Wednesday, September 05, 2018

A Modest Proposal to Test True Sentiment


Bryan Caplan notes a seeming dearth of gratitude to Big Tech for its provision of awesome "free" services of types pretty much unheard of (in some cases, maybe not even much imagined) 30 years ago but considered essential these days.

[Y]ou might expect these giants of the internet age to be popular, admired, even loved. Instead, they’re drowning in resentment. How often does a pundit or politician give a speech thanking them for their astounding work? Virtually never. Instead, we live in a world where pundits bemoan the market leaders‘ alleged failures -- and politicians casually threaten to regulate them -- or even treat them like public utilities.

You could remind me that, “Actions speak louder than words.” People who contently use Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon far outnumber the complainers. This is a fine observation -- if you want expose the pettiness and myopia of the critics. "If company X is so bad, why do they have hundreds of millions of repeat customers?" is not a decisive response to complaints, but it is a mighty response nonetheless.

So who cares what the naysayers say? Sadly, every satisfied customer of these great companies should care, because in politics, words speak louder than actions. Pundits and politicians seek fame and power by saying and doing what sounds good, even when the consequences are awful.

Disclaimer: As you might guess if you're a regular reader here, I do not agree that the "free" services -- Caplan doesn't put scare quotes around the word and seems to believe it -- are in fact "free." Gmail is not a service that's "given" to the user. It's a service that's traded to the user in exchange for personal information, the use of which is then rented to the real customers, Google's advertisers.

I also don't agree that words necessarily speak louder than actions. Or, rather, I think that particular actions by Big Tech could elicit words from its currently contented users that carry more political weight than do the protestations of e.g. Mark Zuckerberg in Senate hearings.

There's a certain kind of strike that the left brings around every so often, usually without great effect -- "A Day Without Women" or "A Day without Latinos" or whatever, in which people of particular identities are encouraged to stay home so that the rest of us see how much we need them.

I think such a strike might be a bit more effective if the strikers were the Big Tech companies, a la:

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