August 12, 2017

IDENTITY POLITICS MAY BE ANTISOCIAL, BUT IT’S PROFITABLE:

The most interesting response to the firing of James Damore, the Google engineer who wrote a provocative memo questioning his company’s diversity practices, didn’t come from the establishment center-left, which predictably proclaimed Damore’s arguments beyond the pale, or the conservative right, which predictably said Silicon Valley elites had become intoxicated by political correctness. Rather, it came from the lonely members of the old-fashioned, class-conscious, social democratic Left, which framed the issue in terms of worker rights and the unaccountable power of employers over their employees.

Writing in The Week, Jeff Spross argued that even if Damore was in the wrong, the episode highlights the way American companies as a whole have too much power to fire workers at will. . . .

In the firing of Damore, we have a fantastically wealthy mega-corporation—a symbol for the kind of profit-producing creative destruction the Reagan Dispensation lionized—practicing identity politics in its rawest form. The content of Damore’s memo is besides the point (I certainly don’t agree with everything he wrote). What matters is that he questioned the design and execution of Google’s lavishly-funded but not particularly successful diversity initiatives, created a firestorm of outrage, and was summarily dismissed for his offense. After all, Lilla says, a defining feature of identity politics is that argument is replaced by taboo.

Google’s decision is being taken by many liberals as a blow for justice—a strong stand against discrimination in the workplace. But it’s also possible to see how the corporate diversity apparatus that led to Damore’s dismissal is actually a self-interested mechanism for big companies to get bigger, to extend control over their workers, and ultimately command even bigger profits. First, a code of inviolable political taboos disempowers workers and gives them less of a say in how their company is being run, putting Spross’s “democratic” workplace even further out of reach. Second, buying into campus style identity politics helps mobilize the coalition for immigration reform, which technology companies are lobbying for aggressively. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the self-conscious mixing of social justice politics with profit-making adds valuable luster to technology companies’ brand and recruitment capacity—allowing them to attract idealistic and intelligent young people who think that they are carrying out a wider social mission even as they act as cogs in the machine of a ruthlessly efficient quasi-monopoly.

Antitrust enforcement is one answer.