Updated: May 11, 2020
Ascent Conference 2019 held Oct. 7-8 at Sheraton New York Times Square by Start It Up NYC is an event that enables collaboration between tech and media professionals. It provides opportunities for industry education, networking, and professional advancement through a Startup Grad School and the event itself provides an opportunity for important connections between investors and entrepreneurs that impact business and thereby impact communities and individuals. The conference itself does a great job of bringing industry leaders and establishing a community amongst them and the services and attention provided to attendees is both respectful and caring; however, while there is nothing inherently wrong about this conference and other similar conferences there is norm at play in relation to understanding workers that is wholly alienated from their psychologies at worst and at best conflating worker satisfaction with wage increases with the notion that people are truly in conscious, deep approval of time preference as it relates to wage labor.
This norm is not necessarily practiced by the majority of business elite in spaces where they are not pressured to perform. And almost all people when alone with their thoughts or with those they are intimate with (friends and loved ones) have anxious longings and hopes. But these longings and hopes often become pathetic when they enter public space. For example, HuffPost journalist Elyse Wanshel wrote an article titled “CEO Gives Own Car To Young Employee Who Set Out On Foot For Job 20 Miles Away.” Inc. journalist Justin Bariso wrote an article titled “Uber's CEO Sent an Extraordinary Email to Employees After the Company's Stock Plunged.” This type of performance will not be reduced to that of a publicity stunt in this article or be ridiculed as sTuNiNg aNd BrAvE.
In almost all such cases there is some sort of genuine feeling of pity that burdens the business person enough for them to try to save the day. But sort of as the synecdoche (part of something used to refer to the whole) to the French expression "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche" (traditionally translated as “Let them eat cake”) operating as metonymy (when something is used to represent something related to it (in this case cake as a stand-in for food)), these acts and more specifically the positive impact they have on individuals or a specific group of workers are used to refer to total wage labor satisfaction, which implies that capitalism as an economic system is successful. And when these acts are thought of as anything more than an individual nicety by either the person performing the act or the media or a group of business elite it becomes pathetic and is indicative of a poor understanding of a deeply problematic economic system.
How should the workers of the world respond to this ignorance? No intelligent response can ever occur without a proper understanding of the people who hold in their hand Occam’s Razor (William of Ockham’s law of parsimony, which can be understood as the simplest explanation is usually the right one) and cut away the complexity of a state’s economy by buying an employee a car or writing them a letter, donating a few thousand dollars to a good cause, disinvesting in plastic (straws as one example) or reducing carbon emissions. There can even be an individual or a group of CEOS who do a multitude of nice things but none the less without at the very least an acknowledgment of the gargantuan problem that is the economic system and an understanding that a solution must exist systemically there is only ignorance in the mind of a CEO on the matter of economic sustainability and worker struggle.
Two other razors will be introduced as a means of both understanding this ignorance and as solutions to it. The first razor is Hanlon’s Razor, it is a philosophical razor, which suggests a way of eliminating unlikely explanations for human behavior (it can be understood as "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity"). Within reason, this razor will be used to keep at bay the other razor, the other solution, the razor wielded by Madame la Guillotine. And it must be written that if Hanlon’s razor should stop intervening on behalf of those wielding Occam’s Razor on the matter of the economy and labor, without question those Occam’s Razor wielders will die.
A bit of a French theme has been established in this essay and it will continue by addressing those who wield Occam’s razor in relation to the economy as adherents to the French expression noblesse oblige. It translates in English as "nobility obliges" and denotes the concept that nobility extends beyond mere entitlements and requires the person who holds such a status to fulfill social responsibilities. The discussion has already been made about niceties on a more personal level but let’s explore the fulfillment of social responsibilities on the institutional level. For the sake of those reading who might be worried that Madame la Guillotine will be encouraged to have her way have no fear! This article is merely laying down the facts. Whereas this publication does advocate targeted killings of powerful and oppressive political leaders, this publication does not advocate generalized terror/terrorism. But other people do. With that being noted, what this article sets out to do is provide the facts to both the workers and the CEOs but with the understanding that CEOs are wrong and so Is capitalism and a lot needs to change. An exploration of institutional obliging of nobility will commence and then the solution will be given to help these people avoid Madame la Guillotine in the long game will be provided.
At the event’s VC & Investing stage there were two sessions or conversations that were concerned at least in intention with social justice. The first session hosted by Elizabeth Edwards, Founder & General Partner at H Venture Partners titled How To Diversify Your Portfolio With Diversity features panelists Laura Chau, Partner at Canaan Partners, Zavian Dar, Partner at Lux Capital and Sutlan Dong, Co-Founder at Global Women in VC. Per Edwards’ reference of U.N. studies, Alana Morrisey’s 30% Club and Pipeline Equity the estimate is that it will take 100-200 years for gender equity to exist for entrepreneurs given that venture dollars dramatically go towards male entrepreneurs rather than women entrepreneurs. Edwards went on to note that Fair View Capital Partners found there is a linear relationship between financial performance and diversity on management teams.
A concern for gender equity and diversity as a whole is positive. Women entrepreneurs should have access to the same opportunities as men do. And further, other underrepresented groups like people of color should also receive access to those same opportunities. The other panel at the VC & Investing stage that dealt with the idea of social justice titled Immigration & Sourcing Startups from Abroad featured Sunil Sharma, Managing Director of Techstars Toronto and Barry Givens, Managing Director of Cox Social Impact Accelerator powered by Techstars who operated in Atlanta. The two addressed how both cities are minority majorities. Sharma noted that Toronto is fueled by immigration; specifically, the Startup Visa. This visa allows for startups to receive fast track worker immigration per leadership’s individual selection. Givens describes how Atlanta exists as a black Mecca that enables a corporate world in the city to have a 30% percent black tech worker population – a percentage higher than in New York City and Silicon Valley. Givens went on to note that “Atlanta is the only place where African Americans are leading in politics.”
This progress is great. However, this progress for people of color and the aforementioned conversation about the centuries it will take for gender equity pertains only to people who are deemed meaningful to the capitalist system. Yes, of course, Ascent has everything to do with entrepreneurs and investors but even when the discussion moves to a broader subject there is alienation from the working class.
Closing the evening on the main stage CEO of Business Insider Henry Blodget spoke to his audience in the likeness of a fireside chat with his speech We Need to Create a “Better” Capitalism. Blodget asked his audience what the purpose of a company is. Without hesitation, a person in the audience responded, “Shareholder value.” Blodget used this answer to jump into his critique of modern capitalism by extending an answer concerned with value being created for stakeholders, employees, customers and society.
Blodget addressed how wages are at an all-time low because of the shareholder value theory of capitalist economy. He stated explicitly that low wages are responsible for inequality. He clarified this point by noting that it’s not just the 1% economic elite but the .01%, which comprises 16,000 families who make an average of $300,000 dollars a year. He cautioned tongue-in-cheek against critiquing billionaires because billionaires simply can’t spend enough to maintain the economy. After listing hypothetical purchases like yachts and cars and houses he stated, “Throwing everything you could think of – it's actually difficult to spend more than 10-20 million dollars a year.” And so, this money doesn’t get recycled in the mass economy but simply gets invested in luxury businesses.
An audience member questioned this by saying that billionaires create jobs. Blodget did not disagree but said that everyone else who participates in the economy simply can’t spend because they have no money. He talked about the economic ecosystem where workers are spending their wages by illustrating how wages from low-income workers are almost entirely spent at other companies and this filters into the economy or “One company's wages are another companies’ revenue,” Blodget said.
“Investment capital is a necessary ingredient in the job creation engine,” Blodget reaffirmed to an audience that seemed bamboozled by what he was hinting at with his critique. And what he hinted at hit directly at tech and media entrepreneurs because their place in the economic ecosystem can either be accessible to masses and filter into the general economy or exist as accessible only to the upper financial classes because of sales from upper-class people that result in sellers then taking their profit and purchasing from or investing into other luxury businesses.
He addressed the concern of many in the audience that businesses should pay workers as low as possible to ensure that investors get maximum value. He rebutted this concern by addressing how capitalists in decades past like Henry Ford provided better pay to workers. He then acknowledged rebuttals concerned with the loss of manufacturing jobs and robots taking jobs. He responded to these concerns with the same appeal to the capitalist economic ecosystem and how if entrepreneurs are providing products that are accessible to the general population wages will filter into the economy and simultaneously cause company profit and this profit can be used to pay workers more money to ensure worker production of the products and ultimately enable the reproduction of the company. And because business is not secured by buying and selling alone because of market fluctuations he stated, “If more companies reinvested more of their operating income consumers would have more money,” which would help prevent CEOs getting fired for not taking care of investors because with more consumers with more money, company profit increases and stock wealth increases. “You can take – if you’re Walmart – the 22 billion of operating income and share a bit more with you employees who make it for you.”
“But we have also created an “[Economy] of 3 million overlords and 300 million serfs”
The way that he suggested that this would be able to happen in the american economy is as the title of his presentation suggests – better capitalism. He actually makes a point of criticizing authoritarian communism or command socialism (to the immense delight of the audience) and he provides the concomitant critique of the lack of worker incentive and entrepreneurial incentive within command socialism. He argued that capitalism is the reason environmental protections have improved daily life and also that capitalism is responsible for the immense array of products that consumers can purchase. But he acknowledged that “The real folks who need help are employees/consumers.” This is because 40 years of a capitalism rooted in shareholder value as the only concern has resulted in shareholder satisfaction only and not the satisfaction of workers, who Blodget does acknowledge, make and do the labor that shareholders profit from. “But we have also created an “[Economy] of 3 million overlords and 300 million serfs,” Blodget said.
Better capitalism to Blodget pertains to companies sharing wealth by increasing wages. He noted that Seattle raised its minimum wage and companies like JP Morgan, Apple and Amazon did as well. As an example, he shows a video of a group of Amazon workers reacting excitedly to finding out that they were going to receive a wage increase. He ends his conversation by noting that the idea is starting to gain sway through people like SalesForce CEO Mark Benihoff, who sees that businesses and capitalism as a whole need to do better.
Now the solution will be given to help these people avoid Madame la Guillotine in the long game. To help these people avoid Madame la Guillotine a summary of this information is needed so as to know where to find their remedy:
· Some high business earners and the businesses they work for have a concern for addressing racial and ethnic and gender-based iniquity
· Some high business earners and the businesses they work for have a concern for environmental sustainability
· Some high business earners and the businesses they work for believe that high earners and companies need to be more conscious of the economic ecosystem
Ø The economic ecosystem can be defined by some as the relationship between stakeholders, employees, customers and their relation to wages and capital and how all of this together constructs society
Ø Some high business earners and the businesses they work for believe much of the spending of high earners does little to help the economic ecosystem but rather helps a particular class habitat within that ecosystem or even negatively impacts the economic ecosystem; whereas, the purchasing of lower earners almost always filters into the general economic ecosystem, the purchasing of the higher earners often only benefits a particular class habitat.
Ø Accessible goods and services make the economic ecosystem sustainable
· Some high business earners and the businesses they work for believe that there are a lot of myths operating in the business world that interfere with owners from increasing wages
Ø These myths can be subdued and reality can prevail by providing products that are accessible to the general population, which will enable wages to filter almost entirely into the economy and simultaneously businesses will profit. This profit can be used to pay workers more money to ensure worker production of the products and completion of services that enable the reproduction of the company.
Ø The economic ecosystem is not secured by buying and selling alone because of market fluctuations but the utilization of operating income helps ensure (along with the buying and selling of shares) that consumers would have more money.
· Some high business earners and the businesses they work for believe that serfs, the lowest economic subclass of the peasantry exist in a new fashion under shareholder capitalism. And some high business earners and the businesses they work for acknowledge that shareholder's profit exists because of the labor of these peasants; meaning, they acknowledge that there is not a reciprocal output for labor input because shareholders get more value (profit) than the worker does (serfs only get enough to survive).
With this summary complete Hanlon’s razor will actively prevent Madame la Guillotine from outright killing those who wield Occam’s razor in relation to the economy. To be clear Madame la Guillotine has free reign to kill all exploiters who are not alienated from their exploitation because they are not operating out of ignorance but they instead operate from malice. And ignorance should not be thought of as stupidity because all of the people who have impacted this essay are intelligent in their wheelhouses of business. Blodget as an example acknowledged economic exploitation and had some level of concern with inequity on the class level. Interestingly, Blodget also acknowledged that there is a neo-peasantry that exists in capitalism. This is something very few of my fellow socialists have accepted. One example of this failure of analysis comes from the national u.s. anarchist organization Black Rose/Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation. They have a text called “Why Sectoral Analysis?” and it reads:
“The traditional actors of struggle that Latin American leftists have identified are workers, students, neighbors and peasants. These are considered to be distinct actors of struggle because they have: 1) Problems that affect them immediately and their immediate interests, 2) Traditions of struggle and organization sprouting out from these set of problems and interests, and 3) A common place or activity in society (Jose Antonio Gutierrez D., The Problems Posed by the Concrete Class Struggle and Popular Organization).
“With an analysis of who these main actors of struggle are in the u.s. and of their unique relationships, demands and history, Black Rose can frame our organizing around these actors, creating broad sectors of struggle. The u.s. does not have a really existing peasant class, so that’s something that we do not need to include as a major sector.”
This is a major flaw in theorization and it is theorization that demonstrates a lack of material engagement with reality. A clear example of how material peasantry in the u.s. exists is through the migrant farmworker. New Deal politics (unless individual states have passed bills that force labor demands) prevent farmworkers from accessing the federal minimum wage. They are unable to unionize. And immigration and migrant laws tether workers to a dependency on the farm and farmer and establish a paternalism to the farmer that is different yet similar to the alienation that peasants of the Middle Ages felt towards their rulers (many truly believed that it was a king’s divine right to rule over them). These laborers can be understood and should be understood as neo-serfs. Hotel workers are neo-serfs as well. Restaurant workers and retail workers are cleanly peasants as well but they are in a considerably better position given that they can collectively bargain because they are not barred from creating unions – they are neo-peasants but not neo-serfs.
But there are all sorts of neo-peasants. And while Blodget understands that this is the case and Black Rose doesn’t, the latter helps workers or is willing to help them and Blodget only suggests a solution. While Black Rose might be ignorant about the reality of the peasantry in the u.s., Blodget only sees capitalism as the solution because he has an inadequate understanding of economic systems.
He spoke about how some states have raised their minimum wage and companies increased their wages and even how people like Mark Benihoff who wrote in the semi-titular article for The New York Times, “Marc Benioff: We Need a New Capitalism,” holds a similar position as he himself does but through all of this positive ideation and occasionally positive action (even if it is not systemic it is undeniably positive to increase worker wages) there are central people missing from the conversation: And those people are workers themselves.
Yes, a video of Amazon workers was shown to the fireside chat crowd. But the discussion of the video conflated the satisfaction of a specific group of workers with wage increases with the notion that workers are truly in conscious, deep approval of time preference as it relates to wage labor. What this means is that there is an assumption being made that workers are satisfied with the status quo operating through what Per Bylund, writer for Mises Daily of the Mises Institute (Austrian Economics Institute or Austrian capitalism) notes in “The Trouble With Socialist Anarchism” is time preference – the supposed liberatory quality of capitalism, which socialists reject as a mechanism of manipulation that enables wage theft:
“Another way of saying this is that surplus value is released for the managers and owners of industry through paying labor workers only part of their labor input. In this static view of how the world works under the capitalist economic system, employment sure is usury and "wage slavery." I can't argue with that, and I will not argue with the identification of many historical and contemporary employment schemes being de facto usury due to privileges handed out to capitalists by the political class.
“The analysis, however, is fundamentally wrong, and it is so simply because socialists don't understand time preference. It is of value (but not necessarily monetary value) to many a worker frequently to receive a fixed amount of pay for invested labor instead of taking the risks of producing, marketing, and selling a product in the market place (even if the enterprise is not carried out individually but in cooperation with other workers).”'
It is absolutely undeniable that there are workers who value time preference because of the specific noted reason of not wanting to be an entrepreneur. However, this argument strawmans non-command socialist economics to a view of individualist enterprise economics, which is contradictory to how social anarchism would function. Take Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro/Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janeiro or FARJ’s text Social Anarchism and Organisation, which smoothly destroys this notion of broad individualist business in a truly socialist system:
“1.) no one would effectively be the owner and the means of production belong to the collectivity as a whole, or 2.) all the members of the collectivity will be owners of a portion of the means of production, in exactly the same proportions as the others. “The means of production being the collective work of humanity, they have to go back to the human collectivity from which they came.”
“In a system of collective ownership; rights, responsibilities, wages and wealth no longer have a relation with private property and the old class relations, based on private property, must also disappear. Libertarian socialism is, therefore, a classless society. The ruling class will no longer exist and the whole system of inequality, domination and exploitation will have disappeared. In the cities there are different types of workers. Firstly, there are those that perform activities with simple tools, with almost no division of labour in which production can be performed, often, by just one worker. For this type of worker collective work is not a necessity, but it is desirable since it saves time and labour, besides helping a worker to enhance themselves with the skills of others. Then, there are other workers who perform their activities collectively, with relatively simple tools and machines in small companies or factories. Finally, a third category of workers of large companies and industries in which the division of labour is enormous, structured to produce on a large scale with high technology and large capital investments. For the latter two categories collective work is absolutely necessary due to the nature of the work itself, since all the technology, machinery and tooling must be collective.
“In the country there could be two situations: that of peasants that have worked on large properties that must be [collectivized] in the same way as the large companies and factories; and that of peasants that would prefer to have their own slice of the land and cultivate it themselves:
“[...] the main purpose of the revolution was achieved: the land has become the property of those that work it and peasants no longer work for the profit of an exploiter that lives from their suffering. With this great victory obtained the rest is of secondary importance. The peasants can, if they choose, divide the land into individual parcels and give a portion to each family. Or they could instead institute common ownership and the co-operative cultivation of the land”. (James Guillaume. “Ideas on Social Organization”).”’
There isn’t going to be a great attractiveness of time preference in a truly socialist system because individualist enterprise risk decreases given the nature of a socialist system. Capital investments would still occur but they would emerge in a collaboration with worker and consumer councils and entrepreneurship would still exist likewise in collaboration with those two broad councils but it would be non-oppressive or as FARJ writes:
“The market would be abolished and in its place put the self-managed planning system, with pricing being done between the workers’ and consumers’ councils, along with their federations and associations which would facilitate this interaction. This planning model differs from the authoritarian form where states plan the economies in the “socialist” countries. It would enable the workers and consumers themselves to decide completely on distribution, wiping out the problem of competition.”
Have these capitalists truly committed to researching whether or not the time preference desirability belief that they believe their worker hold is true? No. And that is why videos like the Amazon worker wage increase celebration are nothing more than persuasive strategies to make exploiters feel good about niceties and not persuade them towards making these people make a better system.
“Either we change the ethos of companies to this idea that you have a four bottom line mission to society, customers, employees in addition to shareholders or there’s going to be unionization.”
The GroundUp asked Blodget after he completed his speech why the conversation about workers never included the voice of workers. And is there always going to be this continual response to worker dissatisfaction through meager wage increase? He answered, “Either we change the ethos of companies to this idea that you have a four bottom line mission to society, customers, employees in addition to shareholders or there’s going to be unionization.”
When asked what he thought of unions he stated that unions share an incredibly valuable purpose for establishing safer workplaces and better wages. “If companies do not recognize that it is their responsibility to pay a living wage to people who are devoting their full time work and the company is financially healthy I think there is a place for unions and I think its why [there] is a resurgence of union action,” Blodget said.
There is a blend of misinformation and knowledge from Blodget. A mix of oppressive beliefs and beliefs that support equity from Blodget and the other speakers. All of the speakers covered are extremely intelligent! They know their industry. They know a lot about a lot of different subject matters. But none of them truly gave a serious read to any text that seriously contradicted the popular capitalist understanding of socialism. The business academy does not allow it! This isn’t a critique of business-related studies, after all, the liberal arts academy has been infiltrated by many of the same neoliberal trends – there is a reason that the turn towards identity politics occurred during the same period as the business world turned towards investor capitalism – a distinct loss of interest in class politics occurred in the liberal arts academy as a result; oops, a digression has been made.
But let’s be real: liberal arts like liberals do not shake the world. The academy of business does. The idea of a better capitalism is impactful. But it is a sedative to the masses and nothing more!
Madame la Guillotine is kept at bay, for now. The blade is kept from cutting capitalists necks not because of friendship but because of knowing that there is ignorance mixed with their good intentions and likewise there is ignorance that currently exists in a multitude of leftist organizations that compose the entity known as Madame la Guillotine. But what follows is a word of caution. If capitalists don’t learn to read the signs of time (and abandon the notion that time preference is truly desired by the masses) their children or their children’s children or even their ancestors will be killed in their adulthood. There will come a point where the greed will become too much and anger will fill the hearts of the oppressed masses. And they will then strike fear into capitalists’ hearts. And they be killed. So Capitalists: Stop positioning yourselves as deciders of what the working people want. Learn about actual socialism not state socialism and not social democracy (and also not utopian socialism but functional socialism). Accept that workers are globally oppressed. Know that wage increase is not enough.
If capitalists follow this advice they might survive and unlearn their oppressive ways and live amongst their brothers and sisters. If they don’t this will happen:
Bleating and babbling we fell on his neck with a scream Wave upon wave of demented avengers March cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream – Pink Floyd (lyrics written by Roger Waters), “Sheep”