The binary delusions of Marc Andreessen

In the VC's world, AI is "left-wing," regulation is a "machine gun," and America could be great again if only we’d just stop being mean to Silicon Valley.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Marc Andreessen’s resumé speaks for itself.

Co-designer of the first popular graphics-based web browser, co-founder of Netscape, venture capitalist behind the likes of Twitter, Lyft, Facebook, and Pinterest, World Wide Web Hall of Famer... the objectively impressive list goes on.

Most recently, his multibillion-dollar venture capitalist firm, Andreessen Horowitz (often shortened to “a16z”) unveiled Future, an online publication proudly boasting, “We are pro-tech, pro-markets, pro-innovation. But we are also ‘informed optimists’, not freewheeling futurists making predictions without any signals or skin in the game.” So far, it’s mainly churned out PR-approved marketing pablum like “Speculation is Necessary. Governments Can Help,” “The Power of Product Thinking,” “On Workplace Productivity,” and Andreessen’s own, “Technology Saves the World.”

It’s a strange and boring project, one that may make some wonder, “Why waste time on a pro-tech vanity publication boasting of writing that’s ‘undiluted by reporting,’ as recent advertising has touted?” Simple: because Marc Andreessen is an out-of-touch wealth-monger who only conceives of the world in binaries and has no goddamn idea what he’s talking about.

How do we know this? Because of this impressively navel-gazing interview with him published this week in the Substack newsletter, Noahpinion. Well, also this impressively offensive, misogynistic “interview” he gave earlier this month. But let’s just focus on the lowlights of his most recent chat, and dive right into this Venture Capitalist Charybdis, shall we?

An out-of-touch wealth-monger who has no goddamn idea what he’s talking about.

The crux of Andreessen’s Silicon Valley moralizing is that America has lost the drive to build, a sentiment he first opined back with his creatively titled viral article, “It’s Time to Build,” published in April 2020 amidst a world reeling from COVID-19’s ascendancy. Build what? Doesn’t matter, apparently. We just need to be building, and American politicians, Big Tech critics, and anyone harboring vaguely skeptical counterviews are in the way, damnit.

“We need to want these things more than we want to prevent these things. The problem is regulatory capture,” he wrote at the time, a sentiment he reiterates multiple times in his newest interview. “[T]he private sector can and does deliver even under considerable duress, and even when much of our political system is devoted to stifling it with regulatory handcuffs and damaging it with misguided policies,” he argues at one point, later offering solutions like Silicon Valley taking on a somehow “bigger role in the economy, scaling our companies all the way to huge without ever handing them off to professionals on the other literal and metaphorical coast who may not understand and value them the way we do.”

Andreessen apparently believes he has witnessed Big Tech squirming beneath the oppressive thumb of U.S. regulators for far too long, all while politicians are “busily savaging the U.S. technology industry every way they possibly can”... a particularly ironic viewpoint, given that a company he personally built was a chief instigator for one of the largest federal battles for better regulatory oversight in Big Tech.

“Marc Andreessen famously said what they wanted to do was reduce Windows to a buggy set of device drivers underneath the browser, which would be the new top player that people would see and interact with,” Steve Lohr, a tech and economics reporter for The New York Times, explained to The Ringer for its oral history of the historic (and successful) antitrust suit brought against Bill Gates’ empire for stifling Internet browser competitors like Andreessen’s Netscape. And what has such truly “savaging” effects had on American Big Tech? Well, now it only comprises five (gasp!) of the top ten brands in the entire world, with Microsoft only claiming an embarrassing third-place.

Having opined over Big Tech’s economic suffocation and completing a marketing presentation on some of his more recent investments, Clubhouse (“...the Athenian agora come to life, globally. I mean that seriously”) and Substack (“the business model for intellectual creativity that’s been missing on the Internet for 30 years”), Andreessen moves on to endorse Peter Thiel’s “characteristically sweeping observation” regarding the inherent political ideologies behind artificial intelligence and cryptocurrency technology. “...AI is in some sense a left wing idea — centralized machines making top-down decisions,” he opines, betraying a fundamental misunderstanding about “left wing” (we assume he means “socialist”) ideology, before arguing that “crypto is a right wing idea — many distributed agents, humans and bots, making bottom-up decisions.” Which, y’know, is actually socialism.

All of this highlights Andreessen’s central, and somewhat appropriate, problem: the man seems incapable of thinking outside extremely binary, computational terms. Big Tech is Good. Regulation is Bad (unless he sanctions said regulation). AI is “left wing,” which implies there must be a “right wing” equivalent in… cryptocurrency? Sure, why not? It fills in Andreessen’s gaps, and provides yet another 0’s and 1’s contrast for argument’s sake, even if he completely misdefines socialism and conservatism in the process.

Marc Andreessen seems incapable of thinking outside extremely binary, computational terms.

When he’s not providing one-to-one comparisons, he is inventing — or, at the very least, inflating — criticisms of his baby, Big Tech. “A common criticism of software is that it’s not something that takes physical form in the real world. For example, software is not a house, or a school, or a hospital,” a statement begging the questions:

  1. Is a common criticism of software really the fact that it isn’t, um, a physical object?
  2. What?

“Software,” as Andreessen describes it, has enabled coding, “and all of a sudden riders and drivers coordinate a completely new kind of real-world transportation system, and we call it Lyft.” Yes, some of us call it Lyft, and Uber. Others call it union-busting exploitation of part-time laborers with no hope of job security, safety nets, legal protections, or healthcare. “Someone writes code, and all of a sudden homeowners and guests coordinate a completely new kind of real-world real estate system, and we call it AirBNB [sic].” Oh, you mean this Airbnb, Marc?

“Everywhere software touches the real world, the real world gets better, and less expensive, and more efficient, and more adaptable, and better for people.” Everywhere software touches? Really? Everywhere? EVERYWHERE? “Software is the closest thing we have to magic,” he concludes on this topic, to which we say: No, magic is the closest thing we have to magic. Just look at this video of Harrison Ford reacting to a card trick from David Blaine. Semantics? Maybe. Or maybe we’re just “disrupting” the economy of definitions.

But really, the main thrust of Andreessen’s whole outlook can be summed up by his own words late in the interview: “Our public sector hates our private sector and wants to destroy it.” After slamming American interference, he appears to admire our immediate, obvious contrast of China. “China's public sector works hand in glove with its private sector, because of course it does, it owns [emphasis his] its private sector. At some point, we may wish to consider whether we should stop machine-gunning ourselves in the foot at the start of this quite important marathon.”

To Andreessen, addressing Apple’s stranglehold on third-party apps via its App Store policy is “machine-gunning” ourselves. Pushing back against Uber’s anti-union efforts is “machine-gunning” ourselves. So is calling out Amazon’s predatory price gouging, and merely “reporting” these facts, since it “dilutes” venture capitalists’ story — a story in which they are the heroes championing a better future, one with only binary winners and losers, that the naysayers simply don’t have the computing capacity to fully understand. It’s not that we don’t understand what people like Andreessen are saying… we do, and we know it’s dangerously simplistic, opportunistic, and completely bonkers.