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Keen On Democracy

Produced and Engineered - Jason Sanderson at

Mar 14, 2019

Today, I’m in New York City talking about the same subject. My guest is Rana Foroohar, the Financial Times columnist, CNN global economic analyst and best-selling author. Foroohar, who is coming out with a book about the tech platforms later this year entitled DON’T BE EVIL, is also one of Silicon Valley’s most articulate critics. And so she is particularly well equipped to make the connection between the rise of Big Tech and today’s crisis of democracy.   




So there is, indeed, an intimate connection between the rise of the big tech platforms and our crisis of democracy. At least according to Rana Faroohar. But is she right? Is Silicon Valley really the cancer eating away at the American Republic.


  • I think Faroohar who, by the way, wrote Makers and Takers, an acclaimed 2016 critique of contemporary American financial capitalism, is correct to describe Silicon Valley and Wall Street similarly. Both industries are dominated by libertarian ideologues, she says, which have profited liberally from fourty years of radical deregulation. The monopolists in both industries are stifling innovation. Both sectors are lacking any kind of moral center – a ethical vacuum epitomized by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg who worked on Wall Street before coming to Silicon Valley. And both have contributed to a blatantly rigged economy that has triggered the rise of populism.


  • So to protect both democracy and capitalism in America, Faroohar convincingly suggests, requires both reforming Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Self regulation doesn’t work, she insists. And that’s why, I suspect, she positively cited Elizabeth Warren several times in our conversation. You see, Warren is the one Democratic Presidential candidate who is both in favor of aggressively regulating Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Warren has even announced that, if she became president, she would favor breaking up Google, Facebook and Amazon.


  • Faroohar’s remarks about California leading the way on regulation are also very intriguing. Yes, she says, European regulators like the EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager have pioneered a defense against the big tech platforms. But the real innovation on regulating privacy and introducing a data dividend, she says, is being pioneered in California by reformers like Governor Newsom and the billionaire leftist Jim Steyer.  I’d like to explore these innovations in future shows. Especially the idea of a data dividend which has always represented the holy grail of Facebook and Google critics.


  • The key to enriching democracy in America, Faroohor insists, is by focusing on citizens rather than consumers. And it’s here that she plays the generational card – suggesting that millennials are particularly sympathetic to this return to the original principles of American democracy. I hope she’s right. Certainly millennials have been deeply affected by both the great recession of 2008 and contemporary surveillance capitalism. But I wonder if a generation reared on narcissistic products like Instagram and Twitter really are ready to make the kinds of personal compromises necessary to resurrect the communitarian ideal of citizenship.


  • What is undeniable, however, is the importance of this debate. Faroohar wants what she calls a “massive multiyear dialogue” about regulating the tech platforms and protecting democracy. With the imminent destruction of millions of jobs by AI, she predicts, both our economic and political future will be nightmarish unless we fix Big Tech now. Rana Faroohor is, of course, right. And we’ve got to hope that – via politicians like Elizabeth Warren and Gavin Newsom and writers like Faroohor herself – that this dialogue is now starting.

Hope you enjoyed this week’s episode with Rana, you can find out more about her here:


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Produced by Jason Sanderson - Podcast Tech