Should Silicon Valley Secede, Or Just Leave?

Secession is a popular topic in Texas, parts of Colorado and a rural area of northern California and Oregon that calls itself the “State of Jefferson.” But now the idea of breaking away has come up in an unlikely place: Silicon Valley.

Silicon Valley MapYes, we’re talking about seceding from the U.S. Some call it “the ultimate exit strategy.” Such a move – support for which seems somewhere between “serious but not really” and pure fantasy – could separate technologists from their customers and financiers, among other problems. It also points to what blogger Farhad Manjoo calls the Valley’s “arrogance problem.”

Last month, Balaji Srinivasan, a Stanford lecturer and co-founder of genetics startup Counsyl, laid out a proposal for opt-in societies where government can’t meddle. His talk at the Y Combinator conference was described by CNET as a “radical dream for making techno utopias a reality.”

“We need to build opt-in society, outside the U.S., run by technology,” Srinivasan said. He’s not the first to make the suggestion. He cited Peter Thiel’s proposed floating tech incubator and Elon Musk’s plans for a Mars colony as potentially good ideas.

Last May, Google CEO Larry Page suggested at Google I/O that tech might need some place where it can experiment without running afoul of government rules, CNET News reported.

There are many, many exciting and important things we can do but we can’t do because they’re illegal or not allowed by regulations. As technologists we should have safe places where we can try out new things and figure out the effect on society and people without having to deploy into the normal world. People who like those kind of things can go there and experiment.

Why does tech need a homeland all its own? According to Srinivasan “they are going to try and blame the economy on Silicon Valley…. We didn’t securitize mortgages, order bailouts, start wars, or refuse to write movies or articles on this until too late,” he said at Y Combinator. He says tech needs a peaceful exit from the U.S. rather than potentially violent secession.

Not so fast, says Wall Street Journal columnist Farhad Manjoo in a piece headlined, “Silicon Valley Has an Arrogance Problem. It’s Too Proud, Too Self-Centered, and That’s Not Good For Anyone”. He writes that “Silicon Valley probably needs the rest of the nation more than the rest of the nation needs Silicon Valley.”

Silicon Valley’s money, its customers, and its legal and technological foundations are all made possible by institutions that belong to the paper belt. The government funded the early technologies that led to the Internet, venture capitalists are financed by non-techies’ retirement funds, and laws passed in Washington can determine the tech industry’s legal future. Companies launched in the Valley depend on the quick, widespread acceptance of their products by everyone who lives outside their shiny bubble.

As the tech industry has shaken off the memories of the last dot-com bust, its luminaries have become increasingly confident about their capacity to shape the future. And now they seem to have lost all humility about their place in the world.

Such thinking “is a dangerous idea,” he continues. “Everyone knows that Silicon Valley aims to take over the world. But if they want to succeed, the Valley’s inhabitants would be wise to at least pretend to be more humble in their approach.”

And if you have the whole world, why would there be a need to break away from it?

6 Responses to “Should Silicon Valley Secede, Or Just Leave?”

  1. Fred Bosick

    The *founders* of Silicon Valley came from other parts of the country, like Iowa, Texas, Massachusetts, etc. They wouldn’t have entertained this foolish notion. Can you pave a road with silicon chips? Can you eat them?

    These cryptoanarchists have no idea what they’re asking for! They must think that their business acumen shields them from any bad effects a small defenseless nation might suffer. What if China, Russia, or *Venezuela* lands an amphibious force and demands microchips and money?

    Maybe their outsourced army will defend them. That’s really what it’s about. Labor laws are just too much an inconvenience, never mind money laundering laws! Of course, that army will only be as effective as outsourced IT is. Can you imagine a clueless CEO/General with an Accenture sourced staff, leading H-1B troops? A couple of farmers with pitchforks, a hounddog, and a shotgun could take them.

    Arrogance barely suffices to describe their idiotic notion.

  2. Adam Merkel

    I guess what Adam Orth (stated that XBox One would need a internet connection regardless of where you are, and to “deal with it”, if you don’t remember him) said and did was just a tip of the iceberg of a deeper problem concerning attitudes at these major companies. At this point, I’d say that these companies in Silicon Valley need a dose of reality – Perhaps forcefully moving their businesses into the “culturally backwards” regions they consider the rural Midwest and South would be enough? At least if they were there, at least they would realize just how unfeasible several of their recent ideas are, especially ones that deal with “the cloud” and with connectivity requirements on applications and computing. They would also understand how critical it is to distribute jobs and offices to regions that need wider career diversity and are affordable for everyone. For example, where I am living right now, you would easily find work as a production worker, farmer, RN or LPN, or as a CDL-A holder, but good luck finding anything IT or development related (and even more so if you’re trying to get something at entry level). California does not represent the USA in terms of connectivity and technological advancement at all – Something these people should have been smart enough to realize a long time ago. Guess they need to learn this the hard way now…

    Otherwise, they’re trying to wage war from their mother’s basement. Yes, call it a terrible stereotype, but that’s how they are behaving in this manner.

  3. since most “Silicon Valley” ie. San Jose companies have offices and even HQ in San Francisco now, you would really have to include the entire Bay Area, or even California as a whole secede. the whole Northern CA versus Southern CA drama SF versus LA. also, considering there is a US military base Moffett Field right in the middle of your newly seceded country, they might not be so happy about that. China practically already owns half of California anyway, they’re buying up properties left and right. nice pipe dream though, good luck with that 😉

  4. Angry IT worker

    Here’s a radical idea: How about Silicon Valley actually relocate to more business friendly locales? There’s a ton of “flyover country” which is ignored by these techies, with tons of educated and qualified people who could make your company rock.

    But noooooooooooo. That’s not how they roll. They’re not THAT inclusive.

  5. Leave silicon valley where it is.
    Stop sending jobs to other countries.
    Don’t let some idiot put a ship of fools off shore.

    Manufacturing is gone and if tech goes too the unemployment will go higher.
    Think of security too.