The Facebook IPO and the ‘Malincentivization’ of the Technology Sector

I agree with Stanford professor Steve Blank about the Facebook IPO (boldface mine):

THOMPSON: But you think Silicon Valley is screwed, whether Facebook lives up to that valuation or not. Why?

BLANK: I teach science and engineering. I see my students trying to commercialize really hard stuff. But the VCs are only going to be interested in chasing the billions on their smart phones. Thank God we have small business research grants from the federal government, otherwise the Chinese would just grab them.

THOMPSON: But there are some people doing interesting, daring things, like Vinod Khosla.

BLANK: He is. But think about this. The four most interesting projects in the last five years are Tesla, SpaceX, Google Driving, and Google Goggles. That is one individual, Elon Musk, and one company, Google, doing all four things that are truly Silicon Valley-class disruptive.

THOMPSON: Does this represent a large-scale failure among venture capitalists in the Valley?

BLANK: It’s not like anybody is doing evil or bad. It’s like what Willie Sutton said: Social media is just “where the money is.”

THOMPSON: What’s the fix?

BLANK: I don’t know what the fix is. Thank God for federal government grants, and the NIH, and Musk, and Google.

It’s often said that ‘government can’t pick winners.’ Well, who else is going to support innovation in areas other social media? Google and Elon Musk can’t bankroll everything.

Another 21st market failure.

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2 Responses to The Facebook IPO and the ‘Malincentivization’ of the Technology Sector

  1. A Palazzo says:

    This article reminds me of a conversation I had recently. The biggest problem with the current capitalist system is that all long-term sustainability is sacrificed to short term profits, even if this strategy is disastrous in the long haul. And even if you as a CEO of a company want to invest in the long term, the pressures of the quarterly report will lead to a mass exodus in investors who are after the quick buck.

  2. Misaki says:

    Paul Krugman had a submission for a special edition of a periodical, around the 1990~2000 timeframe, that described what the economy might be like in the future. At the end, it was revealed that [SPOILER].

    If people worked less, then they could maybe do ‘innovative’ stuff in their spare time. If it requires funding, maybe someone with money would provide for raw materials but actual work would be unpaid, similar to how open source has been moderately sucessful despite that many contributors are not paid for their efforts.

    (Ubuntu helped with desktop by making it more polished and generally require less expertise, but most parts of the OS are not written/maintained by paid positions I believe… I’m still using Gnome though instead of the Ubuntu-developed windows manager which seemed like it was meant for touchscreen input and less useful otherwise.)

    So for example, take doctors since they occupy many of the highest-paid professions. Don’t remember one article which actually listed these (grouping all medical physicians and dentists reduces them to just one slot, allowing jobs like “petroleum engineer” into the top rankings, otherwise they take up many slots) but his gives rough numbers:

    It has been argued that, if you pretend that you get paid while you are in school, physicians only have a slightly higher net wage (after taxes) than high school teachers but it’s still much more than descriptions of what science PhDs are paid for post-doc lab work ($~40k). I guess physicians just have a better bottleneck on limiting supply than scientists do, probably for the same reason that most people don’t ask about prices when they go to the hospital.

    But anyway. Even if medical school costs stay where they are (debts of $150k+ on average lately, same as other tuition inflation), it would still be possible to become a physician and make a living from working just 10~20 hours per week, if employers accepted that arrangement. (At least one place describes a younger generation of physicians who don’t feel the need to overwork themselves in a somewhat derisive tone.) That would still probably be $100k+ per year. It would then allow working on whatever side projects seemed interesting.

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