US elites’ imperial corruption compares to Opium War

This series of essays debuted in January 2000 with a meditation on tech stocks. I forecast that – contrary to the then-prevailing wisdom – internet equities would blossom by feeding on the moral rot of the society underneath them.

Not in my darkest rumination could I have envisioned the corruption of a whole generation of American youth through smartphones and social media, as documented by Professor Jean Twenge of the University of California San Diego. I repost below my maiden essay, “What if Internet Stocks Aren’t a Bubble?”

This has a direct bearing upon Professor Justin Yifu Lin’s thesis that China today stands with respect to the United States as the United States and Germany stood with respect to Great Britain at the end of the 19th century. An excerpt from Professor Lin’s new book was published by Asia Times on October 11.

China, he maintains, will lead the Fourth Industrial Revolution just as America and Germany led the Second Industrial Revolution.

It was Britain that had the technology in the late 19th century, not America. (Germany invented the modern chemical industry and some key features of modern metallurgy.)

Thomas Edison did not invent the light bulb, contrary to the fable told to American schoolchildren. British scientist Joseph Swan invented the light bulb, Edison’s industrial laboratory tried thousands of materials until it discovered that a bamboo filament would last ten times longer than previous materials, and made it commercially viable.

Edison engaged in flagrant intellectual property theft. Swan sued him successfully for patent infringement and won a huge settlement.

Why didn’t Britain commercialize the light bulb? The answer lies in the corruption of empire. Britain’s best and brightest left Eton and Harrow and went into colonial service, and made fortunes on the sale of British textiles to India, Indian opium to China, and Chinese tea and silks to the West.

Britain’s country houses were built on the quick money that was there to be earned from empire, and the British upper class eschewed the dirty work of manufacturing in favor of the faux-aristocracy of the nouveau riche masquerading as landed gentry. Ambitious Americans built factories, and ambitious Germans earned doctorates in chemistry while ambitious Englishmen went East of Suez.

America has no empire in the old sense of the world; when Americans occupy foreign countries they lose money rather than make money. But America’s financial and tech monopolies have the same effect. During the 2000s, Wall Street’s derivatives desks picked off the brightest engineers, and during the 2010s, the tech companies recruited the smartest engineers and computer scientists.

America graduates barely 40,000 mechanical engineers each year, not surprising considering that Americans lost interest in manufacturing two decades ago.

The tech monopolies offer rewards beyond the imagination of greed and have concentrated American wealth in the hands of the smallest number of people in history. And they feed on a culture of insouciant hedonism that values individual self-expression as a matter of religious dogma while enforcing a vicious conformity upon young people.

Social media are the opium of the 21st century, and the young tech wizards who infest Silicon Valley are the moral successors of the young Etonians who forced India to grow the drug and forced China to buy it.