Why is the technical workforce leaning to the left?

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Why are so many employees of large technology companies so left-leaning, especially so invested in vigilant ideology?

I would like to consider this question without judging whether it is good or bad. I would also like to think about it in abstract terms, separated from any controversies involving a particular technology company that is being accused in various ways of being biased towards the right or left. And I fully acknowledge that there is a prominent strain of libertarianism in the technology world, even though it tends to be of the more liberal variety.

To the question: Tech employees are relatively young and well-educated, and younger and better-educated people in the United States tend to lean to the left. But this is more a rendering of the situation than an explanation for it.

One factor in the current political adjustment of technology workers is that wealthy people and institutions are usually more willing to invest in symbolic goods, and the waking ideology places great emphasis on rhetoric about equality and justice. The big tech companies have been extremely profitable and that makes such positioning possible.

Another hypothesis concerns meritocracy. The best tech companies are very meritocratic, trying to hire the very best programmers, engineers and managers, if only because there is so much money at stake and these companies are profitable enough to afford top talent.

Yet the meritocracy of an intellect does not in itself constitute a corporate culture or common set of values ​​for employees. A variety of meritocratic appointments will come from a variety of backgrounds and cultures; it’s not like they all went to Eton together. These meritocratic appointments may therefore have an extra layer of shared culture – and the technological enterprise that is so often based on the manipulation of abstract symbols does not provide it.

It does wokeism. In fact, this semi-religious function of awakened ideology may help to explain what many people perceive as the preaching or religious undertones of awakened discourse.

You may wonder why this common culture is left-wing rather than right-wing. Well, given the educational polarization in the United States, and the fact that large technology companies are usually located in blue states, it is much easier for a left-leaning common culture to develop. But the need for common cultural norms reinforces and strengthens what may originally have been a mildly left-leaning set of impulses.

Developing such a common culture is especially important in technology companies that are heavily dependent on collaboration. The profitability of a large technology company is typically not based on ownership of unique physical assets, but on the ability of its employees to translate ideas into products. So internal culture has to be quite strong – and may tend to strengthen forces that intensify modest ideological tendencies towards more extreme belief systems. (To be clear, I do not use the word “extreme” in a normatively negative way – nor do I intend the comparison of the awakened with religion to be normative.)

All of this is happening in a country where religious beliefs and participation are weakened, and in an industry where employees are not just Christians but Hindus, Muslims, Jews or have other religions in their family background. It also increases the need for an internal quasi-religious replacement, available to people with different backgrounds.

A related possibility is that employees in the big tech companies – at least many of them – are not as left-leaning as it seems. If the prevailing internal corporate culture is left-leaning and you get paid a lot to collaborate with other people, you might just “agree to get along.” The underlying reality will be much more complex.

If you think the left-wing orientation is offensive, just complaining about it is not enough. Often, attacks on a coordinating norm serve to reinforce it, just as persecution can make a religious group stronger and more cohesive.

Instead, you might be hoping for a different development: First, you might want these companies to become less profitable, thereby diminishing management’s interest in symbolic goods. It could help reverse the paradox by having such wealthy institutions have such gender equality rhetoric. You might also want to see them more invested in traditional employment networks, which would create a common cultural background separate from the waking ideology. Finally, one can hope that the anonymized expression of actual political views in the company over time could make it more acceptable to be “out” as right-wing.

These are not impossible dreams. Nor is it impossible for tech companies to become even more left-leaning; everything that is needed for current trends to accelerate. For the hard truth is that despite all its religious undertones, wokeism is a market-based ideology. As the markets change, it will evolve.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

• CEOs can not afford to ignore their stock prices: Trung Phan

• How Facebook and Amazon Trust an Invisible Workforce: Parmy Olson

• Corporate America is not as alert as it looks: Tyler Cowen

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial staff or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Tyler Cowen is a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. He is a professor of economics at George Mason University and writes for the blog Marginal Revolution. His books include “Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero.”

More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion

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