Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 19, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

STEM CELLS....As many of you know, the state of California is teetering on the edge of bankrupty. Our answer? Pass an initiative to increase our financial problems by spending $3 billion on stem cell research!

I mildly opposed the stem cell measure when it was on the ballot back in November, and one of the reasons was that it was something of a sweetheart deal written by the biotech industry and rather clearly for the benefit of the biotech industry. And sure enough, after only a few months of existence the agency set up to manage the money is already under sustained attack for its casual attitude toward conflict of interest and open meeting laws.

Typical industrial/corporate arrogance regarding taxpayer money? Maybe. But Chris Nolan has an interesting gloss, suggesting that it's arrogance of a slightly different pedigree:

[Silicon Valley's] "friends and family" culture created this measure, funded it and will profit from it.

....Politics, which most Progressive libertarians think of as a corrupt enterprise, beneath their intelligence and not a worthy outlet for their skills, is seen as corrupt by definition. It is therefore unimportant and can be dismissed. After all these are good people doing the right thing; we can trust them to do good work. They prefer to think of policy the more noble act of creating worthwhile endeavors for people to follow as their true calling. When their deeds are done, they'll call us to admire the effect. The nobleness of their purpose overides any need to satisfy critics; once the task is complete, they will be silenced by the wonder of it all.

There's probably something to this. The peculiar strand of libertarianism that thrives in Silicon Valley isn't much appreciated outside the Valley (Paulina Borsook's Cyberselfish is a decent introduction if you're curious about it), and Chris is probably right that the travails of our new stem cell agency are at least partly caused by the contempt for government and the glorification of their own skills that are part and parcel of this subculture. If Tom Wolfe is ever on the lookout for a group even more convinced of their own godhood than Manhattan investment bankers, Silicon Valley techies might be right up his alley.

Of course, I'd still argue that some good old fashioned corporate shilling is a big part of this too. After all, just how libertarian can you really pretend to be when your entire agency is funded by $3 billion in government money?

Kevin Drum 1:54 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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