Recent years have seen a lot of attention given to the “problem” of not enough women and URMs in technology. Part of this is no doubt a result of the general strengthening of political correctness which followed the Obama reelection but I think there is another explanation. Tech is (relatively) sexy now. Why? I think it’s because it has become much more about marketing than it used to be.
Take Facebook, a tech company triumph. It was not a triumph of coding but a triumph of marketing, online social networks had been around long before it. Other triumphs of technology, such as the much beloved Uber and AirBnB were also not great breakthroughs of coding but of marketing. The industry is still making breakthroughs of coding such as Google’s self-driving car but marketing is seen as the public face of technology in a way it didn’t used to be. Before people looked at it and saw hardware, algorithms, “debugging,” ect, and said “not for me.” But now they see marketing and think “I can do that.” And since it pays so well, or so they hear, they think “I’d love to do that.”
This is reflected in the emphasis on “STEM” in education and the desire of a bunch of women and URMs to rent-seek places in the tech industry. But the problem is that despite the importance of marketing it still requires technical skills. Another problem is that tech companies are disproportionately new and small, factors which make them more resistant to demands for affirmative action than large, established, more easily sue-able companies. So advocates for more women and URMs in tech are going to continue to be disappointed in the near future.
Blogger Calico Cat developed the idea of the “marketing economy” back in 2003:
The traditional explanation of our nation’s economic development is that we have moved from an agricultural economy to a manufacturing economy, and then from a manufacturing economy to an information economy.
What happens when all the information jobs move overseas? What we will have left is what I call the marketing economy. Nearly all jobs that involve creating actual value, such as manufacturing, computer programming, engineering, or just answering the phone at a call center, will be moved overseas. The only jobs left in the United States will be marketing jobs.
Instead of creating real value, marketing merely creates the perception of value. But perception is a very powerful thing. The weekend before Christmas in Manhattan, I spotted a vendor on the street selling sweaters for only $5 each. But a Polo by Ralph Lauren sweater at a mid level department store like Macy’s sells for $99. What’s the difference between the two sweaters? Even if the Polo sweater costs more the manufacture, I guarantee you that it doesn’t cost twenty times as much to manufacture. It’s doubtful that it even cost twice as much to manufacture. Nope, that $99 sweater is actually only a $5 sweater that has a higher perception of value. The manufacture of the sweater takes place in Macao and costs only $5. Then $85 is spent marketing the sweater in the United States, with $10 of profit for Macy’s and Polo.
The marketing economy can be seen in many developments that have occurred since 2003, such as the housing bubble and the rise of internet advertising.(which I think is also a bubble which is bound to burst) Steve Sailer recently brought up the idea of bumhunting, where people look for suckers to (legally!) extract money from with things like high interest loans and gambling.
One problem with the marketing economy is that while most people know that luxury goods are luxurious because they are expensive in other cases the true value of the product will be discovered, and the “bubble” will burst. Thus, the marketing economy has a level of instability that the old economy lacked. This doesn’t mean it will be more unstable than the old economy, it has ways of keeping itself stable that the old economy lacked such as its very efficient means of communication.