Daily Balajisms – Socialist vs Technologist
socialist < nationalist < capitalist < technologist
Balaji Srinivasan says there are four types of political leaders.
Being a socialist politician is the easiest low-skill way how to gain power is to put yourself as a leader of a mob and divide a society on some metric and single out a minority as oppressors. Old socialists would say capitalists or rich people are oppressors. Today’s woke “baizuo” leftists pit women against men, various ethnic groups against each other, young people against old people, and queer people against straight people.
Balaji says that woke leftists perform repeatedly a single trick – they problematize any subject by pointing to a rare outlier – like people with chromosomal abnormalities – and then, they proceed to step two – proclaiming that therefore there is no general truth and everything is relative. Balaji likens this to a trick of swapping a mummy in Indiana Jones movie.
The second more difficult level to gain power is to become a nationalist. Balaji uses a framework of stupid vs evil. Socialists are dividing a society and destroying societal fabric, which is evil (zero-sum, win-lose) in the short term and stupid (negative-sum, lose-lose) in the long term. Nationalist leaders are able to unite a society and create what Ibn Khaldun calls asabiyya - forming social cohesion of an in-group, when faced with a danger from the out-group.
It’s brothers against brothers-in-law one day, and the whole family united on the next day, when the neighboring villagers attack. And villages united when foreigners attack. Nationalists can uplift their own people, but often they end up uniting them against some other tribe or country.
In the age of entropic social media and our attention economy, we have ample emotional triggers that, with every Current Thing, create swarm-like behavior online. I call this ASAP asabiyya. Suddenly people all around the world are united or divided on a certain issue for a certain period. Be it Ukraine or Israel.
Balaji often mentions scissor statements, Scott Alexander’s term, to illustrate how online memetic tribes are formed and divided. Every scissor statement, like scissors, split the community in two – do you side with Israel or Palestine? With Ukraine or Russia? With the West or the Rest? With accelerationists or decels? Are there just two genders or many? In which dichotomy do you see the world - as oppressed vs oppressor, or barbarians vs civilization, or freedom-lovers vs authoritarians?
I think here the Balaji’s tribal lens, and the division between technological progressives vs technological conservatives (or Global Greys vs Blue America) is quite important – because it can unite various subcultures on an important axis of technological progress.
A third type of political leader that requires yet more skills is a capitalist politician. Someone who is able to attract global top talent to their country and transform it from third world to first – Like Lee Kwan Yew. He inspired Deng Xiaoping of China to embrace capitalism, uplifting hundreds of millions out of poverty.
A fourth and highest type of political leader is a technologist. Someone who can do zero to one and bootstrap the desired future. Elon Musk created SpaceX and managed to produce reusable rockets. Now he delivers to orbit 80% of world’s payload, China delivers 10%, and the rest of the world 10%.
Some politicians know how to code. Many leaders in Asia have technical skills and are engineers. Asian and Silicon Valley culture is also very strong on dashboard management – a daily view on the health of your business or a society.
But we haven’t seen zero to one on a political level yet – it would be akin of Satoshi’s creation of bitcoin, something Balaji envisions in his book The Network State. We have seen the number of new currencies go vertical thanks to crypto. In some years or decades we might see the number of new countries go vertical as well.
To summarize, we can take an example of China to illustrate the first three types of leaders. Mao was a socialist who brought divisive chaos, and his Cultural Revolution killed millions of people. Deng was a capitalist and he ultimately lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese from poverty. Xi is a nationalist, uniting the population, but also frightening its neighbors and creating new adversaries.
Elon Musk is not a politician, but Netanyahu called him jokingly “the unofficial president of the US”. Maybe in some years we will have tech founders who run their network states with special innovation zones. Like Singapore or Dubai is run today, but on a whole new level.