“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” says a proverb often attributed to Yogi Berra. Imagine the world of freedom, or lack of it. Who could foresee the technologies that make our lives so rewarding and convenient? The same technologies have us all under the government’s giant microscope. Thankfully, the brave have turned the microscope around.
In the months since Edward Snowden revealed the nature and extent of the spying that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been perpetrating upon Americans and foreigners, some of the NSA's most troublesome behavior has not been a part of the public debate.
The problem for NSA apologist is that when guys like Snowden disclose that the government conducts comprehensive surveillance in ways that would have made 1984’s O’Brien drool, it puts the entire progressive agenda in jeopardy.
The east coast and parts of the southern U.S. were to varying degrees paralyzed by blizzards a few weeks ago. The snow as expected rendered the roads treacherous, and in anticipation of slick streets, shoppers flocked to the grocery stores in advance.The rush into grocery stores, and its aftermath, offers worthwhile lessons in economics.First up, […]
The financial world is plodding along like a drunken sailor avoiding debt collectors by keeping no cash in his wallet. It’s not the kind of calm that’s going to last or end well. But the storm will have to wait until after the Olympics.What a game! We’ve never watched ice hockey closely before. But watching […]
In times of war and national emergency, it’s sometimes necessary to sacrifice civil liberties to secure vital gains in public safety. In those cases, we may have to accept a loss of privacy or freedom rather than invite mass slaughter of Americans.The National Security Agency’s domestic phone records collection is not one of those.Never have […]
Last year was quite the year for Bitcoin. We’ve seen exponential growth in Bitcoin’s exchange rate and extensive coverage in the media. Another phenomenon we have witnessed is the proliferation of alternative cryptocurrencies, five of which we’ve provided below.What all of these cryptocurrencies have in common is that they rely on a decentralized network to […]
Image: ShutterstockBitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem, along with alleged co-conspirator Robert Faiella, was arrested by federal authorities last week for allegedly laundering more than $1 million worth of Bitcoins. This is a tiny amount compared to the largest drug-and-terrorism money laundering case ever. Yet when British bank HSBC was found guilty in 2012 of laundering billions, […]
The exercise had an awesome name, inspired by the movies: “Quantum Dawn 2.”On July 18, scads of U.S. banks, stock exchanges and government agencies took part in a digital fire drill — a practice run in the event all of Wall Street came under massive cyberattack.This isn’t the first time banks have come under an […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
The New York Times published an interminable article on health care recently. Plenty of facts — how scrupulous are these journalists! — but the article displayed absolutely no comprehension of the basics of cause and effect. I was left wondering about the whole point.The article details how the health care system rewards specialists to an […]
We’ve pointed out in the past that President Obama’s views on the surveillance state shifted completely from when he was Senator to when he was President. As Senator, he supported a bunch of reforms that are very much like the ones his panel have suggested — and which he’s about to ignore. The NY Times […]
Bitcoins are largely considered digital currency (or “crypto currency”) so you’d expect it to be treated like currency on a retail web site. But the Internal Revenue Service might not think so.
The great inventors/businessmen of the First Industrial Revolution, such as James Watt and Matthew Boulton of steam-engine fame, were not just smart but privileged. Most were either born into the ruling class or lucky enough to be apprenticed to one of the elite. For most of history since then, entrepreneurship has meant either setting up […]
Both research and production look poised for a revolution as 3-D printing applies its high-tech charms to the business of creating chemical compounds and turns the production of medicine into a DIY project.
“Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.”When Capt. Jean-Luc Picard wants a steaming beverage in his ready room aboard the starship Enterprise, he just utters those words. The ship’s “replicator” then assembles the necessary atoms — including those for the cup — and produces it, ready for the drinking. Picard thinks nothing of it — it’s hardly more […]
The market has selected different things as money throughout history. Some of these items have served as money in isolated places for specific periods of time — for instance, cigarettes in prisoner-of-war camps. Cigarettes continue to be a currency in prisons if allowed, but if not, according to Wikipedia, “postage stamps have become a more […]
[Ed. Note: This article originally published on Jan. 24, 2013]Stocks up. Gold down. Bitcoin… waaay up.The S&P 500 busted through the 1,500 mark this morning. Stocks haven’t been this expensive since 2007… right before they got a whole lot cheaper… for a whole lot longer. Gold, meanwhile, dipped a tad. This, despite central bankers of […]
Before the housing market collapsed and the government pumped billions into the economy to save it, there was a programmer named Satoshi Nakamoto. And without much fanfare, he created an idea that’s in the process of changing the world. His idea was Bitcoin.Some background information is in order before I go any further.Think back to […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
The online Internet exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act are up and running.OK, they’re up. Uhh, OK, some of them are sort of up.It has been almost a week since last Tuesday’s initial launch, and there have been more than a few problems.Website crashes, excessive response times and other problems have plagued the exchanges. […]
A growing consensus of IT experts, outside and inside the government, have figured out a principal reason why the website for Obamacare’s federally sponsored insurance exchange is crashing. Healthcare.gov forces you to create an account and enter detailed personal information before you can start shopping.This, in turn, creates a massive traffic bottleneck, as the government […]
As much as I love technology, part of me hates being so dependent on a live wall plug wherever I go. You find yourself trapped in some setting without accessible wall plugs and your phone is dying. You charge from you laptop, but that is dying too. You take recourse to your tablet, but that […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Today, like most days, I fired up my computer.I read freely available information on the latest developments in technology that would, in the not too distant past, have required a drive to a library to flip through journals too numerous for me to afford. I read the latest national and global news without having to […]
On a Sunday afternoon swim, a 6-year-old boy was bugging me in a sweet sort of way. He rode up and down the handrail on the stairs in the shallow end of the pool where I was trying to sit in peace. He was laughing and talking, but I couldn’t understand a word through the […]
I’ve just completed a heavy schedule of talks at the Agora Financial Investment Symposium in Vancouver. All my talks centered on information economics, Web startups, and the productivity of the Internet and its meaning. As usual, I learned as much from the attendees as (I hope) they learned from my talks. The research I did […]
Of all social media on the Internet, LinkedIn is the least splashy. A movie will never be made about this tool. It has introduced no new words into our vernacular. The teen crowd doesn’t download the app. But if you measure these technologies and Web tools by the positive ways they have changed lives, LinkedIn deserves to be listed way up top. It is sheer genius.
I’ve suspected this for a while but had it confirmed for me over the holidays. These are excellent times for the kind of detailed conversation that allows us to track the course of social evolution by seeing the things that are part of people’s lives. I love finding out from people what kinds of technologies they are using these days and what they do with them.
It turns out that LinkedIn was a major subject of conversation. People talked about updating their profile, people they’ve met through the network, how they have found new positions by using it, how they are fielding applications coming their way, and more.
Of course people talk about it nonchalantly, as if it is just part of life. Not so. It is a singular thing in the history of the world, a tool for jazzing up the the labor marketplace in a way never seen before.
LinkedIn is many things and offers many services: a global “water cooler,” a universal job bank, a method of learning from experts, and more. It has more than 130 million users in 200 countries, with two new users per second. It is the 12th-most-popular site in the entire world. The company went public in May 2011 (LNKD), and remains profitable today.
But I suspect that its main benefit has not really been openly noted.
LinkedIn has solved a problem that has vexed people since the beginning of time: the problem of being trapped in a job that undervalues your services. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but in terms of the actual quality of life for hundreds of millions of people, this is a daily soul-killing disaster. LinkedIn is the liberation.
Had LinkedIn been around in the 19th century, people would have laughed derisively at Karl Marx with his prattle about the need for frenzied revolution. The workers of the world didn’t need to expropriate the expropriators or establish the dictatorship of the proletariat. All they really needed was a well-constructed web-based networking tool.
You might say: “This is ridiculous, since there is no slavery. Everyone chooses to work in a particular job. There is no gun at anyone’s head. It’s all based on mutual agreement.”
All that’s true enough, but the problem is subtler than that. Most employers can’t help but regard any employee on an active job search to be something of a traitor. That’s an unfair attitude, and bosses know this, but it is just the way things are. Hiring these days is a big headache, and it extracts large upfront and ongoing costs. To recoup them, employers have developed unreasonable expectations of their employees.
And here is the problem: Labor mobility is very difficult to put into practice in real life. How do you get your application out there without letting your current employer know that you are looking around? How can you use the capital and skills you have accumulated in your current position to upgrade to a new position with a different firm, without using your boss as your reference? How can you shop for new jobs and go for interviews without letting anyone in your social network know, for fear that your aims might get back to the boss?
It is a even a problem dressing up for interviews. You come back to the office and people wonder where you have been so you have to lie and say you went to a funeral. Or you take a sick day and have to make up some tale about a 24-hour bug. This is all rather ridiculous!
And if you can’t actively search for a new position, how can you actually achieve professional advancement?
These are truly awful problems that end up locking people in positions they don’t like but offer no way out. It restricts labor mobility. People get trapped. Fearing the reaction within the firm of looking outside the firm, people begin over time to block out the outside world. They secretly wonder if they are actually overpaid and worry about testing their wares on the job marketplace.
As a result, they are tempted to turn their attention to other things, figuring that jobs shouldn’t be happy or fulfilling; they are just supposed to pay the bills. The result is internal stagnation, and if many people feel this way, this sorry attitude begins to spread throughout the firm. You can end up with a whole building filled with quietly disgruntled and fearful employees, sort of like the pathetic scenes we see in The Office.
In the early days of the Web, there were, of course, large job marketplaces out there, and there still are. But they were limited because they were for those who had self-consciously decided to look for a job or look for an employer. There is no real reason to be on them otherwise. As we know, that’s not how real networking and good hiring takes place. Great jobs are often the result of a long process of experience and knowledge.
Thus the genius of LinkedIn: it permits you to stay constantly on the job market — cultivating a network — without seeming to be disloyal to your colleagues and managers and bosses. It is a completely unobjectionable thing to put your name up here. And because LinkedIn allows you to create networks based on your current employer, it is even seen as a benefit by your firm. It suggests that you care about your job and are happy to have it be part of your public identity.
If John Doe works at FastCompany, that appears by his name and serves as a kind of advertisement for the company itself. Other employees at FastCompany link up this way, too, so that the whole office can use this as a platform for communication, and even discussion. Yet your profile can be public, and you can send the link out to prospective employers. They can see what you are doing and why you are valuable — and you can do this without ever alerting your present employer that you are somehow looking around.
And then, if you change jobs, it is merely a matter of a few clicks. Your institutional affiliation changes, but the network capital you have built up is wholly retained by you. Your value is yours and it is portable. This encourages every worker to have a better understanding of himself or herself as a self-managing individual firm. You are not part of a collective. You are an individual enterprise unit, offering services in exchange for money — exactly how market theory posits it should be.
It’s a simple solution to a mighty problem — simple in the sense that truly brilliant solutions are obvious once they are stated.
The company opened its doors in 2003 — not even a decade ago! It was founded by Reid Hoffman, along with executives from PayPal and socialnet.com. Hoffman is an interesting guy in his own right. His background is in philosophy, and he was ascending the academic career ladder through his training at Stanford and Oxford. One day, Hoffman realized that he didn’t want to spend his life writing books that “50 or 60 people read.” He wanted to have more impact on the world. In a digital age, this meant developing new and better tools to improve people’s lives.
He got to work on solving this universal human problem. And it worked.
And contrary to the popular perception that social media is goofy and that the main purpose of technology is to push more gizmos, LinkedIn really has improved people’s lives and transformed the nature of the job and employee hunt. It has worked to dramatically reduce the information asymmetries that exist between buyers and sellers in the labor marketplace.
Now, let’s turn to a political point. Think of all the politicians who, for many decades, have claimed to have some great program for improving the lives of workers, making labor more mobile, helping to link up employees with employers. All of this is standard fare on the campaign trail. How many hundreds of billions have they spent? And ask yourself: How many of the zillion programs these people have created have you used? None? Thought so.
What’s more, these programs actually have the opposite effects of their advertised benefits. Government intervention in labor markets has entrenched unemployment by raising the costs of hiring, raising the floor for job entry, forcing businesses to provide benefits that make jobs sticky in ways they shouldn’t be.
With LinkedIn, we have entrepreneurs and private capital coming together to provide an amazing service that directly improves lives, one by one, every day and more each day. A takeaway political lesson: If you really want to do something dazzling, stay out of politics and find a way to do something wonderful in the commercial world. This is the path to human liberation; this is the path to true progress for humanity.