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硅谷繁荣背后的政治阴云
Political risk stalks booming Silicon Valley

2017-4-19 09:16| 发布者: 凡心| 查看: 102| 评论: 0

摘要: For the past two decades Alex Karp, chief executive of Palantir, the data analytics “unicorn” start-up, has seen Silicon Valley bask in a seemingly unstoppable boom. These days, however, he feels un ...
For the past two decades Alex Karp, chief executive of Palantir, the data analytics “unicorn” start-up, has seen Silicon Valley bask in a seemingly unstoppable boom. These days, however, he feels uneasy.

That is not because of the issue which alarms some investors: that technology valuations are so elevated they will eventually crash. Instead, Mr Karp frets about politics. “The Valley is marching off a political cliff,” he told me this week. “The [tech companies] have all these monopolies and economic capital, and assume that it translates into political capital — but that isn’t true.”

Is he correct? Not if you listen to the public statements of other tech titans. The story Silicon Valley likes to tell is that it is a bastion of the American dream, producing innovative products that improve consumers’ lives. This should create plenty of political support, or so the argument goes. After all, surveys suggest that public trust in technology is sky high.

I suspect, though, that Mr Karp is quite right and deserves great credit for speaking out. After all, a mere decade ago, Wall Street titans were also brimming with hubris and wealth, convinced that innovation was improving the world. However, the banking crisis then triggered a fierce political backlash against finance.

There is nothing like the 2008 crisis looming for tech right now. On the contrary, the present White House seems to favour deregulation, not a regulatory clampdown. But what savvy observers like Mr Karp can see are a host of slow-burn issues, on both sides of the Atlantic, that could, at best, spark recrimination and at worst a policy shock.

What issues make tech vulnerable? One is parochial: the Valley was (mostly) on the wrong side of the US election last year. Its Democratic bias ought not to matter, as Donald Trump’s team claims to be inclusive. But it is noteworthy that Silicon Valley was the first business sector to openly challenge the White House on immigration. It is also striking how few tech CEOs there are on the president’s business advisory council. (Although Travis Kalanick of Uber initially joined, he quickly resigned, leaving just Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX and Ginni Rometty of IBM.)

A second, longer-term, problem is job losses. Until now Mr Trump has blamed trade for American workers’ woes. However, another big culprit is the type of digitisation being unleashed by Silicon Valley. Tech businesses could become convenient scapegoats, particularly since companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook have enjoyed fat profits and near-monopoly power in certain sectors.

A third, related, issue is tax. As profits have boomed, tech groups have amassed $867bn in offshore cash piles, partly to avoid paying high US taxes. This irritates American politicians. However, European officials accuse tech companies of avoiding taxes. Silicon Valley companies retort (correctly) that they are only responding to laws. But that does not lessen the potential outrage. Nor does philanthropy help in Europe: unlike in America, conspicuous charity is viewed with suspicion in places such as Germany or Scandinavia.

Then there are the tangled issues of security and privacy. In Europe, there is criticism of social media companies for being slow to curb the spread of fake news, and to guard consumer privacy. American and British intelligence services are even more angry that extremist Islamist propaganda has spread on social media, along with sensitive intelligence leaks, and that tech companies have sometimes refused to hand over data on terrorism. This further reduces tech companies’ political support.

Some tech executives can see this and are fighting back. Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon have vast lobbying operations in Washington and Brussels. Facebook and Twitter are developing tools to combat fake news, and Google and Apple say they want to help American workers train — or retrain — for a digitised future. Meanwhile, some tech executives are trying to work with Mr Trump’s White House. “We don’t want to be isolated,” says one.

But this can only mitigate the risk, not remove it, in a world where nobody has a solution for displaced workers and where monopolies are unlikely to vanish unless we all start using entirely new tech platforms. Indeed, the only truly effective measure that Silicon Valley could probably take to reduce political risk would be to visibly pay more tax. But don’t bet on that happening soon. Or not unless Mr Trump produces a (near miraculous) innovation of his own — a tax reform deal to repatriate those vast overseas cash piles.

二十年来,数据分析类“独角兽”初创公司Palantir的首席执行官(CEO)亚历克斯?卡普(Alex Karp)一直目睹硅谷沉浸在看似势不可挡的繁荣之中。然而,最近这段日子,他开始感到了不安。

他所担心的并不是那个让一些投资者感到提心吊胆的问题:科技公司最终可能因为估值过高而走向崩盘。相反,卡普顾虑的是政治。“硅谷就要走到政治悬崖外了,”不久前他告诉我,“(科技企业)拥有垄断地位和经济资本,并且以为这些可以转变为政治资本——但这不是真的。”

他说得对吗?如果你听了其他科技大佬的公开发言,你会觉得他说错了。硅谷喜欢讲自己是“美国梦”的堡垒、自己制造的创新产品改善了消费者的生活。这些应该给硅谷带来很多政治支持,至少他们是这么认为的。毕竟,调查表明公众极其相信科技。

不过,我认为卡普说的很对,他能说出这些话也非常值得称赞。毕竟就在10年前,华尔街巨头的身上还散发着傲慢和金钱的光芒,深信创新正在改善这个世界。然而,之后爆发的银行业危机触发了对金融业的强烈政治反弹。

如今科技业面临的前景与2008年金融危机时完全不同。相反,目前白宫似乎倾向于放松监管,而不是加强监管。但像卡普这样精明的观察者可以看到大西洋两岸存在很多正在缓慢发酵的问题,轻者可能导致各方相互指责,重者可能引发一波政策冲击。

哪些问题使科技企业容易受冲击?一个问题是地方性的:在去年美国大选中,硅谷(多数人)站错了队。鉴于唐纳德?特朗普(Donald Trump)团队声称会包容异己,硅谷偏好支持民主党这一点应该不会有事。但值得注意的是,硅谷公司是最先跳出来公开挑战白宫移民政策的企业。同样引人注意的是,在特朗普的商业顾问委员会中,科技企业CEO很少。(优步(Uber)的特拉维斯?卡兰尼克(Travis Kalanick)最初加入了委员会,但他迅速辞职了,只剩特斯拉(Tesla)和SpaceX的创始人埃隆?马斯克(Elon Musk)以及IBM的罗睿兰(Ginni Rometty)仍留在委员会中。)

第二个、也是长期存在的问题是就业流失。迄今为止,特朗普一直指责贸易造成了美国工人失业。然而,另一个元凶是由硅谷带来的数字化。科技企业会很容易成为替罪羊,更何况亚马逊(Amazon)、苹果(Apple)、谷歌(Google)和Facebook等企业斩获了丰厚利润,并且在特定领域成为了近乎垄断的势力。

第三个相关问题是税收。随着利润不断膨胀,科技集团在海外积累了8670亿美元的现金储备,部分是为了避免回美国缴纳高额税收。这惹怒了美国政客。然而,欧洲官员指控科技企业想方设法避税。硅谷企业反驳称(有理有据)他们都是依照法律行事。但这并不能使怒火稍减。在欧洲做慈善也没用:与美国不同,在德国和斯堪的纳维亚之类的地方,高调地做慈善反而会引起怀疑。

此外,还有关于安全和隐私这两个相互交织的问题。在欧洲,有人批评社交媒体企业在阻止假新闻传播和保护消费者隐私方面行动迟缓。对于极端伊斯兰主义在社交媒体上宣传、敏感情报泄露以及科技企业有时拒绝提交有关恐怖主义的数据等问题,美国和英国的情报机构就更生气了。这些进一步削弱了科技企业得到的政治支持。

一些科技企业高管能看到这一点,并且正在反击。苹果、谷歌、Facebook和亚马逊在华盛顿和布鲁塞尔大力开展游说。Facebook和Twitter正在研发打击假新闻的工具,谷歌和苹果称他们想帮美国工人培训——或再培训——以适应数字化的未来。与此同时,一些科技企业高管正在尝试与特朗普领导的白宫合作。“我们不想被孤立,”一名高管称。

但是,在这个世界上,没有人能解决工人失业问题,而且除非我们全部开始使用全新的科技平台,否则垄断现象不太可能消失,所以上述那些做法只能减轻风险,而无法完全消除风险。事实上,为了降低政治风险,硅谷可能采取的唯一真正有效的措施是缴纳更多税金,并且增幅要大到能让人们明显看见。但不要指望这种情况会很快出现。或者除非特朗普拿出自己的创新(近乎于天方夜谭)——出台一个税收改革方案以吸引企业汇回在海外的巨额现金。

译者/马柯斯


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