Everything Looks Like A Nail

Ed Zitron 8 min read

Marc Andreessen, a man worth nearly two billion dollars, a man who lives in a $177 million compound in Malibu, a man who has been on the board of Facebook and Hewlett-Packard and who likely hasn’t experienced a struggle in decades, wants you to believe he’s a victim.

His 5000-word screed — the “Techno-Optimist Manifesto” — is a sprawling list of grievances and demands from society, claiming that “the free markets are the most effective ways to organize a technological economy” and that “markets cause entrepreneurs to seek out high prices as a signal of opportunity to create new wealth by driving prices down based on supply and demand.”

This is Andreessen’s dream — a continual race to the bottom where the tech industry is incentivized not to solve problems, but to find ways to make already-solved problems cheaper to solve so that venture capitalists can make money. His ugly, spurious logic phrases his “solutions” as utopian, claiming that ‘markets are by far the most effective way to lift vast numbers of people out of poverty” without couching that with any citation or proof, other than the fact that “even in totalitarian regimes, an incremental lifting of the repressive boot…leads to rapidly rising incomes and standards of living…[and if you] take the boot off entirely, who knows how rich everyone can get.”

Andreessen’s thinking is equal parts outdated and childish, hinging heavily on the idea that the world needs more technology, and the way that we get more technology is through removing any barriers that might stop the tech industry and venture capitalists from monetizing every aspect of the modern world. Andreessen reserves an entire part of his essay to list those entities and concepts he deems “The Enemy,” naming “authoritarianism” alongside “social responsibility,” “sustainable development” and “tech ethics.” Andreessen believes that “risk management” is the enemy in the same year that Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse decimated the ability for tech companies to raise money, and “trust and safety” as the enemy as Twitter crumbles directly as a result of firing a team with the very same name.

I could rip this entire sorry screed to pieces line by line, because Andreessen’s vision is equal parts contradictory and confused. He rails against “regulatory capture,” yet seems to fully support SpaceX, an enterprise that has — along with Elon Musk — exerted massive control over the government agencies funding it.

The same essay references Adam Smith, arguably the most notable historical proponent of laissez-faire free market economics (who would still, in many ways, disagree with him), and David Friedman (son of Milton Friedman) an emphatic anarcho-capitalist who has argued for the wholesale privatization of the state, including the functions of law enforcement. It lists the so-called “Patron Saints of Techno-Optimism,” which includes names like Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, both Austrian School economists. Another patron saint is John Galt, the fictional protagonist of Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged.   For all intents and purposes, “The Techno-Optimist Manifesto” is a vocal defense of libertarian economic thinking, and although Andreessen offers a fleeting and mealy-mouthed defense of “social welfare systems,” he doesn’t try to hide his rotten, exploitative dreams.

And yet, Andreessen’s success — both original and ongoing — couldn’t have happened without the very visible hand of the government.

The Internet is a product of government investment — both from DARPA and from CERN, which receives funds from several European and North American governments. Many of A16Z’s portfolio companies in the defense world couldn’t exist without the State, relying on things like OpenGov, a tool for government officials to plan and manage budgets. And without federal intervention, A16Z would be receiving pennies on the dollar for its holdings at Silicon Valley Bank. The entire essay — and Andreessen’s worldview — is steeped in hypocrisy.

Marc’s enemy is “the ivory tower, the know-it-all credentialed expert worldview, indulging in abstract theories, luxury beliefs, social engineering, disconnected from the real world, delusional, unelected, and unaccountable – playing God with everyone else’s lives, with total insulation from the consequences,” a series of descriptors that arguably applies to a white billionaire that called anti-colonialism “economically catastrophic” to India when they chose to block Mark Zuckerberg’s Free Basics internet program.

Andreessen, who, in a 2015 Financial Times interview, said that he “eats at home almost every night…and watch[es] an unbelievable amount of TV,” sneers at the fact that “most people want to live in a world where there’s no risk…[and want] to invest their money and not have it fall.”

I’d argue that there is nobody less worthy to comment on the plight of the average person, no commentator more divorced from reality, no venture capitalist less fitting to discuss how society might thrive than the man who turned the tech industry into a growth-at-all-costs casino. Andreessen’s views are so convoluted and contradictory because he wants to dress his selfishness and greed in the trappings of intellectualism, yet continually articulates them with the finesse and gravitas of a 30-year-old incel.

His language and thinking dovetail effortlessly with the most noxious elements of the manosphere. He objects to universal basic income (UBI) by stating it would turn people into “zoo animals to be farmed by the state,” adding “man was not meant to be farmed; man was meant to be useful, to be productive, to be proud,” a line that could have been cribbed straight from an unreleased Jordan Peterson self-help book. He describes the notion that technology could depress wages or eliminate jobs as a “lie,” despite the vast amount of evidence to the contrary.

The insinuation is obvious. If you’re struggling, it’s because you’re too lazy, too unproductive, or just haven’t subscribed to his techno-utopian mindset - and you don’t deserve any help. Again, this from a man who owes his entire existence and wealth to government intervention. Socialism for me, but not for thee.

Every word he writes drips with resentment toward any force that might possibly stop the ascent of the rich white man. He may frame this as “techno-optimism,” but his thoughts are endlessly negative, decrying “spiraling dysfunction and escalating ineptness” and “thought control” as he pushes against any cause that might support a human being that wasn’t born rich or deemed necessary by the venture capital gods.

Andreessen quotes Carrie Fisher (who would have fucking hated him) as stating that “resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die,” only to follow that quote with the aforementioned list of enemies.

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The Regressive Manifesto

However, the real thing that Andreessen wants to hide is that he doesn’t actually want progress. The world that existed before 2020 was one that supported the growth-at-all-costs model that enriched him —-- a systemic inequity that fattens up private companies to be dumped onto the public markets with no regard for how poorly they’ll perform, meaning that investing in tech is inherently rigged to enrich the few and exploit the many. Andreessen fears any cause - (de-growth, regulation, equity, socialism, and so on) - that threatens A16Z’s core business model, which requires the future to arrive at exactly the speed that’s most profitable.

Andreessen claims that he is pro-accelerationism, “the conscious and deliberate propulsion of technological development,” yet his mantras and investments continually seem to advocate for keeping things exactly the same, investing hundreds of millions of dollars into shit that already exists. Marc isn’t an optimist —-- he’s a craven cynic, an ultra-wealthy demagogue that craves less regulation, fewer roadblocks, and less equity, selling a false dream of “rugged individualism” that mostly comes down to the rich inheriting the Earth.

Marc, like many quasi-libertarians, frames himself as a risk-taking trailblazer while risking nothing, offering no new positions and doing very little to advance society for anyone other than similarly myopic kleptocrats.

Marc’s essay is an embarrassment to the tech industry, - a meandering complaint-fest that poses nothing other than the vaguest libertarian propaganda, non-specifically framing “enemies” without having the courage to point to anyone specifically. Marc pantomimes being a firebrand in the same way that he pantomimes being a futurist —-- by making no real suggestions or calls to action but doing so with a lot of bloviating and pontificating that never really seems to go anywhere. A16Z hasn’t made billions creating a technological utopia. -  they’ve done so by adding as many layers of tech to society as possible, for better (Stripe, Plaid) and for worse (Airbnb, Instacart, and every Web3 investment).

I repeat myself, but it’s also crucial to note that he offers no real solutions to any of his problems, and is arguably the very same kind of authoritarian he claims to abhor. In 5000 words, Marc’s only real suggestion is that social justice or government regulation is bad, and that economic growth is good and makes people rich. This unbelievably wealthy man, one that has made rich people even richer and lost regular people billions of dollars, does not have any solutions, or policies, or ideas. He believes “in the romance of technology, of industry…the eros of the train, the car, the electric light [and] the skyscraper,” and that technology expands “what it can mean to be free, to be fulfilled, to be alive,” yet has historically fought against causes that would expand that meaning.

And fundamentally, he’s a hypocrite. Marc Andreessen decries those who “use George Orwell’s 1984 as an instruction manual” while using his power and influence to list the enemies of society and prosperity, naming the “patron saints” of optimism as the approved standards to live by. He offers no citations for his points, no literature to review, because he is not speaking to people who want their selfish biases confirmed.

In reality, Andreessen and his ilk are anti-innovation and anti-prosperity. They do not want to see healthier, happier humans. They are not funding ways to reduce systemic inequality because they do not experience it. As TechCrunch said, “Andreessen’s vision…[is one] where technology solves all problems,” and for him, it did. Andreessen was a self-taught programmer that made one of the first web browsers, which in turn (with the backing of a former Stanford professor with a yacht) became Netscape, which would make Andreessen over a hundred million dollars. He would then go on to found a company called Loudcloud, which he would sell to HP for $1.6 billion in 2007. Technology has always solved Andreessen’s problems, but not through innovation or creativity other than that which increased the multiplier that a company could be sold for.

These people do not care about the future. They are eternally mired in the past, grinding their axes and scowling at those who would stop them making a further dollar. These are not optimists — they are the most naked cynics, believing that the current societal structures that empower and enrich them should be made more efficient, and that those who don’t want to be exploited should join their mob.

Those who espouse “optimism” yet crave the reinforcement of unjust power structures are vile. Those who do not see our current world as one that is deeply cruel and difficult for the average person are either ignorant or evil. Those who tell you to be grateful for a society where the majority of people live paycheck-to-paycheck as they buy their second house in Malibu are the enemy.

And the enemy is scared. They see the rise of an unprecedented labor movement, one that continues to crush large corporations, and they are terrified. They see the world becoming more equitable and inclusive, and they are terrified. They see cultural awareness of life beyond work, and they are terrified.

It’s because your true enemies are those who create nothing yet demand everything. They invest other people’s money into other people’s companies, continually reaping the benefits of other people’s labor while leaving no real legacy.

They are rent-seekers —-- proxy landlords playing chess with billions of dollars, and they’re realizing that the things they’ve given birth to rarely change the world for the better.

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