I’m only a little bit embarrassed when I stumble across intellectual hobby horses it seems everyone else is talking about. I’m a busy guy, and evidence to the contrary, I don’t spend all my time thinking or reading about weighty matters.
I was perplexed, then, at Fortune’s recently concluded conference in Rome when more than one brainy participant made knowing references to “universal basic income.” In case, like me, you aren’t familiar with it, UBI is a flat payment to an entire population. The rationale is twofold. First, paying everyone a certain amount of money gives those with too little enough to get by. Second, such a payment is more efficient and effective than welfare, which by definition requires a costly administrative structure to work.
UBI has become a hot topic in tech, partly because it has been championed by leading lights in Silicon Valley, including the startup investor Y Combinator. It came up repeatedly in Rome because our task was to suggest specific actions the business world can take to ameliorate global poverty.
Such a blunt-force approach is immensely appealing to libertarian-leaning thinkers in the technology industry. (Long before Silicon Valley became known for its political liberalism, its most important figures simply wanted government to leave them alone.) A skeptical review of Silicon Valley’s love affair with UBI by Jathan Sadowski in The Guardian provides a counterpoint to the cheerleading on the topic. He sees selfish opportunism in the Valley’s embrace of UBI, a way, for example, to pad the incomes of those scraping by in the so-called sharing economy.
“Why do the wealthy and elite support seemingly radical social programs?” he asks. “Have they grown enlightened and concerned with the plight of everyone else? Is this a mea culpa designed to make exploitation more bearable, a bit of comfort to soften the crushing pressure of life? Or is it a stealthy way for them to backdoor their own politics and values, while also protecting their positions in society?”
These are good questions, especially as the business world grapples with finding purpose in its important collective corporate mission.
BITS AND BYTES
Trump to tech leaders: Meet me in New York? Silicon Valley made its dislike for the President-elect’s policies abundantly clear during his campaign, and he has had especially harsh words for Apple. Now, billionaire investor Peter Thiel—an outspoken supporter—is brokering a “roundtable” to get things off on a better foot. Oracle co-CEO Safra Catz and Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins plan to be there, but other tech giants haven’t revealed their intentions. (New York Times)
Japan’s Masayoshi Son pledges $50 billion in U.S. investment. The founder of Softbank, who controls wireless carrier Sprint, outlined his ideas for creating more than 50,000 jobs during a meeting with Donald Trump on Tuesday. The President-elect took credit for the commitment, which will be fueled by a $100 billion fund that Son set up earlier this year. (Fortune, Wall Street Journal)
Samsung doesn’t have to pay Apple $399 million after all. The Supreme Court on Tuesday said a lower court was wrong to base the damages in the two companies’ long-running dispute over smartphone design on Samsung’s total profits for the devices. So, the feud will linger on while the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit recalculates the math. (Fortune, New York Times)
EU approves Microsoft’s takeover of LinkedIn. Antitrust officials were apparently satisfied with the software giant’s suggested concessions, including a plan to let rival social networking and business software companies tie their products more closely with its widely used Office applications. So the $26 billion union is one step closer to completion. (Reuters)
The world’s biggest data center operator just got bigger. Equinix is paying $3.6 billion to buy almost 30 data centers from telecommunications giant Verizon, which is shedding them to focus more closely on its core business. The deal boosts Equinix’s total to 175 facilities worldwide, and gives the company a stronger presence in the U.S. and Latin America. (Reuters, Wall Street Journal)
Google is poised to meet a huge renewable energy milestone. The Internet giant is publicly backing 20 solar and wind projects globally. By sometime next year, it will be purchasing enough clean power to offset the electricity consumed by all of its data centers and office locations. It’s not an insignificant amount. Last year, Google’s operations required about the same amount of power used by the entire city of San Francisco. (Reuters, New York Times)
Here’s how Fidelity is experimenting with VR. Virtual reality may be predominantly viewed as a new and immersive way to fly spaceships in digitally rendered galaxies or watch movies in 360 degrees. For Fidelity Investments, however, the cutting-edge tech is more than a source of amusement—it’s a potential new way for people to interact with their money.
The financial service giant’s research arm, Fidelity Labs, said Tuesday that it built a new business app designed for the HTC Vive virtual reality headset. It is a prototype for what Fidelity believes could be a simpler way for human resources managers to keep track of employees and their retirement plans. Here’s more on its plan.
PEOPLE AND CULTURE
Jack Dorsey is still content to lead two companies. He has no timeframe for giving up the CEO post at either Twitter or Square, according to remarks Dorsey made Tuesday during an industry conference. That said, don’t discount the influence of former Goldman banker Anthony Noto, who is about to become Twitter’s COO. (Recode, Recode)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Why It’s Time for Apple to Release Its Smartwatch Sales Stats, by Don Reisinger
Facebook Workplace Gets More Businesslike, by Barb Darrow
Airbnb Changes Its Tune in New York, by Kia Kokalitcheva
Uber’s New Tracking Tool Is More Convenient Than Creepy, by Jeff John Roberts
Here’s What Netflix’s Vision of the Future of TV Looks Like, by Mathew Ingram
AT&T CEO Confident Regulatory Problems Will Melt Away, by Aaron Pressman
Founders of Apple’s Anobit Co-Lead Investment in Israeli Security Firm, by Robert Hackett
Stealthy Startup Snags Funds to Make Factories Smarter, by Barb Darrow
ONE MORE THING
Think your sports startup would appeal to Tom Brady? The NFL Players Association has launched a new tech accelerator called OneTeam Collective. The group will help with marketing and business development in exchange for equity. (Fortune)