Just in case you happen to think Silicon Valley is either new or novel...

Tuesday, 30 December, Year 6 d.Tr. | Author: Mircea Popescu

... here's a quote, from eighty years agoi :

TROPIC OF CANCER is a novel in the first person, or autobiography in the form of a novel, whichever way you like to look at it. Miller himself insists that it is straight autobiography, but the tempo and method of telling the story are those of a novel. It is a story of the American Paris, but not along quite the usual lines, because the Americans who figure in it happen to be people without money. During the boom years, when dollars were plentiful and the exchange-value of the franc was low, Paris was invaded by such a swarm of artists, writers, students, dilettanti, sight-seers, debauchees, and plain idlers as the world has probably never seen. In some quarters of the town the so-called artists must actually have outnumbered the working population–indeed, it has been reckoned that in the late twenties there were as many as 30,000 painters in Paris, most of them impostors. The populace had grown so hardened to artists that gruff-voiced lesbians in corduroy breeches and young men in Grecian or medieval costume could walk the streets without attracting a glance, and along the Seine banks Notre Dame it was almost impossible to pick one's way between the sketching-stools. It was the age of dark horses and neglected genii; the phrase on everybody's lips was 'QUAND JE SERAI LANCÉ'.ii

As it turned out, nobody was 'LANCÉ', the slump descended like another Ice Age, the cosmopolitan mob of artists vanished, and the huge Montparnasse cafés which only ten years ago were filled till the small hours by hordes of shrieking poseurs have turned into darkened tombs in which there are not even any ghosts. It is this world–described in, among other novels, Wyndham Lewis's TARR–that Miller is writing about, but he is dealing only with the under side of it, the lumpen-proletarian fringe which has been able to survive the slump because it is composed partly of genuine artists and partly of genuine scoundrels. The neglected genii, the paranoiacs who art always 'going to' write the novel that will knock Proust into a cocked hat, are there, but they are only genii in the rather rare moments when they are not scouting about for the next meal. For the most part it is a story of bug-ridden rooms in working-men's hotels, of fights, drinking bouts, cheap brothels, Russian refugees, cadging, swindling, and temporary jobs. And the whole atmosphere of the poor quarters of Paris as a foreigner sees them–the cobbled alleys, the sour reek of refuse, the bistros with their greasy zinc counters and worn brick floors, the green waters of the Seine, the blue cloaks of the Republican Guard, the crumbling iron urinals, the peculiar sweetish smell of the Metro stations, the cigarettes that come to pieces, the pigeons in the Luxembourg Gardens–it is all there, or at any rate the feeling of it is there.

Compare and contrast withiii

If you look at a list of US cities sorted by population, the number of successful startups per capita varies by orders of magnitude. Somehow it's as if most places were sprayed with startupicide.

I wondered about this for years. I could see the average town was like a roach motel for startup ambitions: smart, ambitious people went in, but no startups came out. But I was never able to figure out exactly what happened inside the motel—exactly what was killing all the potential startups.

A couple weeks ago I finally figured it out. I was framing the question wrong. The problem is not that most towns kill startups. It's that death is the default for startups, and most towns don't save them. Instead of thinking of most places as being sprayed with startupicide, it's more accurate to think of startups as all being poisoned, and a few places being sprayed with the antidote.

Startups in other places are just doing what startups naturally do: fail. The real question is, what's saving startups in places like Silicon Valley?

The answer is quite simple :

  1. Artificially cheap money. Be it in the shape of fiat dollars innundating an ever more inflationary economy or in the shape of the accidentally cheap franc, artificially cheap money is half the apparent antidote to human folly.
  2. Public ennui. When absolutely nobody gives half a shit, stupidity costs less. If some confused chick can walk down the street dressed as a knight of the round table and nobody even notices you have the other half of the apparent antidote to human folly.

Being stupid is the ideal equivalent to friction. 2 reduces that friction whereas 1 compensates for it outright. Together they construct the equivalent of the automobile, where 1 is the engine and 2 the wheels. The only thing still needed is

a competent driver

a problem is not solved or even at all addressed by either 1 or 2.

And no, the driver can't be "the people" generally.

———
  1. George Orwell, "Inside the Whale", 1941 []
  2. Series A, in French. []
  3. Paul Graham, "Why Startup Hubs Work", 2011 []
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