Sheng Li (gmachine1729) wrote,
Sheng Li

Why Google and Facebook might be overrated

Originally published at 狗和留美者不得入内. You can comment here or there.

Back in undergrad, this professor I worked with once in casual conversation said something along the likes of “how to predict what kind of company will become the next Google.” As for Facebook, as a software engineer with much exposure to those places, some people have described it as a better version of Google, more equity for engineers with better perks and benefits.

Google and Facebook were considered by many as the top places to work for, especially for a new grad. Certainly better than Amazon, where you have to work harder for lower pay.

But from another perspective, it’s because Google and Facebook, as monopolistic advertising companies, can afford to pay their engineers more. Even when they do, they still make much more income than Amazon, and perhaps also Microsoft.

I recall on Zhihu, a user by the handle Zeldovich Yakov spoke of Google and Facebook as relatively shit companies. His bar was pretty high though. He would say,

Ford started a company with few tens of thousands of dollars. In a decade, it became a billion dollar company and created a whole new industry and supply chain. In contrast, all Google and Facebook did was steal the revenue of the former advertising companies. They did not create any real new economic demand or market. So, what else are they if not trash companies.

This is something that most people with the American mindset would never think, let alone an undergrad with minimal exposure to the world who would naturally overrate the superficial cool that a company like Google projects.

Heck, Nvidia I would regard as more in many ways more valuable than GoogFaces despite the market value being much lower. Its technology is, in contrast, actually extremely hard to replicate. For instance, China could easily replicate GoogFaces, but Nvidia, Intel, not so easy.

Zeldovich Yakov, who did graduate school in pure math in Russia and France, also wrote something along the likes of,

Google and Facebook are that valuable only because of the English language market. In Russia, there’s Yandex and vKontakte. Yandex was founded earlier than Google, and vKontakte has more convenient file transfer features.

Google and Facebook also are dependent on America’s geopolitical supremacy. China has proven that they can be shut out wherever America does not have geopolitical control, and we may see in the next few decades China pressuring some smaller countries to follow her example, which would deprive those two of more advertising revenue. One could also regard the success of those as having more to do with connections. Worth noting is how the founders of Google and Facebook were both Jewish, with the benefit of support from dominant Jewish media and finance interests in America that the founders of Yahoo and MySpace did not have. Of course, this is not really politically correct to say, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t something of a consequential nature.

Steve Hsu has also written on his blog something of the likes of

The connection between value creation and money and power has become quite weak of late.

This is very true. The ability to create (real) value often is very different from the ability to monetize it. Software without advertising has as much value functionality wise for the user if not more than the same software but with advertising incorporated. As an example, I had read that the creator of WeChat back in the late 90s in China spent a few years singlehandedly writing some Foxmail email client, which had several million downloads not long after it was released. But economically, according to what I read, he was almost broke. Fortunately for him, he later got the opportunity to become rich in a big company with the monetization platform. More generally, we often have some smart, competent people creating the technology, creating the products, and then the politically connected people (who often know very little about technology) coming in later on take more of the equity for themselves.

I’ve also written before that in China, the people who developed the core industrial foundation and military technology created much more value than the likes of Jack Ma. The former gave the country tremendous leverage on the international stage. Without that, people like Jack Ma would not be possible. But the people in the former did not get rich. They mostly merely got high salaries from the government. So if the government decides to take out Jack Ma (who is rumored to have had some ties with US media and NGOs that displeased some party people in China), there would not be much good reason to be sympathetic.

Like ex-Soviet Red Army officer Andrei Martyanov, many Chinese, with a similar socialist tradition, view the whole market economy with a critical lens, and the same spirit seems to be utterly absent in an America blinded by liberal market fundamentalism. Keep in mind that this is a country founded on the displacement of Native Americans that was made possible by not much more than military superiority.

So whenever I hear some idiot Anglo or Anglo lackey say “rule of law,” I find it kind of a joke. Rule of law requires ability to enforce the law, which is based on political power, which must be backed by military power. Plus, the law is often phrased very ambiguously, but that is implicitly deliberate.

US-China relations are becoming ever more tense. And in this fight, Google and Facebook in spite of their high market cap provide relatively little value, aside from their media power in spreading the American liberal dogma. But how can you win in the long term with a dogma built on a house of cards. Eventually, reality will come to bite you. In actual material competition or war, propaganda helps but more critical is actual material power, in the quality and quantity of what you can produce. In actual material competition or war, you have to actually demonstrate your real power; financial games, monetary indices, economic bubbles, marketing/hype, and the ability to fool idiots mean very little. It is in wartime that relative status changes most precipitously, when there is the most social mobility. Too many examples, but I’ll give some representative modern ones: the Anglo conquest of North America (set the stage for Anglo supremacy, elsewhere, Anglo world also mostly triumphed over French, Spanish, Dutch, Germans, and other smaller European powers), the Opium Wars (finally shattered China’s position, more gain for British Empire), the First Sino-Japanese War (a calamitous drop for China, a big boost for Japan), the Russo-Japanese War (another big boost for Japan, at Russia’s expense), WWI (Germany’s loss), WWII (America the biggest winner by far, USSR next, Germany and Japan lose forever their chance at actual empire, minor gain for China), Chinese Civil War and Korean War (a precipitous leap in status for China mostly at America’s big expense, USSR benefited too from indirect association), Sino-Indian War (virtually irrecoverable loss for India, more bonus points for China), Cold War (big gain for America after USSR’s disintegration and consequent economic collapse in Russia in the 90s at expense of Russia and other Soviet derivatives, gain of smaller, more temporary nature for Japan and Four Asian Tigers per association, China did okay by being large and more independent, though the strong Soviet association surely hurt her confidence in culture and political system).

Following WWII, in an era of mutually assured destruction, it is very difficult for confrontation and competition between the big powers to be militarily 100% direct, and even during the Cold War, the actual fire, dirty work was largely done in a proxy fashion. The competition is more economic and cultural, and Google and Facebook, along with Hollywood, surely are representatives there for America on the cultural end.

Some say we have now Cold War 2.0. Again, it’s US + UK + their allies of varying degree versus Russia + China + their allies of varying degree. This time, unlike in Cold War 1.0 when trade and contact between the two superpowers was very limited, there is more interaction between the two sides in our more interconnected, globalized society. During the 90s, China, though much disliked, was still considered too poor and backwards to be a threat, and the US was mostly busy trying to ethnically cleanse Russia. They did a ton of damage, but under Putin’s leadership following American puppet Yeltsin, the Russian culture and nation has proven to be extremely resilient under the foundation of a combination of the more traditional Russian culture and the technology and expertise, not to mention international cultural ties, established during the Soviet era, which America could not fully undermine and destroy, far from it. China, in contrary to the expectation of the US elite of eventual liberalization and integration into the US world order, after growing rapidly for a few decades is acting increasingly in defiance of America. Despite an invasion of American liberal culture and ideology of the past four decades, PRC’s communist conservative core remained intact and following Xi’s ascension to power even revitalized.

I’ve observed that there are crudely speaking two types of people, two types of organizations, or at least a spectrum of them. There is the one with the grow fast get rich quick at all costs strategy and there is the other that values higher quality sustainable growth. The former tends to die or fade quickly and forever with a sour taste when its good times end, while the latter tends to persist and show remarkable resilience under crisis. One can put Google and Facebook in the former category and Intel and Boeing in the latter category.

Similarly, as for nations and ethnicities, one can put the WASPs (and their Jewish colonizers) in the former category, and the Russians and Chinese in the latter category. As for the Chinese, in English, there is not really a concept of “Chinese Empire,” and in modern times, China was very much a large but weak victim of Western imperialism and colonialism, until the PRC, but the PRC side of modern China is, needless to say, grossly distorted in the Anglo narrative. But traditionally, China was its own civilization; from the Central Plain millennia ago, it gradually expanded to all of the area of China today, with gradual conquests and assimilation, of the area of Guangdong and Fujian in the far south of China, of the more inner part in present day Sichuan, and of present day Xinjiang where the currently, much noise is made about the Uighurs in the Anglo media. The truth is that most of those places were integrated into the Han Chinese culture before the birth of Christ, with settlers in Xinjiang before then as well. Later, the Mongols and Manchus (who are basically physically indistinguishable from the Han Chinese) conquered but they were also culturally assimilated. Over millennia, the Chinese established and consolidated deep roots over a vast area of land while maintaining cultural coherence, one that even Western imperialism with its modern guns and warships could not uproot.

Not being Russian myself, I know not enough about more traditional Russian history to judge, though I know of Alexander Nevsky. There was of course, in addition to with Western Europe, much interaction with the Central Asians, in which we can crudely include the Mongol and Tatar conquerors who eventually integrated into the Russian language and culture. I can much appreciate how Russia managed to go from in 30 or 40 years time the losing European imperial power to the world’s second superpower via the pioneering of the revolutionary political and economic system of the Soviet Union. Moreover, the catastrophic fall in the 90s could not bring down Russia permanently either, and at least over the past decade, Russia has been mostly ascending, ever more prominent in international affair, though still nowhere near where it was during the Soviet era. Much of the culture of the Soviet Union is still there, and over seventy years time, it has permeated the Chinese soul in a sinicized form. Whatever of American and Anglo culture in China is in comparison more superficial, nowhere near as durable, as it is in direct odds with the political value system in China.

And I would expect over the next few decades that mostly toxic influence to wane further and ever more precipitously. We may well see a catastrophic and actually permanent fall of America and the Anglo world at large. Nowadays, taking trends into account too, America and the Anglo world does not have the benefit of the ethnic and cultural homogeneity vital for bouncing back after crisis, unlike Russia or China. Anglo imperialism was of a revolutionary nature but its base off a small island in Europe with a comparatively small population was too little for it to genuinely permeate itself over a vast land. It takes centuries to fully displace or assimilate a population, and maybe more than that if the population is extremely ethnically different, since there are physical limits on the movement of people and breeding of new ones. It is even harder to maintain the cultural coherence especially when geographically separated over a long period of time. Take the Chinese in America as an example; they are ethnically cleansed in the second generation, with examples like myself very very rare.

Tags: facebook, google, 中国/китай, 互联网行业, 冷战, 历史, 殖民主义

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