Let’s get to the question: tech employees are relatively young and well-educated, and younger, better-educated people in the United States tend to lean to the left. But this is more of a restatement of the situation than an explanation.
One of the factors in the current political alignment of tech employees is that wealthy people and institutions are generally more willing to invest in token goods, and woke ideology places great importance on rhetoric about the equality and equity. Big tech companies have been extremely profitable, which makes such positioning possible.
Another hypothesis concerns meritocracy. Tech companies are very meritocratic in that they try to hire the best programmers, engineers and managers, if only because so much money is involved and these companies are profitable enough to be able to enable the best talent.
Yet a meritocracy of the intellect does not in itself constitute a corporate culture or a common set of values for employees. A series of meritocratic hires will come from diverse backgrounds and cultures; it’s not like they all went to Eton together. So these meritocratic recruits may want an extra layer of shared culture — and the tech business, so often based on the manipulation of abstract symbols, doesn’t provide it.
Awakening does. In fact, this semi-religious function of awakened ideology may help explain what many people perceive as the preachy or religious undertones of awakened discourse.
You might be wondering why this common culture is left-wing rather than right-wing. Well, given the polarization of education in the United States and the fact that big tech companies are usually located in blue states, it’s much easier for a common leftist culture to evolve. But the need for common cultural norms strengthens and reinforces what might initially have been a set of slightly leftist impulses.
Developing such a common culture is particularly important in technology companies, which rely heavily on cooperation. The profitability of a large technology company is not usually based on the ownership of unique physical assets, but on the ability of its employees to turn ideas into products. The internal culture will therefore need to be quite strong – and may tend to reinforce forces that intensify modest ideological leanings towards more extreme belief systems. (To be clear, I’m not using the word “extreme” in a normatively negative way – nor do I intend woke’s comparison to religion to be normative.)
All of this is happening in a country where religious belief and participation is waning, and in an industry where employees are not just Christians but Hindus, Muslims, Jews or have other religions in their home backgrounds. It also reinforces the need for a quasi-religious internal surrogate, accessible to people of diverse backgrounds.
A related possibility is that employees of big tech companies — at least many of them — aren’t as left-wing as they appear. If the predominant internal corporate culture is left-wing and you get paid a lot to cooperate with other people, you might just “go ahead to get along”. The underlying reality will be much more complex.
If you find the orientation to the left to be objectionable, it is not enough to simply berate it. Often attacking a norm of coordination serves to strengthen it, just as persecution can make a religious group stronger and more cohesive.
Instead, you might hope for a different development: first, you might want these companies to become less profitable, thereby diminishing management’s interest in token goods. This could help reverse the paradox of these wealthy institutions having such egalitarian rhetoric. You might also want to see them more invested in traditional hiring networks, which would create a common cultural background separate from woke ideology. Finally, you might hope that the anonymous expression of real political views within the company might, over time, make it more acceptable to be “out” as far-right.
These are not impossible dreams. Nor is it impossible that employees of tech companies will become even more left-wing; whatever it takes for current trends to accelerate. Because the hard truth is that, for all its religious undertones, wokeism is a market-based ideology. As markets change, it will evolve.
More from Bloomberg Opinion:
• Tech CEOs can’t afford to ignore their stock prices: Trung Phan
• How Facebook and Amazon rely on an invisible workforce: Parmy Olson
• Corporate America is not as woke as it seems: Tyler Cowen
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Tyler Cowen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He is a professor of economics at George Mason University and writes for the Marginal Revolution blog. His books include “Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero”.
More stories like this are available at bloomberg.com/opinion