Our job often involves helping IT leaders choose between unappetizing alternatives: Pay a massive termination penalty or stay with a failing provider? Overprovision your data center footprint or not be able to expand later? Continue to pay more or disrupt a cozy supplier relationship? And usually we’re able to help find a third way – get the termination fee waived; get a free space reservation; find savings and reinvest it with the same supplier.
But in the US election, there’s no third way. There’s no last minute charge from the libertarians or the greens or anyone else to save us from the two most historically unpopular candidates. The biggest single reason for voting for either candidate is to stop the other. And not just out of regular opposition – there’s a palpable sense of fear that the other candidate will bring on the end of American democracy as we know it. So in the spirit of Halloween, let’s see what will happen if each side’s worst fears play out – and how it will affect the world of tech.
What’s the worst that can happen?
For each side, the possibility of the other winning is an unthinkable horror. Some 81 percent of people are terrified of one of the outcomes – and about a quarter of both. The quotes are priceless: “If Hillary Clinton won, I’d probably consider suicide” and “If Trump wins, well, we’ve already checked out Malta and New Zealand.”
Some of this is overblown, with precedents both recent and ancient. Partisan predictions of Obama bringing about economic collapse, $10 gas, and gun confiscation abounded in the last election cycle. Even Thomas Jefferson found a proxy to call John Adams a hermaphrodite, and later called Andrew Jackson “a dangerous man unfit for the presidency” whose popular support made him doubt democracy. So we’ve been scraping the bottom of the political discourse for a lot longer than one election cycle.
We obviously know there are some major implications in this election for people that might need to get an abortion or want to welcome poor and huddled masses. Probably for wall construction companies too. But what about the tech world? What would they fear most out of a President Trump or President Clinton? What makes Peter Thiel drop a 7-figure donation to Trump? And what drives the people that then call for his removal from all of his official positions as though he gave the money to David Duke or Il Duce instead? And since it’s Halloween, let’s amp up those fears to 11 and see what the worst of the worst outcomes for our industry will be.
It’s as hard to nail down a universal fear of Secretary Clinton as it is to ascertain her private position, which is notoriously different from her public ones. But while the Bernie Bro fears of a corporate puppet DINO don’t conjure up anything radically new – after all, the promise of Hope and Change translated into more government secrecy, continued wars abroad and many other broken promises and compromises — the tinfoil hats on the other side are tingling with the promise of much more interesting times.
So what will a Clinton V2.0 presidency look like for technology if she takes a left turn past Bernie and into outright socialism / communism per the supposed secret Saul Alinsky 8-step plan?
- The Harrison Bergeron-style stamping out of all inequality – both justified and rent-seeking kills technical innovation once and for all
- The transfer of domain names to ICANN results in politically correct censorship of all right-leaning outlets and pursuit of anyone that reads them. After Hillary pressures Facebook, Twitter, and Google to self-censor. Zuckerberg, Brin, and Page follow the lead of the VK.com founder and move on to greener pastures.
- The rootless cosmopolitan opens borders to all sorts of scary foreigners (with PhDs / masters from accredited institutions). The Disney H1B scandal turns into routine operations and IT wages collapse under the weight of commoditization.
- Peter Thiel pours the rest of his fortune into seasteading and this time actually gets other techies on board to build his floating Galt’s Gulch. Silicon Valley slowly empties and becomes affordable again. Hippies rejoice.
- Income inequality becomes negligible as we’re all part of an anarcho-sydicalist collective floating back to the dung ages and collecting some lovely filth.
Herr Drumpf Becomes Il Douche
Unlike the Hillary apocalyptic scenarios, which take a certain leap of the conspiratorial mind, the idea of a Trump-fueled World War III or some other world-changing disaster are not entirely baseless. But even if we just stick to more mundane dangers, there are a few interesting ones for technology in particular that are orders of magnitude more likely:
- Following through on his promise to “open up” libel laws, Trump enlists technological help from new allies in Russia to ensure localization of data and registration of popular bloggers. User generated content decreases in volume and diversity as bloggers and newspapers alike look over their shoulders. The gap is filled with state-sponsored trolls, who have already worked on the Trump campaign.
- A Trumpist approach to business ethics puts a chill on the sharing economy and crowdsourcing, as buyers start to look for petty disputes to deny payment to small contractors and systems collapse under the weight of transactional costs, bringing back the raison d’etre of the corporation.
- In a nod to the nativists that won him the election, Trump cancels international trade agreements and working visas for non-Trump affiliated businesses. Cost of IT staff goes up, creating ever greater incentives for automation and robotics. Either that or cancellation of innovative projects.
- Coal gets a second wind, and strip mines become interspersed with cheap power data centers mining bitcoins just in case someone with no knowledge of concepts such as fungibility is not great at running the world’s largest economy.
- A certain number of jingoistic technical patriots find employment in information warfare and hacking the e-mails of undesirable organizations. The rest will get the hell out of dodge, creating the giant sucking sounds of the biggest brain drain this side of… yeah, it’s hard to not Godwin yourself on this subject. The Canadians are already building up data centers in anticipation.
Who wins the Silicon Pumpkin?
Insofar as people put their money where their mouth is, Mr Thiel is in a minority. Granted a smaller one now as he has single-handedly increased tech contributions to Trump by 500 percent. But prior to that, about 95 percent of the donations went to team Hillary, or, since we’re in the age of negative partisanship, against Trump.
So word to the wise – if you want to keep more of your candy in Silicon Valley, put your Trumpkin out and enjoy seeing the kids scatter in fear.
Alex Veytsel is chief strategy officer at RampRate