Everyone in high tech is a libertarian of one sort or another. It's the one political idea that unites everyone I know.
Some (like me, usually) are liberalitarians. We come to libertarianism from an ACLU perspective. We believe everyone must have equal rights, and recognize that means (sometimes) the rich must be kept from running over the poor. Others come to the same conclusions from an Ayn Rand perspective. They feel perfectly capable of defending themselves, and see the government as nothing more than an enemy.
The extremes of this view were on display two years ago in Michael Malone's feature for "Upside" called "Technofascism" . Now a second "Upside" writer, Paulina Borsook, has plowed some of the same ground in a story that MSNBC titled "CyberSelfish."
I don't think this attitude has anything to do with technology. It has to do with my generation's formative political experiences. Both the political left and right were burned by the "moderates" they supported in the 60s and 70s - the left by Johnson and the right by Nixon. The left went into "identity politics" as a way to lick its wounds. Liberals substituted the small "we" of identified interest for the universal "we" that animated the New Deal, the Greatest Generation and the Civil Rights movement. The right, of course, went into the ideology of the Reagan Revolution, which united Church Street, Main Street, Wall Street, and Easy Street Republicans around suspicions that government was good for nothing save fighting wars and jailing people.
Both strains of thought are on display in this year's election campaign. Liberal disquiet over Gore was driven by the suspicion he was either too friendly with business or too friendly with the conservative "identity politicians" of the Christian right. His solution was to aim at the roots of "us" liberalism - the populism of William Jennings Bryan that animated Wilson, Roosevelt and Truman. His problem now is to reconcile that with his support of the Big Internet's political interests. That's the message Joseph Lieberman is now delivering, according to David Broder of "The Washington Post." . "To hear Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph I. Lieberman tell it," Broder wrote, "no big business should fear hostility from a Gore-Lieberman administration."
The problem for voters is that no serious politician (Ralph Nader doesn't count, sorry) has even considered the growing split of interests between "Big Internet" and "Little Internet." This split will only become evident in a real recession. That recession has now begun, and the results will re-make political alignments for the rest of our lives.
If, as now seems likely, Al Gore inherits this mess, then God help him.
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I write daily for ClickZ. I write monthly for NetMarketing and Boardwatch. I've been in Advertisi000ng Age and the Chicago Tribune . Once every other month I'm in CLEC Magazine. Twice each month I'm at OneChannel.Net and I've recently joined the staff at ISPWorld. You can always buy my book . Subscription instructions are at the bottom of each issue.
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Takes on the News
Hard Times for Freelancers
When the market turns down freelancers are the first to feel the pain. Outsiders who assume freelancers replace employees are wrong , at least at first. What happens first is that freelance work is eliminated, then jobs are cut. Freelance is only hired back after an uptick in work, when the remaining staff is stretched and the employer isn't yet certain it's safe to hire again.
There are other ways for freelancers to see a downturn. Employers start demanding copyrights and eliminate residual payments. (The current strike by advertising actors was a leading indicator.) Another, more direct, assault against freelance income is the no-compete clause. In my case, when ClickZ was acquired by Internet.Com I immediately lost my weekly column on Andover.Net. Andover competes with Internet.Com (according to Internet.Com), and took direct action.
Freelancers are the canaries in the mineshaft for full-time employees. We're very sensitive to changes in market conditions. When we start coughing, check your medicine chest. (cough)
Under Pressure, Amazon Hoses Us All
There's a reason you haven't seen many links to Amazon books or records in this column lately. As I wrote in ClickZ recently, Amazon has chosen to hose all its users, claiming the same ownership of private data as spammers do.
Amazon's aggressive policy goes far beyond that, however, as The Register revealed recently . The fact is that analysts are right. Amazon has failed to extend its reign over the worlds of books, CDs and movies into areas like toys, cars and auctions. In some cases, the problem is no one has figured out a way to make the business work. In other cases, the problem is a fearsome competitor who could not be dislodged.
How Amazon really feels may be betrayed by the coming of the "zBox." If Amazon fights the zBox, or tries to buy it for next to nothing, it may win the battle but it will lose the war, because image does matter, and Amazon has been sacrificing image for short-term advantage.
These results, and an increasing demand from Wall Street for results, has forced Amazon to take a hard look in the mirror. It has made a hard choice, for itself and against its other stakeholders. If the company can make a profit with its new policies, however, it will still have to face the wrath of those stakeholders.
More Proof of a Fall
When the Internet stock crash began in the spring a lot was written about this being just a stock market event, that there was no real slowdown in business.
This view has proven as obsolete as GOP assumptions that Gore's "bounce" wouldn't last. The fact is that growth in online advertising had to slow once the scheme of dot-coms exchanging orders among themselves ended. It had to end when cash replaced scrip. The failures of dozens forced write-offs of due bills from dozens more, whose backers then looked at the books with jaundiced eye and demanded "show me the money."
The problems among "e-builders" are more difficult to diagnose . Many of these companies were never heavily dependent on dot-com business. But they were dependent on the aura of dot-com success. When that aura disappeared many clients (and potential clients) in the Fortunate 500 switched back to gray suits at EDS, Cambridge Technology Group and PriceWaterhouseCoopers (which is why Hewlett-Packard wants to buy the last). On top of that many e-builders never really matured as real businesses. Some of their leaders were shown to be hollow men, others were shown to be running hollow companies.
In most subsets of the industry taking management control away from entrepreneurs in favor of mature businesspeople is simply an excuse for finding an investment banker. In this case, it's a move that's long overdue. Thanks to the ego-driven political machinations of the e-builders the industry has squandered another year, it's not ready for the pressures of the coming Christmas season and the progress of the last several years is threatened as never before.
Clued-in are IBM and Nortel Networks , for clearly showing on their sites how to reach their PR people. IBM's database-like interface is especially elegant, but Nortel's simple list is also effective. Thanks, guys.
Clueless is Safetytips for buying APBNEws out of bankruptcy for $575,000 . When a site goes under goodwill disappears and the name is worthless. This is a lesson soon to be learned by Fashionmall, the new owners of Boo.Com .
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