PayPal co-founder and billionaire Peter Thiel. Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Since the 2008 financial crisis, tech entrepreneurs have redefined the traditional American business executive by seeking media attention and publicly, at least, being more socially conscious and politically correct.
When the housing bubble burst, due in part to lenders handing out large loans to people who were not financially qualified to repay them, banks had to default on their mortgage-backed securities. The public outrage towards the suit-donning executives of Wall Street naturally drove entrepreneurs to adopt a markedly different image. Finance executives were viewed amongst the public as notoriously greedy and selfish with their money; much of the news surrounding these executives were about scandals like insider trading and tax evasion, to name a few.
Tech leaders like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk prefer to have a more relaxed public persona and often contribute to discussions about gender equality and immigration policy. While their profits may be suffering by supporting anti-business regulations, they feel that the tradeoff is more than worth it. The prevailing ideology in Silicon Valley is neoliberalism—socially liberal but pro-free market. A Rasmussen report in 2017 echoed a similar trend across all voters. Entrepreneurs, much like athletes and celebrities, have used their social standing and platform to push for political change. Zuckerberg, for example, has nearly five million Instagram followers and over 100 million Facebook friends; his message can easily be accessed by hundreds of millions of people with a simple click of a button. With those numbers it is easy to see why tech entrepreneurs have such an extensive reach across America’s political scene.
The Silicon Valley, due to its financial and, yes even its, geographic position, greatly influences entrepreneurs’ political viewpoints nationwide. The Bay Area has been known for being left of center since the Gold Rush of 1849 when social rejects and drifters populated the Northern California region and forever changed the region’s demographics. The Silicon Valley, especially San Mateo County, is deep blue—76.4% of the vote went to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election—and the tech community recognizes the overwhelming political preferences of the region. As Mark Zuckerberg stated in his congressional testimony on April 10th, “Facebook and the tech industry are located in Silicon Valley, which is an extremely left-leaning place.” Zuckerberg was testifying to Congress over Facebook’s data sharing scandal, when Cambridge Analytica and nearly 40 other companies were given and abused access to sensitive user data. Privacy has become an increasing problem for the Silicon Valley as corporations have been scrutinized for their use, and sale, of consumer’s data without their knowing permission. While tech entrepreneurs have certainly contributed a lot to society, there are many issues specifically pertaining to them, such as privacy, that they are responsible for finding solutions to. The core of the debate surrounding this issue is primarily on the extent to which the First Amendment applies to free speech on the internet. Republicans advocate for complete and total free speech, whereas Democrats have pushed for censoring internet “hate speech” and misleading articles, better known as “fake news.”
There have been some conservatives who have relocated out of the Silicon Valley due to the one-sided nature of political discourse and views. Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and an avid libertarian, reestablished his venture fund in Los Angeles earlier this year. On first thought, many would consider Los Angeles to be just as liberal as the Bay Area, so why would Peter Thiel decide to move himself and his businesses south? It has been rumored for many months that Thiel wants to start a conservative media outlet, considering that L.A. was the birthplace for Breitbart News, the Drudge Report, and the Daily Wire. Many also feel that Southern California, where the political careers of presidents Reagan and Nixon both began, is more accepting of conservatives due to its size and proximity to Orange County, a primarily right-leaning region.
In a debate on tech and politics at Stanford University, Thiel seemingly compared the Silicon Valley to the Soviet Union when he said, “the Silicon Valley is a one-party state. That’s when you get in trouble politically in our society, when you’re all in one side.” Thiel touched on an important aspect of diversity that many people forget: diversity of thought. A 2013 study by Deloitte pins thought diversity, not gender, race, or religion, as the most important aspect of a balanced, open workplace. The study says that cultivating thought diversity in a workplace increases productivity, innovation, and problem-solving abilities. All of these traits are especially important to the businesses of the Silicon Valley, where companies believe that they building the future of our society. When entrepreneurs act on their own personal beliefs to create a rigid, uniform society in the Silicon Valley, it proves to be detrimental to American society as a whole. The study referenced above suggests that society would see greater innovation if business owners put politics aside and created a diverse workplace, specifically in terms of opinions and ideas.
Shashi Ramchandani, a manager at Google, is an avid, and highly outspoken, conservative who feels that the Silicon Valley’s one-sided politics put the two things he loves most against each other: innovation and conservatism. As discussed in his feature in Bloomberg, Ramchandani, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from India, said, “I had more trouble coming out as a conservative than I did with my race or orientation or any other minority status.” He, like many Silicon Valley conservatives, feels that politics should have no impact on your work experience. Ramchandani feels that Google should recognize its conservative employees’ voices, but has noticed an increase in an “us versus them” mentality across his conservative circles within the company. While Ramchandani has not gone to the extent of Thiel, he certainly has felt and documented the treatment and views towards conservatives in the Silicon Valley workplace.
The left-leaning nature of the Silicon Valley’s politics has created a one-sided culture that has silenced conservatives and even forced some to relocate to other areas of the country to engage in better, friendlier business and social environments. While many entrepreneurs feel that the liberal, “accepting” nature of the region is more beneficial to business, others have combated that argument by saying that innovation is hampered by a lack of thought diversity. Silicon Valley executives will have to decide over upcoming years if it is worth pursuing a homogeneous political atmosphere or if they should prioritize diversity of thought to increase innovation and problem-solving capabilities among their employees.