This Also Explains Theranos

In this examination of toxic individualism to describe how Uber was a Silicon Valley success and a real world failure, (most disastrous IPO in history) it explains a lot about the general lawlessness that permeates the culture.

Essentially, this is Ayn Rand applied to the real world, and failing completely, as it did with Sears:

Uber is now a massive, publicly traded company. Anyone can buy Uber shares at a valuation of about $70 billion. This isn’t bad for a company losing billions of dollars a year, but it’s a fraction of the $120-billion valuation the IPO’s bankers initially floated. It’s roughly what private investors valued it at three years ago, when the company made $7.43 billion less revenue.


But some of it should go to Silicon Valley’s cultural divergence from the business reality. Investors loved the company not as an operating unit, but as an idea about how the world should be. Uber’s CEO was brash and would do whatever it took. His company’s attitude toward the government was dismissive and defiant. And its model of how society should work, especially how labor supply should meet consumer demand, valorized the individual, as if Milton Friedman’s dreams coalesced into a company. “It’s almost the perfect tech company, insofar as it allocates resources in the physical world and corrects some real inefficiencies,” the Uber investor Naval Ravikant told San Francisco magazine in 2014.


But plenty of companies have experienced founders and do things VCs like. What set Uber apart—and the reason it generated the Uber-for-X phenomenon—was its marketplace model.

The company used computers to restructure the driving labor market (“corrects some real inefficiencies”). Why have a dispatcher send cabs all over a city when an algorithm could do the same thing—with no labor cost or organizational infrastructure, and probably with better results? The cab companies, with their own complex institutional histories, were suddenly irrelevant. Drivers drove and riders rode—and the only thing necessary to connect them was an app on a phone. The model didn’t just make financial sense to people trained to think in Silicon Valley in the 2000s; it made ideological sense.


For early Uber investors, Uber was everything that disruption was supposed to be. You took an app, created by a small number of people in a San Francisco office, and used it to erase the institutions—formerly called businesses—that used to sit between the buyers and sellers of services. It wasn’t just a company; it was a company that destroyed the need for other companies. It was pure and uncut Economics 101, capitalism as it was meant to be. And if by eliminating much of the labor that it previously took to organize car services, the company would also generate billionaires … well, to the innovators go the spoils.


In Uber’s world, there is no such thing as collective action. Every person is an individual particle of the market, freely interacting with all the others, unless there is pesky government meddling. Uber really was about the triumph of individualism, an ethos that infuses Silicon Valley so thoroughly that it’s hard for most here to see. Companies that fit that pattern are more likely to garner VC attention, get funding, and find success. That’s how Silicon Valley shapes the world.

But they cannot sustain companies within their bubbles of influence forever. They must leave the nest for the public markets, where they are judged on their bottom lines. So far, the market says: This company is worth $50 billion less than its executives and bankers thought.

And in Uber’s world, the market is always right.

Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman once said, “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled,” the same applies for business, only we need to replace “technology”, with business, and “public relations” must replaced with “ill-conceived and juvenile philosophy”.

Objectivism has failed wherever it has met reality, leaving misery in its wake.

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