Reflections on Eurotechnopanic and the fiscal biosphere

I came across some choice interviews and essays by Jeff Jarvis.

A professor at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism and a long-standing practicing journalist, Jarvis is a noted and loyal fan of Google as well as of other major Silicon Valley success stories and an irreconcilable adversary of their critics.

Among the issues he raises with persistence, gleefully rankling European sensibilities in the process, is what he has diagnoses as “Eurotechnopanic” – a “German disease” that manifests itself through symptoms of excessive consideration for and subservience to stakeholders in old technologies (well, old money) – including major publishers  and their media arms who are, as we all know, not to a large extent on the winning side of digital developments – and for consideration given to transparent and self-serving anticompetitive measures of European (in this case German) players who simply cannot come up with a globally comparable product. Instead, they lean heavily on the German government to impose copyright fees in favor of publishers whose products are linked in pertinent part by search engines; to enforce pixilation of Google Street View leading to abandonment of recent photo updates and the moniker “Blurmany”; to initiate antitrust proceedings (not that events like that were unknown in the U.S. to the likes of Microsoft and IBM and others); to recognize a “right to be forgotten”; and other measures Jarvis views as anticompetitive, protectionist and anti-American. An inveterate sceptic of government, Jarvis attributes the success of American internet entrepreneurs and products in part to a changing culture of sharing (information) and publicness espoused by consumers.

Still, Jarvis professes to be an enduring admirer of another German, Johannes Gensfleisch, called Gutenberg, whom not only he calls history’s first and most influential technology entrepreneur (albeit financially unsuccessful in his lifetime), arguably the principal catalyst of the scientific revolution, and whose invention in the 1440s predictably encountered at least as much concern and opposition from early Eurotechnophobes as internet services are confronted with today: there would be too many books, too much knowledge in the hands of people, too many hazards for lawful government, vast need for regulation, etc. And that is indeed what set Gutenberg apart: typographic printing, invented more than a millennium earlier in East Asia, was never used for speed, high output and mass efficiency – further evidence of the superiority of the low-margin, high-volume concept.

But one conclusion one can derive from his argument speaks for itself: it is an utter impossibility that a serial phenomenon like Elon Musk would accomplish a fraction of his achievements in the Europe as we know and appreciate fondly. No two ways about that. The number and mobility of European engineers, inventors and entrepreneurs who came through the literal and figurative equivalent of Ellis Island to succeed spectacularly speaks louder and clearer than any amount of online chatter – and would appear to be a primary incentive for meaningful and overdue immigration reform both sides of the Atlantic.

Another point of note is that, despite Jarvis’ observations, Berlin has become an emerging Silicon Valley in terms of the number and growth of startups – although not yet in terms of size or market capitalization (the latter is unlikely to occur at any time in the near future given that Germany does not have a tradition of widespread equity investment and hence no deep and broad stock markets). But it is worth noting that both California and Germany – as, by the way, Israel, the world’s second-largest agglomeration of tech companies, along with London, Moscow and Paris, are all notorious highly taxed jurisdictions. Innovation is driven by interaction, incubation, opportunity and financing infinitely more than it is by marginal corporate tax rates.

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