The Missing Story of the Iowa Clusterf%$#

Dave Dayen makes what should be the leading story of the Iowa vote count clusterf%$#, that this is a manifestation of what he calls the. “Bullsh%$ Economy,” where economic decisions are on the basis of connections, and not competence or value.

This is important.

The failure of the ACRONYM subsidiary SHADOW is not an issue of the inherent problems with software, it is an issue of corruption and self-dealing:

In one sense, the Iowa caucus debacle will last just a couple news cycles. We have the data on paper, tabulated in front of tens of thousands of witnesses, and it merely needs to be collated. Eventually it will, and though the damage to the news cycle is irreparable—Joe Biden’s disappointing outcome has been diluted in particular—the process will go on with an accurate count. Caucuses are horrible and probably a dead letter, but for different reasons than the delayed count; the real problems arise from the electoral college-style distortions between the initial percentages and the final delegates, and the tacit vote suppression from forcing people to attend a two-hour meeting on a weeknight when they might be working.

But the spectacle has highlighted a much more consequential problem in America, something I have coined the bullsh%$ economy. We’ve seen elements of it all over the place. When MoviePass offered unlimited screenings for ten bucks a month, when Uber gets an $82 billion valuation for a low-margin taxi business it has never made a dime on, when WeWork implodes after the slightest scrutiny into its numbers, that’s the bullsh%$ economy at work. We have seen the farcical bullsh%$ of Juicero and the consequential bullsh%$ of Theranos.


The story of Shadow, makers of the app that utterly failed to deliver in Iowa, is a perfect example of the bullsh%$ economy. It starts by being a tech solution to a non-existent problem. Iowa counties are compact; the largest one has a landmass of 973 square miles, and it’s close to twice the size of the average county in the state. Even there, no major city is more than a 30-minute drive from the county seat, Algona. Even with that ancient technology of the car, you could have each of the 99 counties report final results within a couple hours of the end of the caucuses.


Shadow is a subsidiary of ACRONYM, a non-profit with lots of connections to the Democratic consultancy, including veterans of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and David Plouffe, the Obama campaign manager who sits on the ACRONYM board. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes asked Plouffe on a late-night panel about his participation, and as he swiveled in his chair uncomfortably he disclaimed any knowledge of Shadow or the app.

Similarly, ACRONYM issued a statement positioning themselves as a mere investor in Shadow, without knowledge of their inner workings. But last year, ACRONYM announced they were “launching” Shadow, as part of an effort to help Democrats “win” the Internet and run better campaigns. The head of ACRONYM, Tara McGowan, is married to a Pete Buttigieg strategist.

All this doublespeak is a hallmark of the bullsh%$ economy. Your mind doesn’t have to travel to the nether regions of conspiracy, but you can hardly blame people for doing so. This is reflective of the rolling incompetence covered by confidence within the modern economy, especially when you sprinkle on the labor-saving promise of techtopia. When the bullsh%$ economy fails, it robs people’s belief in the basic bargain of commerce, the idea that you get what you pay for, that companies operate in good faith to provide quality service. But when placed in contact with politics, it just demolishes faith in the system. The bullsh%$ economy spurs distrust.

So there we have it: an unnecessary app that narrows the supply chain of votes to the central tabulator, and when the supply chain fails it creates chaos. We see this all over our economy; useless services, narrow supply chains, magnified fiascos. As long as confidence men lie to the right people, they can gain entry and take on enormous responsibility, until it all falls apart. We live in a country where you can spout New Age consultant speak, charm a large foreign investor, and make off to your guitar-shaped living room with over a billion dollars, paid effectively to go away. That’s WeWork guru Adam Neumann’s story, and increasingly it’s our story.

(%$ mine)

Our economy, and our society, is deeply, and possibly ineluctably, corrupt.

It needs to be fixed, which means that many of these people need to be aggressively prosecuted.

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