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Long Read of the Week: Web Maker Marc Andreessen says “It’s time to build”

Andreessen made his billions by creating “Mosaic / Netscape” (remember them?)

Medical equipment and financial conduits involve no rocket science whatsoever. At least therapies and vaccines are hard! Making masks and transferring money are not hard. We could have these things but we chose not to — specifically we chose not to have the mechanisms, the factories, the systems to make these things. We chose not to *build*.

You don’t just see this smug complacency, this satisfaction with the status quo and the unwillingness to build, in the pandemic, or in healthcare generally. You see it throughout Western life, and specifically throughout American life.

You see it in housing and the physical footprint of our cities. We can’t build nearly enough housing in our cities with surging economic potential — which results in crazily skyrocketing housing prices in places like San Francisco, making it nearly impossible for regular people to move in and take the jobs of the future. We also can’t build the cities themselves anymore. When the producers of HBO’s “Westworld” wanted to portray the American city of the future, they didn’t film in Seattle or Los Angeles or Austin — they went to Singapore. We should have gleaming skyscrapers and spectacular living environments in all our best cities at levels way beyond what we have now; where are they?

You see it in education. We have top-end universities, yes, but with the capacity to teach only a microscopic percentage of the 4 million new 18 year olds in the U.S. each year, or the 120 million new 18 year olds in the world each year. Why not educate every 18 year old? Isn’t that the most important thing we can possibly do? Why not build a far larger number of universities, or scale the ones we have way up? The last major innovation in K-12 education was Montessori, which traces back to the 1960s; we’ve been doing education research that’s never reached practical deployment for 50 years since; why not build a lot more great K-12 schools using everything we now know? We know one-to-one tutoring can reliably increase education outcomes by two standard deviations (the Bloom two-sigma effect); we have the internet; why haven’t we built systems to match every young learner with an older tutor to dramatically improve student success?

You see it in manufacturing. Contrary to conventional wisdom, American manufacturing output is higher than ever, but why has so much manufacturing been offshored to places with cheaper manual labor? We know how to build highly automated factories. We know the enormous number of higher paying jobs we would create to design and build and operate those factories. We know — and we’re experiencing right now! — the strategic problem of relying on offshore manufacturing of key goods. Why aren’t we building Elon Musk’s “alien dreadnoughts” — giant, gleaming, state of the art factories producing every conceivable kind of product, at the highest possible quality and lowest possible cost — all throughout our country?

You see it in transportation. Where are the supersonic aircraft? Where are the millions of delivery drones? Where are the high speed trains, the soaring monorails, the hyperloops, and yes, the flying cars?

Is the problem money? That seems hard to believe when we have the money to wage endless wars in the Middle East and repeatedly bail out incumbent banks, airlines, and carmakers. The federal government just passed a $2 trillion coronavirus rescue package in two weeks! Is the problem capitalism? I’m with Nicholas Stern when he says that capitalism is how we take care of people we don’t know — all of these fields are highly lucrative already and should be prime stomping grounds for capitalist investment, good both for the investor and the customers who are served. Is the problem technical competence? Clearly not, or we wouldn’t have the homes and skyscrapers, schools and hospitals, cars and trains, computers and smartphones, that we already have.

The problem is desire. We need to *want* these things. The problem is inertia. We need to want these things more than we want to prevent these things. The problem is regulatory capture. We need to want new companies to build these things, even if incumbents don’t like it, even if only to force the incumbents to build these things. And the problem is will. We need to build these things.

And we need to separate the imperative to build these things from ideology and politics. Both sides need to contribute to building.

RTWT AT IT’S TIME TO BUILD – Andreessen Horowitz

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • jwm April 23, 2020, 1:37 PM

    Thank you for posting this. The news these days is almost unendurably depressing. It is refreshing to hear a voice pointing the way forward.


  • Uncle Mikey April 23, 2020, 1:52 PM

    Powerful. Thank you!

  • ghostsniper April 23, 2020, 2:28 PM

    “Why not educate every 18 year old?”
    Because not every 18 year old is capable of or will to be educated.
    Only in the past 30 years or so was this not obvious.
    Ever notice that some of the greatest minds that ever lived were not college graduates?
    A college education guarantees only one thing these days, that the students will be financially broken for a long time and the degree they receive will be worthless.

    Far better to find something you are interested in, learn all that you can on your own, seek out an apprenticeship anyway that you can as early in life as you can, then put 100% of your effort into it.

    The quality of almost everything in this country is now in the shitter and has been for decades. There are now more silly asses living in the US than anywhere else on the planet. They thrive here.

  • James ONeil April 23, 2020, 3:14 PM

    Shucky darn yes, ghostsniper, above, types for me!

    I’ve been saying for quite a while now that caring, responsible parents should not allow their children to attend university.

    Even K through 12; I explained, back in the 60s to my children that they were going to school for socialization, that if they wanted an education, they can get the rudiments of such within the school system, but even for such a smidgen, they’ll have to work above and beyond what the teachers expect of them.

    Education today? I’ve an 8th grade math test from 1912 sitting on my shelf that may college graduates that I know today would not be able to pass.

  • Stargazer April 23, 2020, 4:18 PM

    Mosaic. Netscape Navigator (evolved to Firefox). Yes, I remember both of them. Remarkable innovations back in the day. Opened up a whole new world. HTML (which predated browsers) was the key. I have had the same primary email address since 1994. First accessed it via Netscape.

  • Auntie Analogue April 23, 2020, 5:31 PM

    Oh, my, that Marc Andreeesen guy sure is fond of the royal “We,” isn’t he?

  • Snakepit Kansas April 24, 2020, 5:11 AM

    Ghost beat me to it. Not every 18 year old is capable or more likely, has the desire to go learn something that will lead to a viable career. Not every nerd can be a video game designer. Both of my monkeys are way smarter than me (wife’s brains) and will likely go to a local college that has an excellent engineering and business school. They will have the option to live at home and graduate debt free. As for me, I cash flowed school. Two year electronics, BS in manufacturing and a business degree all took extra time because I went to school while working full time, or with an extra job (liquor store and gun range). Character is developed through the crucible of difficult times. Excellence can occur when SKILL, OPPORTUNITY and DESIRE come together. Most 18 year old kids can get the skill, opportunity is all over the place, they only need the desire. You cannot force or legislate that.

  • Harry April 24, 2020, 10:14 AM

    Our country’s public education system will never improve unless explicit phonics instruction begins in Kindergarten. And that won’t happen because there is so much money being made off of educational failure by the people and companies who design the current reading programs. Billions of dollars are being wasted on current computer connected curricula that insure more failure for generations to come.

  • james wilson April 24, 2020, 10:44 AM

    The average American educational level between the Civil War and WW11 ran between eight to ten years. More people were fully literate, and they got their education through work. They did not waste their lives in alleged high schools and alleged colleges. They were a capable and confident people. Instead, now a boy who should have been at work in his first job at 14 may be 23 when he obtains a certificate which gains him nothing while the boy who actually went to work has a life, experience, and more choices in which to shape it. Credentiallism is the ally of incompetence.

  • gwbnyc April 26, 2020, 7:22 PM

    educating every 18 year old gives every 18 year old a worthless education.