Daily Balajisms – Internet values
Internet First vs America First. Network vs State. Decentralization vs centralization.
In the West one can no longer assume a stable political environment, thinks Balaji Srinivasan. This means we cannot assume startups and technology will solve big problems with big new ideas, as they did in our recent past.
We saw Covid pandemic, that shut down the whole global economy. We saw crime being de facto legalized in San Francisco, pushing businesses out of town. It is not just electricity shortages and wildfires in California, the breakdown of trust and public safety is also a form of blackouts that paralyze economy.
Just in over a year we saw SBF trying to capture regulators before imploding and vaporizing 10 billion dollars in a spectacular fraud. Instead of sending money to Africans via GiveDirectly, SBF was defrauding Nigerians who trusted FTX - just to enrich himself and fellow effective altruists in the West and places like Oxford. To gain prestige and power.
We saw biggest bank failures in the modern history and the US banking system being de facto insolvent. Prompting some Indian founders to trust Indian banks over the American ones. Now we see Sam Altman ousted from OpenAI by an ideologically driven board full of effective altruists, this time destroying almost 100 billion dollars in value.
Blue America and all its institutions went woke. EA is just a bit smarter sounding version of woke – destroying companies and lives of people in pursuit of power, with an excuse of creating a woke AGI god.
Red America under Trump got also a dose of victimhood mentality and became selfish – America First, means America Last, says Balaji. Because everyone is trying to be first and countries are bandwagoning against America. This is what Fiona Hill calls the Rest vs the West.
Recently Blue America and Red America are both copying China, without admitting it. Blues are trying to censor speech online, Reds trying to do industrial policy. But both end up with half-measures that just enrage people and vaporize dozens of billions of dollars.
Internet is to the US what America was to Europe, a new frontier, thinks Balaji. History is running in reverse, so in the 1890s the American frontier closed, and it reopened after 100 years, with allowing commerce on the Internet in 1991. The USSR also collapsed by then and India liberalized.
The 1950s era was the most centralized period in a centralizing century – driven by centralizing technologies of the printing press and broadcast media. Before and after things were much more decentralized – with robber barons and private banking era in the US of the 1800s. But with the invention of transistor, PC, internet, mobile phone, open-source software, and bitcoin – we are again entering a decentralizing era – with an exception of a centralizing China.
If the 20th century were about US vs USSR, the 21st century will be about Internet + India vs China, thinks Balaji. Decentralization vs Centralization. Network vs State.
In the centralizing 20th century, we had the Fukuyama-esque “getting to Denmark” as a motto. It is becoming clearer by the day, that current Blue America and its global empire is consciously or unconsciously driven by a new motto, resembling something akin to “getting to Venezuela”.
Balaji sees two types of countries – some are a part of the ascending world, like Dubai, Singapore, India and China, and some are clearly a part of the declining world – like many blue cities in the US. We can call this dynamics Singapore vs South Africa. Or from the third world to first and vice versa.
The former third world countries of Non-aligned Movement, like India, might become the leaders of the first world in this century – the new “Align Movement” – keeping people and nations aligned with the help of global and open protocols (like Bitcoin, Ethereum or Solana). These internet intermediaries, like India and Israel, will mediate between two doom scenarios of American Anarchy vs Chinese Control.
Internet (First) values are truly global values of decentralization, open source, and permissionless innovation. They can be summed up as decentralized AI, Crypto & Social. Or free computation, free commerce, free communication. Aligning also with what Balaji calls – Truth, Health and Wealth. The new liberté, égalité, fraternité.
Too much centralization produces fragility and too much decentralization produces chaos. They are like two ancient Zoroastrian gods, Asha and Druj – giving us constructive and destructive thoughts. But we can reconcile the need for centralized companies with the need for decentralized protocols.
I think something like a builder-believer is the opposite of the woke Westerner. Similarly, effective accelerationist is the opposite of effective altruist. Like a protopian is the opposite of utopian/dystopian. And building is the opposite of breaking.
Polarization is good, says Balaji. Polarization means organization. Especially when you polarize around important axes and scissor statements - like “tech progress is good”.
Construction vs de(con)struction. Tech vs woke. Tech progress vs deceleration. Efficacy beliefs vs luxury beliefs. STEAM as a synthesis.