A baby is born & a philanthropic org created; why you should stop comparing Uber to Amazon; and more.
Baby talk: In tandem with the birth of their daughter Max, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, are creating a new organization, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. In an open letter to Max, they have pledged to donate 99 percent of their Facebook stock, currently worth more than $45 billion, to charitable purposes including “personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people and building strong communities,” as Vindu Goel and Nick Wingfield report for the New York Times.
Here’s the text of the Zuckerberg-Chan letter describing their pledge to Max. Don’t miss the congratulatory comments from the likes of Shakira, Maria Shriver, Arianna Huffington, Gavin Newsom and Katie Couric.
Seriously, the Zuckerberg-Chan letter is quite an evocative statement of what, in a different context, the writer Anand Giriharadas has called the “Aspen Consensus” (i.e. “the winners of our age must be challenged to do more good, but never, ever tell them to do less harm.”) We can “advance human potential” and “promote equality” and “lift hundreds of millions out of poverty” through scientific advances against disease, personalized learning, and more internet access, Zuckerberg and Chan write their daughter. There’s no mention anywhere of systemic forces that destroy human potential, ravage communities, or increase inequality. Nor do they contemplate the possibility that much stronger medicine (taxes? regulations?) might be needed to promote equality than just improving education.
Responding to Zuckerberg and Chan’s announcement, Nathan Schneider, co-organizer of the recent Platform Cooperatives conference, tweeted: “What if, instead of picking pet charities, Zuckerberg returned his shares to the users who made Facebook feel like a commons?…The wealth Zuckerberg wants to give away is the wealth of our relationships, our wisdom, our milestones, our communities.”
Related: On Quora, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton answers a question about how being a grandmother would make her a better president. Her answer, in part: “Being a grandmother … makes you think about the future, and I’m constantly thinking to myself “how can I make sure this precious little girl has every opportunity in the world?” More than anything, I want to make sure she grows up in a country that is peaceful and prosperous—one that gives everyone an opportunity to live up to his or her potential.”
While we’re on the subject of babies, a hearty welcome to the world for Garnet J. Brewer, the newly arrived daughter of Mary Katherine Ham and our recently passed friend Jake Brewer. Jessica Contrera of the Washington Post has the details.
What sharing economy? Hubert Horan, one of the architects of trucking deregulation in the 1970s, has written (in the form of a letter to Pando Daily) a long and absolutely fascinating critique of Uber and other “unicorn” companies with a similar business model, like Convoy, which is trying to be the “Uber of trucking.” The tl/dr version: Unlike Amazon and Ebay, Uber and Convoy are not transforming the consumer product they provide, nor is there much evidence of bloat and waste in the industries they’ve entered. Instead, their raw political power and ruthless marketplace behavior is all they actually have. Here’s the key paragraph:
Extreme wealth accumulation and corporate power has been historically tolerated because of the perception that the Bezos and Omidyars of the world (like the Carnegies and Rockefellers of the past) created huge public welfare improvements en route to their wealth and power and the (more problematic) perception that the size and power of this class will be constrained by economic reality at the end of the day. Uber-type unicorns are purely exploitative—they create fabulous wealth for a handful, while destroying economic value in aggregate (assets have been shifted from more efficient firms to a less efficient firm, artificial market power is used to exploit drivers, suppliers and consumers, etc.). Wealth accumulators who’d built companies on legitimate economic strengths needed political power defensively—to protect their pot of gold, and to slow down the market forces that would inevitably erode those strengths. Uber-type investors need much more political power, and they need to use it as an offensive weapon immediately on start-up. If the unicorn investing class thinks Uber has proven that tens of billions of private value can be created purely with PR and political strength, then “Unicorn manufacturing” becomes an industry unto itself. Lots of investors will attempt to replicate the formula time and time again, and each new unicorn creates the need to increase raw political power used to enrich these investors, and to destroy any possible political opposition.
Trump watch: Channeling Marshall McLuhan, media theorist Douglas Rushkoff argues that Donald Trump is “the ultimate internet candidate,” not in how he is using the network to organize his supporters, but in how “digigenic” his performance is. He writes:
There’s no great network of Trump Meetups or series of Reddit exchanges. Yet Trump is an internet spectacle nonetheless—a political Charlie Sheen who seems to know exactly how to ride the crest of trending topics, or even create them. On television, his speeches are incoherent mashups, without a clear story or theme. As clickbait, though, they are perfect: short, angry slogans, each more explosive than the last. With Sheen it was tiger blood and winning; with Trump, it’s Jersey City Jihadists and also, possibly, winning.
FWD.us, the pro-immigration group backed by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and other tech moguls, is planning to spend as much as $10 million over the next year to tilt the political system toward reform in 2017, Blake Hounshell reports for Politico. A Global Strategy Group survey of likely voters in CO, FL and NV found that people prefer a candidate who supports a pathway to citizenship over mass deportation by 74 to 18 percent.
Is this civic tech? Shelly Culp attended the recent Code for America Summit and sat with some attendees during lunch who were “extremely happy to talk to complete strangers about what apps they’re working on” and from that she determined, as she writes in an oped for TechWire, that civic techies don’t “appreciate the environments in which decision-makers work and what arcane rules govern them.” Umm, really?
With the help of BetaNYC, the New York City Council just launched Labs.Council.NYC, an “alpha” version of a new council website aimed at informing a wider city audience and engaging it in decision-making processes.
Airbnb has started sharing tons of data on its New York City user base, including stats on host earnings, types of listings and how often people are renting out their homes, the New York Times Mike Isaac reports. “99 percent of people on Airbnb in New York City are using it as an economic lifeline,” Chris Lehane, its head of global policy and public affairs, told Isaac.