senator Joe McCarthy. Big surprise. Here he claims “America is a communist country.” Sure, whatever. Here he doubts that Barack Obama ever attended Columbia University. You don’t say? After a while, Yarvin’s blog feels like the pseudo-intellectual equivalent of a Gwar concert, one sick stunt after another, calculated to shock. To express revulsion and disapproval is to grant the attention he so transparently craves.

Yet the question inevitably arrives: Do we need to take this stuff seriously? The few mainstream assessments of the neoreactionaries have been divided on the question.

Sympathetic citations are spreading: In the Daily Caller, The American Conservative and National Review. Yet the conservative press remains generally dismissive. The American Spectator’s Matthew Walther calls neoreactionism “silly not scary” and declares that “all of these people need to relax: spend some time with P.G. Wodehouse, watch a football game, get drunk, whatever.”

TechCrunch, which first introduced me to Moldbug, treats the “Geeks for Monarchy” movement as an Internet curio. But The Telegraph says, yes, this is “sophisticated neo-fascism” and must be confronted.Vocativ, which calls it “creepy,” agrees that it should be taken seriously.

The science fiction author David Brin goes further in his comment on a Moldbug blog post, accusing the blogger of auditioning for the part of Machiavelli to some future-fascist dictator:

The world oligarchy is looking for boffins to help them re-establish their old – pyramidal – social order. And your screeds are clearly interview essays. “Pick me! Pick me! Look! I hate democracy too! And I will propagandize for people to accept your rule again, really I will! See the fancy rationalizations I can concoct????”

But your audition materials are just . .  too . . . jibbering . . . loopy. You will not get the job.

As strange as it sounds, Brin may be closest to the truth. Neoreactionaries are explicitly courting wealthy elites in the tech sector as the most receptive and influential audience. Why bother with mass appeal, when you’re rebuilding the ancien régime?

Moldbuggism, for now, remains mostly an Internet phenomenon. Which is not to say it is “merely” an Internet phenomenon. This is, after all, a technological age. Last November, Yarvin claimed that his blog had received 500,000 views. It is not quantity of his audience that matters so much as the nature of it, however. And the neoreactionaries do seem to be influencing the drift of Silicon Valley libertarianism, which is no small force today. This is why I have concluded, sadly, that Yarvin needs answering.

If the Koch brothers have proved anything, it’s that no matter how crazy your ideas are, if you put serious money behind those ideas, you can seize key positions of authority and power and eventually bring large numbers of people around to your way of thinking. Moreover, the radicalism may intensify with each generation. Yesterday’s Republicans and Independents are today’s Libertarians. Today’s Libertarians may be tomorrow’s neoreactionaries, whose views flatter the prejudices of the new Silicon Valley elite.

In a widely covered secessionist speech at a Silicon Valley “startup school” last year, there was more than a hint of Moldbug (see video below). The speech, by former Stanford professor and Andreessen Horowitz partner Balaji Srinivasan, never mentioned Moldbug or the Dark Enlightenment, but it was suffused with neoreactionary rhetoric and ideas. Srinivasan used the phrase “the paper belt” to describe his enemies, namely the government, the publishing industries, and universities. The formulation mirrored Moldbug’s “Cathedral.” Srinivasan’s central theme was the notion of “exit”—as in, exit from democratic society, and entry into any number of corporate mini-states whose arrival will leave the world looking like a patchwork map of feudal Europe.

Forget universal rights; this is the true “opt-in society.”

An excerpt:

We want to show what a society run by Silicon Valley would look like. That’s where “exit” comes in . . . . 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 . . . [Google co-founder] Larry Page, for example, wants to set aside a part of the world for unregulated experimentation. That’s carefully phrased. He’s not saying, “take away the laws in the U.S.” 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.”

Srinivasan ticked through the signposts of the neoreactionary fantasyland: Bitcoin as the future of finance, corporate city-states as the future of government, Detroit as a loaded symbol of government failure and 3D-printed firearms as an example of emerging technology that defies regulation.

The speech succeeded in promoting the anti-democratic authoritarianism at the core of neoreactionary thought, while glossing over the attendant bigotry. This has long been a goal of some in the movement. One such moderate—if the word can be used in this context—is Patri Friedman, grandson of the late libertarian demigod Milton Friedman. The younger Friedman expressed the need for “a more politically correct dark enlightenment” after a public falling out with Yarvin in 2009.

Friedman has lately been devoting his time (and leveraging his family name) to raise money for the SeaSteading Institute, which, as the name suggests, is a blue-sea libertarian dream to build floating fiefdoms free of outside regulation and law. Sound familiar?

The principal backer of the SeaSteading project, Peter Thiel, is also an investor in companies run by Balaji Srinivasan and Curtis Yarvin. Thiel is a co-founder of PayPal, an original investor in Facebook and hedge fund manager, as well as being the inspiration for a villainous investor on the satirical HBO series Silicon Valley. Thiel’s extreme libertarian advocacy is long and storied, beginning with his days founding the Collegiate Network-backed Stanford Review. Lately he’s been noticed writing big checks for Ted Cruz.

He’s invested in Yarvin’s current startup, Tlon. Thiel invested personally in Tlon co-founder John Burnham. In 2011, at age 18, Burnham accepted $100,000 from Thiel to skip college and go directly into business. Instead of mining asteroids as he originally intended, Burnham wound up working on obscure networking software with Yarvin, whose title at Tlon is, appropriately enough, “benevolent dictator for life.”

California libertarian software developers inhabit a small and shallow world. It should be no surprise then, that, although Thiel has never publicly endorsed Yarvin’s side project specifically, or the neoreactionary program in general, there is definitely a whiff of something Moldbuggy in Thiel’s own writing. For instance, Thiel echoed Moldbug in an infamous 2009 essay for the Cato Institute in which he explained that he had moved beyond libertarianism. “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” Thiel wrote.

Thiel’s eponymous foundation funds, among other things, an institute to advance the ideas of a conservative Stanford academic, René Girard, under whom Thiel studied as an undergraduate. In 2012 Thiel delivered a lecture at Stanford that explained his views regarding the divine rights of Silicon Valley CEOs. The lecture did address some of Girard’s ideas about historical “mimetics,” but it also contained a heavy dose of Moldbuggian thought. Thiel says:

A startup is basically structured as a monarchy. We don’t call it that, of course. That would seem weirdly outdated, and anything that’s not democracy makes people uncomfortable. We are biased toward the democratic-republican side of the spectrum. That’s what we’re used to from civics classes. But the truth is that startups and founders lean toward the dictatorial side because that structure works better for startups.

Might a dictatorial approach, in Thiel’s opinion, also work better for society at large? He doesn’t say so in his Stanford lecture (although he does cast tech CEOs as the heirs to mythical “god-kings” such as Romulus). But Thiel knows where to draw the line in mixed company. Ordinary people get so “uncomfortable” when powerful billionaires start talking about the obsolescence of participatory government and “the unthinking demos,” as he put it in his Cato essay. Stupid proles! They don’t deserve our brilliance! “The fate of our world may depend on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom,” Thiel wrote.

It is clear that Thiel sees corporations as the governments of the future and capitalists such as himself as the kings, and it is also clear that this is a shockingly common view in Thiel’s cohort. In a 2011 New Yorkerprofile, George Packer wrote:

Thiel and his circle in Silicon Valley may be able to imagine a future that would never occur to other people precisely because they’ve refused to leave that stage of youthful wonder which life forces most human beings to outgrow . . . . He wants to live forever, have the option to escape to outer space or an oceanic city-state, and play chess against a robot that can discuss Tolkien, because these were the fantasies that filled his childhood imagination.

Packer is perhaps too generous to his subject. But he captures the fundamental problem with these mouthbreathers’ dreams of monarchy. They’ve never role-played the part of the peasant.

Corey Pein is a writer and reporter in Brighton, England. He offers free samples at

Is the dotcom bubble about to burst (again)?


In Silicon Valley, millions of dollars change hands every day as investors hunt the next big thing – the ‘unicorn’, or billion-dollar tech firm. There are now almost 150, but can they all succeed?

Have you heard the story about the tip from the shoeshine boy, a Brit called James Pallot asks me on my last day at TechCrunch Disrupt. I have, I say, though later I Google it to get the facts straight.

It’s attributed to Joseph Kennedy, paterfamilias of the Kennedy clan who, in 1929, was getting his shoes shined by a young boy who was also making confident predictions about which stocks would rise. For Kennedy, it was a moment of revelation. He sold his portfolio. Not long afterwards, Wall Street crashed and the world was plunged into the greatest depression ever seen. So a tip from the shoeshine boy is a sign that the bubble is about to burst. That the wave of confidence will finally crash upon the shore. That the jig is up.

Pallot used to be the digital editorial director of Condé Nast in New York and now he has a startup. But then, we’re at the world’s biggest startup conference in San Francisco, a few miles down the road from Silicon Valley where the world’s greatest concentration of technology startups first started up.

His company is in the booming field of VR, or virtual reality, which is to 2015 roughly what Rubik’s Cubes were to 1982, though with rather bigger potential consequences. Pallot claims it’s the logical next step for journalistic content. In 20 years’ time, you won’t be reading this on the page, I’ll probably be leading you by the hand through a 3D rendering of a virtual TechCrunch conference floor. Or, more likely, you’ll be leading yourself and I’ll be claiming jobseeker’s allowance.

But anyway. In the meantime, Pallot asks me if I’ve heard of the tip from the shoeshine boy. I have, I say, and tell him it’s been on my mind. Because for three days, I’ve been hearing about “unicorns” – a Silicon Valley term for companies that have been valued at more than $1bn. When this usage was first coined, less than two years ago, there were 39 of them. Today, there are 147. Or as Matthew Wong, a senior analyst at CB Insights, tells me: “The funding is at levels that we haven’t seen since 2000.”

As those with longer memories will recall, that was the year the dotcom bubble burst. It needs explaining because there are an awful lot of people at TechCrunch whose memories simply don’t go back that far: the typical startup founder is male and in his 20s. Back in 2000, Google was less than 18 months old and Facebook wasn’t even a glimmer in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye – he was still at high school. (At 31, he’s now practically Silicon Valley’s elder statesman.)

Everything has changed. And is changing at an ever-faster pace. Eight years ago, TechCrunch launched its Disrupt conference with 45 startups. This year, there are 5,000 of them. Over three days I talk to founders of companies from San Francisco and Texas and Uruguay and Beirut and Stockholm and Tel Aviv and Warsaw. There are apps for crowdfunded mortgages and cheaper divorces and better sex. There’s “Expedia for golf” and “Facebook for cars” and “Nest for water” and “Tinder for dogs”. There’s a virtual reality teddy bear, a device that claims it will be able to read your emotions via a contact lens in your eye and another that will automate your home cannabis farm (marijuana is a big deal in Silicon Valley right now). I miss the panel on nuclear fusion startups but they’re around.

They’ve all paid upwards of $3,000 (£1,900) to be here and they’re all trying to attract the attention of Silicon Valley’s biggest beasts. The VCs – venture capitalists to you and me. The money guys.

“How do you spot them?” I ask Peter Becronis, the founder of a real estate startup called Owner’s Vault. “Oh, it’s easy,” he says. “They’re all men, older guys who are in jeans and brown boots and perhaps a blue jacket. Oh, and a good watch. They’re the ones who shuffle past you trying not to catch your eye.”

It’s a long shot for the likes of Becronis to be here, but not a total pipe dream. Because hundreds of startups are being funded each month. Vast sums of money are changing hands. Crunchbase, TechCrunch’s sister site, lists the deals that are being done on a daily basis. On the day I write this, I check it and find 24 companies that have just received funding, including Kreditech, which got $92m (it uses “big data and complex machine-learning algorithms to credit score everyone worldwide”) and Medium, which received $57m (it’s a platform that has found another new business model that seems to involve not paying journalists).

Every month the amount of money being invested in early-stage startups goes up. And every month, more and more people are starting to use the B-word. Bubble. The last time this amount of money was swilling around, we know how it ended. “Back then, a lot of websites launched but that’s all they were, websites,” Mike Butcher, TechCrunch’s editor-at-large, tells me. “Now in 2015, all those technologies that were predicted – AI, drones, VR – have all turned up. The innovation is real. And it just continues to get bigger and bigger. There are more VC firms here than you can poke a stick at.

“Is it a bubble?” he asks and then answers the question himself, vividly, if not entirely clearly. “It depends. How many unicorns can you fit through the eye of a needle? Anyway, unicorns are over. It’s all about decacorns now. Companies that are worth tens of billions of dollars.”

In 2000 the bubble was in publicly listed companies – organisations like the then upstart AOL, which bought Time Warner for $164bn, the largest merger in America business history, and then most spectacular blow-up. Or in Britain,, whose share price peaked at 511p before crashing to 80p a month later. Both companies survived, unlike many, but it was a long struggle back up for both of them. (In a neat bit of circularity, AOL bought TechCrunchalong the way.) In 2015, it’s private money flowing into companies that may or may not go public one day.

The shoeshine boy wouldn’t be tipping stocks in 2015, but what would he be doing? I ask Ned Desmond, the chief operating officer of TechCrunch. He thinks for a moment. “He would probably be an Uber driver who has his own angel investment line,” he says.

But James Pallot tops that. He’s flown in from JFK and had his shoes shined in the airport. “And the guy had a startup. I literally got a tip from the shoeshine boy! He was trying to find an investor for his national shoeshine franchise.” But then, in many ways, there has never been a better time to be a startup. Niko Bonatsos, a VC with General Catalyst Partners, tells me that the sheer number of companies at TechCrunch “speaks volumes about how the barriers to entry have been removed. It’s really easy to start a company. And lots of companies from other parts of the world see this as a lottery ticket. And for some of them, it will be. It’s the survival of the fittest. And the luckiest.”

Pallot and his co-founder are currently “bootstrapping” their company, Emblematic Group, which is creating virtual reality news content. “Bootstrapping” is Silicon Valley jargon. It means getting by with what you’ve got. It’s how people have set up companies since the dawn of capitalism. You start a business with a bit of money you already have and you try to attract customers and build it from there.

“Bootstrapping” is how you figure out if there’s a market and, if so, how you reach it. It’s also, like, totally 20th century. The reason 5,000 companies pay $3,000-plus to come to TechCrunch is because Silicon Valley has another model. People – strangers – will give you vast sums of cash to build your company into a global brand overnight. If you can deliver the killer pitch. The pitch that convinces the valley’s top VCs that you are the next Facebook, the next Uber, the next Airbnb.

“It doesn’t work like this in the rest of the world,” Ned Desmond tells me. “In Indonesia or Turkey or wherever, normal business culture demands collateral and security. Venture investing has none of that. You are investing in potential.” You’re gambling, basically. Silicon Valley, in 2015, is a giant casino. And the bets are so large because the potential payoffs are so huge. The next Google has to start somewhere.

So is it a bubble? “Everything is cyclical,” says Desmond. Does he remember the last crash? “I was there! I was in it. It was terrible. We had just launched a magazine, Business 2.0. Even the name sounds so cringeworthy now. We launched in May 2000 with a record number of advertisements. We had 150 ad pages. A year on, we had 15.”

This is not exactly an answer, so I try again. Is it a bubble? “We published a graph showing the unicorns. It’s a hockey stick. It’s near vertical growth.”




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