This is an excerpt from Empower: How to Co-Create the Future. The full 200+ page book is available by donation!
“Young people intuitively think pro-connectivity—
pro-positive relations with their neighbors, against walls, for environmental sustainability”
excerpt from book
David Passiak: Companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Air BnB, Microsoft, Apple; they are the fastest growing companies in human history. Apple is one example you cite in the book. It has $200 billion in assets, in many ways making it more powerful than many mid-size countries. These companies connect the world. Facebook—when including its products Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp—has a population akin to the world’s biggest country.
How does the view of the world change when the companies controlling the platforms that connect us have more economic power and reach than countries? What roles and responsibilities should tech companies play in improving the world?
Parag Khanna: First, it is important to understand that a world of sovereign equality of nations never existed, so it is a fantasy to presume that any shift away from that model represents a threat.
We lived up until very recently in a world of vertically-integrated global empires run by Europe. For example, the British East India Company was vastly more powerful than most territories, possessions and protectorates of any empire, certainly of the British. Let’s be clear about our history first of all so we don’t fall into a trap of fantasies about the world that simply isn’t true.
The purpose of the state or government is to maximize welfare for its citizens. As far as I am concerned, connectivity is a human right, so whichever outside agent comes in to provide those human rights should be empowered to do so. For example, think of the controversy surrounding how India rejected Facebook’s provision of free basic Internet. I am totally on the side of Mark Andreesen, one of Facebook’s board members, who is critical of the decision because India has a long history of shooting itself in the foot as an independent country.
The fact is you have hundreds of millions of citizens who have neither physical connectivity, nor additional connectivity, sanitation, nor food for that matter. Yes, there are fears of monopolism, data privacy, and so forth that should be monitored carefully, but governments should allow a company that is very cash-rich on the back of its hardware sales, software, advertising or whatever the case to be a net provider of connectivity. I worry less about who provides the service than that the service is provided.
There are always power dynamics and tensions over who gets to benefit, but you wouldn’t have that problem at all if people weren’t connected. We need to be holistic about these kinds of things. People talk about unfair trade, but the problem is too little trade. People worry about the digital divide; the problem is too little Internet access, not an equality of access. There is often this rich world approach to problems that from a utilitarian standpoint is more about too little than too unequal.