Over at Boing Boing, Jacques Vallee — a computer scientist, partner in a venture capital firm and author — wrote a post titled. Stating the Obvious: If you don’t have a house you don’t need no sofa.
It’s a good post, questioning issues of consumerism, lost houses and the media’s attention span in a crisis that isn’t telegenic, just tragic. The obvious point he makes is that if you lose your house you aren’t going be going out buying stuff. Here is my response:
It’s great that you have stated the obvious.
Now please tell me what you are doing behind the scenes politically to help.
Being a Venture Capitalist or VC means you have money. And you are probably still sending it to the companies that are in your portfolio. But are you also funding groups that are working to stop relief?
Do you support lobbyists that are screaming about the deficit in the face of horrific unemployment? Have you supported groups that have worked Congress to pass bills that let our corporations send jobs overseas and get tax benefits for it? Do you believe in fair markets or in fake "free markets"? Is your first concern your "global competitiveness" or in the ability of Americans to buy sofas with a living wage? Maybe you tell yourself that you have to look out for your business first, but then do you donate money to groups who make it easier for capital to chase cheap labor around the globe?
I’ve worked with VCs and Silicon Valley companies for years and I know that when the VCs suggest something, things happen. Because they represent money. But they don’t just spend that money on their companies, they donate money to groups that have worked hard to make this "obvious situation" happen. There are groups actively working against the people whose fate you bemoan.
And I’ll go a step further, if you aren’t supporting these right wing groups are you supporting the groups that are FIGHTING these groups? Are you supporting anyone who is effectively fighting the right wing think tanks? Are you donating money for fighting a right wing noise machine that constantly pushes a economic world view that is failing? Groups like the Center for Media and Democracy and Media Matters need your money.
Or do you think that what they say on Fox, and talk radio is irrelevant and is ignored as non-serious and unworthy of challenging? Are you supporting groups that are fighting Grover Norquest’s Club for Growth, the Heritage Foundation or the AEI? Are you funding or fighting groups like FreedomWorks?
Norquest and his friends can promise a great ROI. A few million here and lower taxes there. But what can other groups promise you for ROI? Is it all about ROI or do you have a sense of duty to the American people who might buy your products?
No rich VC was willing to fund me when I was fighting the right wing radio hosts and their calls to hang journalists, liberals and murder millions of Muslims. The hosts had the standard conservative economic views that have lead to this 22 percent real unemployment. I and a handful of bloggers cost the right wing media millions, but we didn’t generate revenue, so that means that it wasn’t a valuable exercise in our ROI world.
I’m glad I did what I did but I paid the price of getting involved with "Politics" in Silicon Valley by pushing against a conservative viewpoint that is shared by many very rich people in the valley. Maybe I should have just focusing on helping people with messaging, the media and ROI, because I’ve helped some SV companies make billions over the years
I know the power of VCs, it’s not just your public pronouncements, it’s your private views and where your money goes when it’s not flowing into companies that counts.
If you would like to tell us what you are doing in that space I would like to hear. I would like to know if you ask your fellow VCs the same question. What are they doing behind the scenes? Are they supporting people who want to keep the Bush tax cuts? Are they supporting rules for keeping estate taxes low – do they call them "death taxes"? Have they demanded real financial regulations or are they all afraid to piss off Wall Street for when they need them for an IPO? (Wall Street Bankers are the one group that I’ve seen VCs worry about pleasing during road shows.)
If you can’t bear to tell your tax accountants not to create shell companies in the Caymans to cut taxes on your company, can you at least support the regulations that will eventually make it illegal or hard to do that? Your fiduciary responsibility might force you to lobby to reduce taxes, but your moral responsibility isn’t the same as your fiduciary responsibility.
I don’t doubt your sincerity here, what I want to know if you are following through on your views backstage where it really counts these days.