Having parachuted into technology/venture capital Twitter at some point in early 2020, I found myself engrossed by the communities and worldviews of the West Coast. As a total outsider, I was and still am fascinated by these communities. One of the aspects of the West Coast that I find interesting, but also lamentable, is their total inability to understand or play politics. One manifestation of this is the amount of focus devoted to cultivating tech talent and investing vast amounts of money in building the latest cryptocurrency startup or soy latte dispensary, while bureaucrats in the California state government and San Francisco city councils systematically push the tech community out with insane legislation, only for the toothless response of the tech community to be to flee and disperse across the country.
This is a bad thing, not just because it is sad to see nerds getting bullied by less intelligent but higher-agency actors like high school, but because we need the West Coast to embrace the opportunity it has to revive the country, and the entire western hemisphere's future that lies downstream of America's technological might and prowess. If a West Coast Century is to ever manifest itself, then their political consciousness must be awakened. Exit may never be an option; capturing the empire from within may very well be the only option.
The first step to doing this is a systematic breakdown of the epistemic barriers that have been set up across the 'paper belt' in America: financiers in NYC, lobbyists and politicians in DC, cultural icons in LA, techies in SF, and academics in New England. This distribution ensures as little information as possible is being shared between the various epistemic tribes of the paper belt. Actors like Peter Thiel and Elon Musk have shown their ability to break across those barriers with huge rewards for doing so. How else can this be done?
A New Federalist Society - Thielan Jurists
There is a lot of obsession with formal institutions, and less so with the soft power of networks that act like shadow systems of influence, ideas, and action. In this case, the most powerful institution in America today is likely not a formal institution but The Federalist Society ('TFS'), a network of some 200 law school chapters and 70,000 attorney members, which boasts the current or past membership of five of nine Supreme Justices. Founded in 1982, TFS has built one of the most powerful networks in America in the span of a mere forty years. It is one of the greatest live players in the past century, yet its methods and influence are largely brushed over in favour of obsessing over software companies.
No amount of money has captured the influence that a network based on a set of principles has achieved. The founding principles of TFS are that 'the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be.' These principles act as the creed of what is essentially a distributed network. There is no central command-and-control hierarchy here, but true believers who are given a space in which to hone their legal skills through debate and research, as well as to be identified by experienced and high-ranking lawyers and judges for mentorship and career development.
Samo Burja's concept of live players is important here. A live player is a person or a tightly coordinated group of people that is able to do things it has not done before. If the live player is a group, its coordination is key to its success. Lacking an esprit du corp or rigorous chain of command, it could end up forgetting its objectives and even disintegrating. At the same time, the live player needs to be flexible so it can respond to opportunities and emergent events that may require new tactics, organisational structures, and even a change in worldview. Such coordination inevitably spawns a new set of tactics, strategies, coordination mechanisms, and other forms of knowledge that Samo Burja calls a 'tradition of knowledge', and possessing this tradition is one way to see whether x group is a live player. Note the importance of traditions of knowledge to being a live player. TFS spawned its own, living tradition of knowledge through a set of core principles, their passing down through master-apprentice networks (clerkships, jobs, recommendations, etc), and the implementation of their beliefs via court rulings.
I am surprised that actors like Peter Thiel are not funding lawyers through a Thiel Fellowship for law that tries to build a Federalist Society-type movement, systematically breaking down regulatory barriers and reforming the system to support building and innovation. He studied law, worked as a lawyer, and arguably was able to make the moves he did owing to his extensive knowledge and practice of law by leveraging it in finance and technology. This compounding of interests elevates individuals above the rest of their deeply-specialised peers, and it comes as no surprise that some of the most high agency individuals today are people who have their fingers in multiple pies.
As mentioned earlier, there is a myopic focus on tech talent that comes at the expense of totally ignoring the other fields of knowledge, let alone at least approaching some of them to synthesise approaches. This myopia is going to continue producing lower returns over time. There are only so many software companies you can build and none can reverse the stagnation that is occurring in the real world. To affect the real world, you need people who have studied the systems that govern state and society, and who hover near the levers of change and power in these systems. This means lawyers, policy officials, and statesmen. This is where the real bureaucratic and organisational breakthroughs happen.
The obsession with building 'gen Z tech mafias' now needs to be complemented with the development of things like law societies that recruit a critical mass of followers in laws schools and the judicial system and achieve genuine breakthroughs in the negation (or development) of jurisprudence that shapes the system to be more conducive for innovation and growth. Whoever does this will become one of the most important live players over the next few decades and instrumental to any effort to avert America's current course to irrelevance vs. China. If actors like Thiel want to reverse stagnation, then they will not get it by hiring apolitical coders to build the next ecommerce app. It will be achieved by a legion of Thielan jurists that match TFS in its scope and ambition.
In order to provide some sort of economy for this, as well as to align incentives, a Thiel Fellowship could be awarded to certain students who have shown great promise. However, as opposed to a flat grant of $50,000-$100,000, they would be given an income-sharing agreement ('ISA'), whereby the full tuition fee for law school would be paid for in return for a % slice of their future earnings. An ISA removes the burden of long-term interest debt from students, and in turn the ISA provider would have an interest in helping the career advancement of the ISA receivers. It would be a firm statement of belief in the students as this is an equity investment: we succeed together. This also means that the ROI from the ISA can be re-invested into this law network, helping it to power itself, and giving veteran members a stake in the network and a greater incentive to develop close bonds with junior members and to use the network to help their own career advancement.
TFS opted to make a silhouette of President James Madison as their logo. As one of the co-writers of the Federalist Papers and the US constitution, the society sees itself as the heirs of Madison's legacy. Such symbolism is important. Let us imagine that a society as I have mentioned is created. The mascot could be Benjamin Franklin, the inventor-statesman. This would be a provocative and symbolic act, declaring the closing of the barriers between law, public policy, and technological innovation and reclaiming this almost-lost American tradition.