What if instead of filing for an IPO or getting acquired by Yahoo, the end game for any startup was to become autonomous — to become wholly independent of the land that birthed it? What if Silicon Valley became its own city-state filled with citizens ferried about by Uber cars, living in rented homes rented on Airbnb? This is the vision of Balaji Srinivasan, co-founder of genetics company Counsyl and Stanford lecturer.
"We didn't securitize mortgages, order bailouts, [or] start wars."
In a talk titled "Silicon Valley's 'Ultimate Exit'" hosted by startup accelerator Y Combinator last week, Srinivasan outlined his idea for a self-sustaining, insulated "experiment" where we'd live under a government run by Silicon Valley. He describes this fictional society as "opt-in," as if it were the latest feature of one of the Valley's many startups. "We didn't securitize mortgages, order bailouts, [or] start wars," reads one of Srinivasan's slides. Valleywag's Nitasha Tiku points out that Uber doesn't own its own cars, and Airbnb doesn't own its own houses and apartments. "This is the Tea Party with better gadgets," she writes. What about taxes? Infrastructure? Basic services? "You can't 3-D-print a highway, or develop a cancer treatment with a Fitbit band," notes New York Magazine's Kevin Roose, a reference to public services like the CDC, fire department, and police that such an experiment would forsake.
In other words, Silicon Valley needs the rest of the country to survive, as taxpayers and consumers. Now if only Srinivasan's fantasy sounded more like Larry Page's "Google Island," or Elon Musk's planned Mars Colony, which he cites, he could persuade some people to at least crowd-fund the idea. In the Valley, marketing is everything.