Andrew McAfee on Technology and Policy


So whenever I talk to politicians or
policy people, and they asked me, you know, “What’s the right thing to do for this
second Machine Age that you keep talking about?” I just hum the Old MacDonald song
to myself because when I get to the end and I go “ee-i-ee-i-oh.” That tells me what I need to be advocating, what i need to be
recommending to people. So, “ee-i-ee-i-oh” for me stands for: Let’s do education reform. Let’s get the skills right. Let’s have first world
infrastructure in America. Infrastructure makes an economy grow,
it’s an investment in the future. You got to go a long way before you find an economist who does
not believe in solid infrastructure. Let’s make sure that we have a healthy
environment for entrepreneurship because entrepreneurship is this decentralized
engine of job creation. Let’s be welcoming to immigrants because the
evidence is overwhelming about the economic benefits of, kind of
liberal immigration policies. Then the “oh” is: original research. Companies tend not to
do basic research because they’re more focused on applied research as a role
for the government to fund and sponsor and create a good environment for
basic research, original research. So “ee-i-ee-i-o:” Entrepreneurship, Infrastructure,
Education, Immigration, Original Research. The problem is, right now we are doing a middling to actively terrible job in each of those five areas. So our infrastructure gets a grade of, you know, if it’s charitable it’s a
C-minus maybe it’s a D+. Tom Friedman has a great way to phrase it. He says when
you fly from Beijing to LAX, it’s like going from the Jetsons
to the Flintstones. Is there any decent reason for that? No, absolutely not. We’ve talked about education. We’re doing a great job of training the
people we needed 70 years ago. We put these Kafka-esque barriers in the way of some of the
world’s most talented and ambitious people. Who still desperately want to
come the United States to build their lives and build their careers. And we just make it this ridiculous carnival of bureaucracy for them. This is economically ludicrous to do. And, entrepreneurship in America,
despite the fact that we see amazing things happening in
Cambridge, Mass. and Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurship in America is
on a long, slow. steady decline. We got to figure out why that is. And then funding for basic research is no better than flat,
depending on how you measure it. Clearly not heading in the right direction. When you’re in a period of
profound technological change, this is when you double down
on the basic research. So, when I hum “ee-i-ee-i-oh” to myself, even though it’s a happy tune, it does not leave me in a happy mood because I just think
we’re doing a middling to lousy job in all five of those areas. I think a lot of what you just said suggests what government can be doing. Are there things that existing organizations, or those entrepreneurial organizations, should be, could be focused on to help sort of bridge the gap that
clearly exists without slowing down, on, you know, innovation and what
they are already doing? You know, in general, I wish the business community and business leaders were more vocal about these basic things. I have the opportunity
to talk to a lot of business leaders. When I do my “ee-i-ee-i-oh” rant, very few of them leap to their feet and say, “I disagree with that.” Right? It’s just
pretty commonly held. However, when we’ve had these
incredibly polarized debates and we have politicians advocating something close to the opposite
of a lot of these things. I find that pretty profoundly un-American. When I see very prominent
voices advocating, you know, just demonizing these immigrants and
clamping down on them. I know, unless I’m talking to a really, really
weird sample of business leaders, I know they don’t agree with that. Most of them sit on the
sidelines for those discussions. Not all. And I’ve been,
especially in the tech sector, I’ve been really heartened by voices. And I would include people like Reid Hoffman, like Eric Schmidt, like Marc Benioff. They came forward and said,
“Hey. This is not right. This is not who we are. It’s not who we want to be.” In general, I wish more business voices would take a few more political risks. But, when I talk to business leaders the other thing that I try to tell them is: “Look. One thing that you and your organization can do today and tomorrow is stop relying on the
old-fashioned signals about whether this person would be a good
match for your organization.” So we rely too much on
the classic educational signals: Where did you go to school? Was it a good school? How many degrees do you have? What did you major in? And you know, this kind of credentialism. The evidence is pretty clear. That doesn’t really work. It’s not a useless signal. But it’s actually a pretty weak signal. And now we have these really
interesting, alternative signals of how good my human capital is, your human capital is. What kind of fit will be for an organization. One thing I try to tell, I try to encourage businesses to do, is walk away from a lot of
your old human capital practices. They’re actually not serving you very well. You’ll help yourself,
and you’ll help things out in general if you’re trying to evaluate people
using pretty different approaches.

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