An Expat VC on the US Election: Why, How, and What Now?
As an American living abroad, I have been shielded from a lot of the insanity of this year’s election, but even sitting here in Tokyo, halfway across the world, the vitriol and frustration is palpable. Sure, the Presidential Election in the United States is always charged with emotion, but as almost anyone who has voted in multiple election cycles would agree, this year is particularly heated.
People have said harsh goodbyes to friends, unable to empathise with their choices. Families have lost touch, fearful of the difficult conversations that would ensue if the topic of politics were to be broached (I’m sad to say I speak from personal experience on that one). The very foundation of the Two Party System has been irrevocably damaged. The question of what it really means to be an American remains up for debate.
One thing is clear: Shit is broken. The world we lived in previously has changed. The American Dream used to be: work hard in school, get good grades, go to college, get a good job, find a wife who will take care of your house, buy a house, work hard, rise in the ranks, save your money, provide your children with a better life than you had, rinse, repeat. Sorry guys (yes, I mean guys), no can do.
For most people, that is no longer an option. College doesn’t guarantee you a job anymore (trust me, even a Harvard degree is worth less than it used to be). And even if it does get you a job, your job has probably started to be replaced by technology. Entire companies are being dismantled, so the idea of a long-term career at one company is rare. Most women don’t want to be just wives anymore, nor do they have to be. As the Great Financial Crisis taught us so painfully, houses don’t always go up in value, so they are not a safe investment anymore. Interest rates are zero, so saving doesn’t do you much good either. So… yeah, shit is broken. The promises we were sold have turned out to be empty, and it’s not really anyone’s fault, either. It just is.
Sure, we can try to put it all back together again. Go ahead and try. Even if that were possible, it still wouldn’t work again. Why, you ask? But why, can’t we just go back to the glory days? One word: technology. Technology has not only changed the world, but it has changed how fast the world changes. As our most recent Nobel Prize winner, Bob Dylan, so eloquently pointed out… “The times they are a’changing.” And they’re changing faster than ever before.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the Black Swan, wrote a fantastic book called Antifragile. I have a short attention span, so I’m not going to lie to you, I only read half of it. But the takeaway is this; Fragility is when you break something, and you cannot repair it. Resilience is when you break something, and it can return to its previous state. Antifragility (the best way to be), is when you break something, and it returns to an even better state, more powerful and strong than before it was broken.
I can only hope that part of what makes America great is that we are the definition of antifragile. We need to have faith in our ability to heal these rifts that emerged from the US election, to face the difficult conversations that must take place, and to emerge a stronger, more informed, more creative, and more antifragile nation than we were before.
Doing that, however, requires us to take a step back, to set aside our emotions, and to take a deep look at the incredibly valuable and previously unseen information revealed by this election. So let’s remove the emotion, take a quick look at the facts brought to light by this year’s Presidential Saga, and dedicate ourselves to building something better in its wake.
What have we learned?
Technology has forever changed how we, as individuals, make decisions.
We used to live in a world where information was difficult to access, and we relied on key institutions like the political parties, the media (newspapers, TV personalities), academic and religious institutions to tell us what we needed to know to make an informed decision.
Now, we get our information from the internet. Anyone can read about the candidates online, anyone can publish their opinion, anyone can state a “fact”, or share their emotional reactions. We have become infinite information consumers and producers.
As a result, it has been shown that our grip on the truth is loosening. Our willingness to hear arguments counter to our own beliefs is weakening. Our strength to overcome our own biases is diminishing.
The systems that have kept our world stable have not gotten the memo.
The key systems and infrastructure which shape our lives were all created in a time before technology existed. The idea that we would be meeting our mates on Tinder, sharing our momentary thoughts and emotions on Facebook, carpooling to work in a stranger’s car, or tracking our daily food intake and steps on an app were completely unfathomable at the time of their creation.
So, where does it all break down? Jobs. The systems that support the world as we know it can be broken down as follows: corporations that provide us with jobs, education which prepares us for those jobs, the government which protects those jobs and protects us if we don’t have jobs. (Ben Thompson writes brilliantly on this system here, if you’re interested in learning more how this system was created and why.)
As technology accelerates, companies are being forced to adapt to increase margins, productivity, and profits for investors. As a result, jobs are being automated. Because technology evolves faster than we can learn, or the education system can provide us with relevant skills, we are losing our jobs. People without jobs are angry, disappointed, disenchanted, and scared. Not a good equation for an election, or for anything for that matter.
It is up to us to rebuild those systems in a way that will last.
Technology is not a trend. It is not a sector. It is an inevitable force redefining the world in every way. This will not change, it will only accelerate. As outlined by the concept of singularity, the rate of change of technology will only get faster and faster. This unleashes unfathomable potential, but can also be disastrous if we don’t create a system that can keep up.
This brings us back to the concept of antifragility. We can’t simply repair our broken systems. We can’t simply aim for resilience. The only option is to imagine and re-build the world on a foundation that gains from change, and as a result, actually gets stronger over time.
Okay, fine. But what can we do about it now?
First, we have to stop wishing for “the way things were” and start taking a deep look at how we can start rebuilding a world that fits today’s reality. Because of technology, we are living in a world where we have unprecedented power as individuals. Yes, that is terrifying. But it’s also fucking awesome, because it means we all matter and we all have a role to play.
I continue to believe the only way for each of us to start making a difference is through education. Whether this is in K-12, universities, corporate training, online platforms, whatever. A few ideas:
- Educate individuals on how to find, assess, and synthesize what is valid information and what is not.
- Encourage empathy so that we have the discipline and intellectual strength to accommodate the views of others.
- Raise awareness around our inherent biases so we know how to truly listen and learn.
- Create ways that professionals can continually learn new skills, quickly and efficiently, so we can always find jobs.
- Provide access to information about what jobs are available, and what we need to be get them.
The list goes on and on. Everyone needs to play their part, but first they need the tools that empower them to do so.
I am personally dedicated to doing whatever I can to help rebuild the systems that shape our world (not just America). That’s why we created Fresco Capital, where we are investing in the technology transforming these very sectors that need serious upgrades: education technology, work technology, digital healthcare. But that’s just one small part of a much bigger, more important picture of creating a new future.
So… let’s stop whining about this fucking disaster of an election and get started.