The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
All The President's Oligeeks

Has the time of the oligeeks arrived? According to Joel Kotkin over at New Geography, the true power base behind Obama’s second term is the group of oligarchic tech companies that are thriving in America’s new information economy:

Last year the tech oligarchs emerged as major political players. Microsoft, Google and their employees were the largest private-sector donors to the president. More important still, tech workers also provided the president and his party with a unique set of digital tools that helped identify potential supporters among traditionally uninformed and disinterested voters, particularly among the young.

Kotkin argues that the biggest losers in this alliance are the small business owners eclipsed by the rise of the oligeeks. Small businesses have the most to fear from Obama’s second term because of the President’s pronounced lean toward the tech oligarchs.

Kotkin is half right. On the one hand, his argument about oligeek’s policy preferences captures a real truth. Silicon Valley companies aren’t energy hogs, relative to other industries, and on average they hire fewer workers at higher wages. Thus it takes no skin off their back to support a higher minimum wage, tighter industry restrictions, and heavy environmental regulations—all of which are policies that hurt small business.

On the other hand, the innovations pioneered by the oligeeks have already done a lot to make small business more profitable and productive. Apps like Skype and Google Chat allow small business employees to stay in touch in real time across virtually any distance. Via Meadia itself is a small business, and new tech has allowed us to manage staff and distribute content in ways that were impossible ten years ago.

The president’s oligeeks, then, have an ambiguous relationship with small business. They are not just enemies; a better name might be frenemies.

Published on January 22, 2013 1:28 pm