Domain name colonialism, regulation, customer happiness

May 7 - tech/left news

A weekly newsletter from a socialist perspective on economics, inequality, and the late capitalist dystopia that is Silicon Valley.

Personal news

There’s an Uber/Lyft strike happening tomorrow (May 8) in a bunch of cities around the world! You can support drivers by not using either app, and if you’re in San Francisco, come to the demonstration outside Uber’s office at 1455 Market St, starting at noon. I’ll be there carrying a Tech Workers Coalition banner and handing out flyers about how to file a claim for lost wages in the wake of the Dynamex ruling. Come say hi!


  • Domain name colonialism (day 124): A brief history of Colombia's .co TLD as a neat little illustration of modern-day digital colonialism.

  • Assume a spherical cow (day 123): If you ignored all the important details, you could end concluding that the economy is going great and everything is fine.

  • When regulation gets in the way (day 122): The traditional gig economy business model (using independent contractors) has just been confirmed to be illegal in California, in a ruling that applies retroactively.

  • Equality of opportunity vs equality of outcome (day 121): If you don't have the latter, do you really have the former?

  • April recap (day 120): A summary of the last 30 posts.

  • You are not your code (day 119): Why software engineers need to worry about the social, economic, political implications of the products they build.

  • Customer happiness isn't enough (day 118): The typical goal of antitrust enforcement is to ensure better outcomes for consumers. But customer happiness is not the most important factor when it comes to tech companies.

Recommended content

  • 🎙The Dig: A History of Neoliberalism with Quinn Slobodian: an insightful and wide-ranging episode of Jacobin podcast The Dig, featuring the author of Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism. There’s an interesting discussion on the relationship between markets & democracy under neoliberalism: as Slobodian tells it, the architects of neoliberalism were not merely seeking to unfetter markets, but rather attempting to encase them, in order to shelter them from democratic governance. The international dimensions of this are important, too: contrary to what many liberal defenders of globalisation might think, the main freedom of movement prioritised by the neoliberal agenda was of capital, not people. Overall, the goal was to create a world where bounded nation states would be disciplined into compliance by a globalised economic order, governed by forces and institutions invisible to everyday people (I’m paraphrasing Slobodian here). At over 2 hours, this is one of the longer episodes yet, but I highly recommend it if you’re interested in economics, political theory, or international relations.

  • 🔗 Tech workers are organising – and asking what technology is actually for: a recent New Statesman article about tech worker organising that features two of my Notes From Below colleagues (Callum Cant and Jamie Woodcock). Also cited is an article I edited for Notes From Below last year by Jason Prado: Prospects for Organizing the Tech Industry. It’s a good summary of the context around worker organising in the tech industry, with a focus on the UK context (which centres around the gig economy).

  • 🔗 An Ode to Sanitation Workers: A Jacobin article by Meagan Day about the poor working conditions faced by sanitation workers despite the obvious importance of their profession. There’s a nice tie-in to the conditions faced by Amazon warehouse workers: “Right now Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, makes over four times the average American sanitation worker salary every minute. The capitalist justification for this state of affairs is that Bezos himself is driving innovation through a game-changing enterprise, Amazon. But Amazon would not be possible without the workers in the warehouses who sort and pack shipments, the workers who transport and deliver those shipments, and indeed the sanitation workers who clean up the sites where the products are made, the warehouses where they’re organized, and the streets where the packaging for those shipments is discarded.”

  • 🔗 Red Sky Thinking in the Platform Economy - Courier Organising Beyond Pay and Workers’ Rights: a New Syndicalist article written by a gig economy worker who organises with the Industrial Workers of the World. I loved this: “The platforms we work for seek a full re-organisation of society, where they become the universal intermediaries, extracting a small ‘rent’ from each and every social or economic relationship. While defensive struggles around pay and rights are necessary for our own survival, they can only slow the process which has been set in motion. […] If we, as a workers movement, seek to genuinely challenge these business models, and the ‘platform capitalist’ plan for the future, we need to think big, and think broadly, about where the terrain of struggle is, and develop a positive collective vision of the future we want.” To use a term coined by Callum Cant, my ideal is platform expropriation: platforms run for the benefit of workers, customers, and society as a whole, not merely a means for generating immense wealth.

  • 🎥 This American Embraced Socialism And Fought ISIS In Syria: this 6-minute Huffington Post video features Brace Belden, most famous for having joined the YPG in 2016, and who was recently part of a (successful) unionisation campaign at Anchor Steam Brewery, the oldest American craft brewery and a San Francisco stalwart. I can’t really explain the video, so you’ll just have to watch it for yourself.

  • 🎥 Knock Down the House: this 90-minute Netflix documentary about four female progressive candidates in the 2018 Congressional races had me in tears. Of the four who ran, only one actually won her race: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A rare look behind the scenes of her candidacy, as well as the other women who ran and lost. Some of my favourite scenes from AOC’s campaign were the ones featuring incumbent Joe Crowley, simply because he had the smugness of a powerful man who could not imagine ever losing that power, and there’s something truly wonderful about seeing hubris so definitively crushed. I was also really moved by Paula Jean Swearengin’s campaign, especially the scenes discussing the effect of coal mining on working-class communities in West Virginia (toxins, cancer). Sadly. she lost to the incumbent, Joe Manchin, who has made quite a bit of money from the coal industry. This film is 100% recommended if you’re interested in learning more about AOC and the movement of which she is a part.