Book Review: Malcolm Harris’ “Palo Alto: A History of California, Capitalism, and the World” 

Conor here: Apologies about the length, but it was a struggle to write up such an expansive book in a normal-sized post.

Last year, Stanford University hosted neo-Nazis on campus:

Stanford has been keying role in censorship:

There are probably others I’m omitting, [1] but if you’re just noticing these connections in isolation, you might be wondering what on earth is happening to Stanford?

Malcolm Harris’ book Palo Alto helps answer that question, and it’s that this has always been going on at Stanford. This is what Stanford is: a citadel of capitalism built on eugenics, bombs, and hatred of the working class.

But as the subtitle suggests, it’s not just an account of the university; it places it in the context of its region and country where it plays such a key role. There’s no doubt that other elite universities in the US play a large part in perpetuating ruling ideology and producing equally deranged business and government apparatchiks, but Stanford was central in making the region into the Silicon Valley death star it is today. Established on the American frontier far removed from the East coast Ivy League, it had distinct features that allowed it to exist on the “cutting edge.”

With its roots as a breeding ground (literally) for efficiency and eugenics, Harris makes the argument it set the course for Silicon Valley, the country, and the world.


Harris is big on systems, drawing on ‘C. Wright Mills concept of the sociological imagination, which he describes as a tool people can use to “understand what is happening in themselves as minute points of the intersections of biography and history within society.’”

It’s a welcome contrast to the typical tales of great Americans controlling one’s fate, pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, and the celebration of billionaires for being “visionaries. As Harris writes, “what interests me is not so much the personal qualities of the men and women in this history but how capitalism has made use of them.”

The New York Times panned the book due to this course, at one point dismissing Harris for his failure to see that liberal Democrats hold the answers to capitalism’s problems. If you’re someone that believes that things are going swimmingly as long as Team Blue is in charge, I can see how the book would be considered a downer. But if you don’t believe that, it’s essential reading.

Harris quotes at length and periodically returns to an exchange in Frank Norris’ 1901 novel The Octopus  in which the writer character Presley and railroad baron Shelgrim discuss the immense power of the railroads, and I’ll just include the one key exchange here:

“Believe this, young man,” exclaimed Shelgrim, laying a thick powerful forefinger on the table to emphasise his words, “try to believe this – to begin with – THAT RAILROADS BUILD THEMSELVES. Where there is a demand sooner or later there will be a supply. Mr. Derrick, does he grow his wheat? The Wheat grows itself. What does he count for? Does he supply the force? What do I count for? Do I build the Railroad? You are dealing with forces, young man, when you speak of Wheat and the Railroads, not with men. There is the Wheat, the supply. It must be carried to feed the People. There is the demand. The Wheat is one force, the Railroad, another, and there is the law that governs them – supply and demand. Men have only little to do in the whole business. Complications may arise, conditions that bear hard on the individual – crush him maybe – BUT THE WHEAT WILL BE CARRIED TO FEED THE PEOPLE – as inevitably as it will grow. If you want to fasten the blame of the affair at Los Muertos on any one person, you will make a mistake. Blame conditions, not men.” [2]

Shelgrim was the author Norris’ amalgamation of the real-life railroad barons into one man, and contrary to what Shelgrim argues, it wasn’t people’s hunger for bread that led to the construction of the railroads, it was “capital’s hunger for profit.”

One of the barons was, of course, Leland Stanford. Along with three others he invested a small sum in the effort to bring the railroad through the Sierra Nevadas.

Through a mix of corruption, violence, government largesse, and racial laws to generate wage differentials, Stanford got wildly rich without having to do anything:

In Stanford the system coughed up another man to stand for the larger forces pulling his strings. Though he was but a happy monkey dancing for history’s organ grinder, the West was so dear to the world market, the mass of value involved so gigantic, that the size of his small share surpassed even his fantastic appetite for luxuries…

“He has never made any money but has had a good deal made for him and knows no more of its value when he gets than he does of the way in which it was obtained,” Stanford’s associate Huntington wrote of the man.

“Blood That Trots Young” 

It makes sense that Mark Zuckerburg is nowadays raising cattle (or has hired a team to raise cattle).

Leland Stanford was an unremarkable man not dissimilar to Zuck. Both are money grubbers who happened to have opportunities and advantages and were in the right place at the right time and used the ruthlessness they had been trained in.

And Stanford bred horses.

He bought a 650-acre farm in what he named Palo Alto. The decision was largely one driven by a desire to escape class conflict in San Francisco, that not even a mansion high on the city’s Nob (as in nabob) Hill was far enough removed from.

Stanford didn’t particularly care about horses or their well-being:

Stanford was not content to own horses, nor was he content to own the fastest horses in all the land. He saw himself engaged in a serious scientific campaign regarding the improved performance of the laboring animal –– hippology, or equine engineering. For Stanford the capitalist, the horses were productive biological machines, and in races he could analyze their output according to simple, univocal metrics.

Stanford figured that if he could increase the value of each horse by $100, that would be worth $1.3 billion (more than $30 billion in 2022 money) to the US, which had approximately 13 million horses.

And he wasn’t even concerned with the horses’ adult speed; he instead had his farm optimize the horses for visible potential. He disrupted the horse industry. Sure, by forcing colts to basically run before they could walk, there were plenty of snapped tendons, and “good material” was “spoiled,” but in Stanford’s eyes this weeded out the weak. Harris writes that this “view that was good for sales, because genes are much easier to reproduce off-site than the capital-intensive training…”

The capitalist rationality in Stanford’s Palo Alto System said that if a horse “goes wrong at two years old he will be a cheaper failure than if he goes wrong at ten years old.”

Part of Stanford’s inspiration for his horse project actually came from another emerging field at the time: the young children’s education movement, which had recently arrived in the US from Germany and its “kindergartens.” Stanford applied his twist on it for horses, emphasizing above all else potential and speculative value, and then he decided to apply his horse science to humans as well.

After the death of their only son in 1884, Stanford and his wife, Jane, founded Leland Stanford Junior University. The first class of students arrived in 1891:

“Remember that life is, above all, practical;” the Governor [Stanford] told the “pioneer class” of LSJU on opening day. “You are here to fit yourselves for a useful career…” Here was the Stanford child reborn, split into 559 fragments. Too late perhaps, but as James Ayers wrote of the cursed Marie Antoinette vase, the Stanfords donated their fortune “to some institution where its power for good or evil would expend itself, not on an individual, but on the general Public.” A nonprofit bobbing in a sea of financial speculation, Stanford University was private interest inflated to a public cause, and whatever the Governor’s founding intentions were, it became a clubhouse for organized capital. Stanford University was much more like the Palo Alto Stock Farm than its founders planned. The spirit of Leland Stanford Jr. animated those young men and women, his blessings, privileges, and curses diluted and sprayed over hundreds of people by the crop duster of education. For good or evil.

Stanford’s founding president was David Starr Jordan. Following the death of Leland Sr. and the suspicious passing of Jane, Jordan transformed the university into what it is still known for today. He first made a home for high-tech research and development. The early 20th century was the right time to do so as advances that would power the century’s modernity were being born, and Palo Alto and the Bay Area played an outsize role producing electronics entrepreneurs.

Maybe less well-known but just as prominent in the university’s enduring spirit is Stanford’s focus on bionomics (bios for life and nomos for law).

Though it didn’t last long under that name, bionomics, with its vision of “degenerate” races and outstandingly normal heroes, underpins Palo Alto’s ethos into the present day.

Jordan brought on bionomics professors whose findings showed that nature had no morality, degeneracy was not self-extinguishing, and that humanity was prone to developing “withered branches.” As Harris writes,  “If bionomics was the theory, eugenics was the practice.” More:

Applied to children, the Palo Alto system suggested both positive and negative eugenic practices. Budding geniuses needed to be identified and elevated, while young degenerates needed to be corralled where they couldn’t dilute the national race or turn their underachievement into social problems…Stanford made large contributions to both strategies, promoting inequality as the only policy compatible with nature.

This ideology was carried on in the 1960s by Stanford biology professor Paul Ehrlich who with his wife wrote the 1968 book The Population Bomb, which  argued that population control and the “death solution” were the only options. The book was largely science fiction, but Ehrlich’s status at Stanford granted him an aura of respectability which he used to elevate figures like John Tanton who Harris describes as “perhaps the major player in what we might without much hyperbole call American Nazism.”

These views are still widely shared in Silicon Valley – a belief in their superior genes and intellect. They’re successful because they’re better. Here’s a comic a partner at a major San Francisco venture capital fund led by peter Thiel casually posted recently (only to delete it after the backlash):

Harris barely mentions Covid-19 in this book, but if these ideologies are still so prevalent at Stanford and among the thought leaders for the oligarchs – and there’s no reason to believe they aren’t – the public health policy of mass infection for some starts to make more sense. Stanford, of course, employs Covid minimizer and key figure in the Great Barrington Declaration Dr. Jay Bhattacharya.

Underpinning the Palo Alto System is an understanding that if wealth is controlled by a minority but political power is controlled by the majority, well, then it won’t be minority-controlled wealth for long.

Silicon and Fire 

When the US entered World War I, eugenicist ideas popular at Stanford started to gain more traction. The Army Alpha and Beta tests developed at Stanford helped sort soldiers into officier material and those who were expendable on the front lines.

By the next world war, Stanford was well-placed to play a key role as scientists and engineers were about to become the world’s most dangerous weapons. If men like Fred Terman, Bill Hansen, Charles Litton, Bill Hewlett, and William Shockley (never a student at Stanford but later a professor and major eugenics proponent) only played bit parts during the war, their roles grew exponentially during the Cold War that followed.

The Cold War label is a bit of a misnomer because while the conflict between the US and USSR might have been cold, there was a hot class war across the world, and the best and brightest in Silicon Valley were right in the middle of it. The wartime Department of Defense had gotten used to writing blank checks, and that didn’t end with Japan’s surrender. “By 1948, military contracts paid more of the Stanford physics department’s bills than the university did.”

The Stanford Research Institute fed at the DOD troth. The Stanford Industrial Park helped teachers, students, profit, and nonprofit blend together. Lockheed established a research complex in the industrial park and followed with a manufacturing complex, making it the county’s defining employer.

The fact Stanford had plenty of land with which to set up industrial space and its embrace of the relationship between the university, the DOD, and industry helped push it past its university rivals. But what exactly was the DOD funding all that research for?

The US was (and continues to be) all about spreading “freedom,” which means a state devoted to high profits – free from the political whims of local populations that could degrade an investment’s expected return. Harris writes:

Global inequality itself was the growth industry, and it took the form William Shockley predicted: a world ruled by bombs. All the better for Palo Alto.

This military Keynesianism, which is now openly admitted by the Biden administration as part of its argument to continue funding US proxy wars, has been ongoing since World War II. As the US dropped 635,000 tons of explosives during the three years of the Korean War, military support for electronics research at Stanford tripled, and the space settlers to Silicon Valley (in many cases not anti-communist conservatives but optimistic liberals enthralled by cybernetics and moon colonies) helped fuel the state’s land boom, and gobbled up consumer goods while they made napalm to back the capitalist side around the world:

Lewis Terman once dreamed that the United States could mobilize national intelligence to win wars; Fred Terman made it a reality, and the Stanford war machine he built equipped the country to rule the world in silicon and fire. 

It was evident early on that the military keynesianism wasn’t all it was promised to be for workers whose lives didn’t get increasingly easy. Unable to direct societal surpluses to useful ends rather than just stockpiling weapons, but that’s the definition of capitalism, and Stanford was a major production part of this economy and growing. Yet, profit incentives defined the university at this time and that incentive was for destruction. R&D for the capitalist class to win the global war:

War Capitalism could put on a blindfold and run into a maze of horrific, absurd plans with confidence because it had class power echolocation for a guide: As long as the rich strengthened and the working class weakened, then things had to be going in the right direction. It didn’t matter that capitalists were investing in finance sugar highs, monopoly superprofits, and an international manufacturing race to the bottom rather than strong jobs and an expanded industrial base. The twenty-first century was going to be all about software anyway, baby. The robots will figure it out. Silicon Valley leaders sat on top of this world system like a cherry on a sundae, insulated from the melting foundation by a rich tower of cream.

They might not feel as insulated nowadays, hence the panic – with good reason. Along the way the idea that the US was smartest and could sit back and engineer its way to victory everywhere from a control room took hold. Just spend more money. More research. More technological advances. But so much money whipping around seems to have screwed up the calibration. Problems are creeping in.

Maybe one of the earliest signs that the strategy to rule by silicon and fire was going to be problematic was the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system boondoggle. The 1950s collaboration between the Air Force, MIT, and most major computer computers, it fed punch cards coded with a day’s planned air routes into a computer; if something was amiss it was supposed to catch it, and missiles or aircraft could be deployed to intercept what was assumed to be a Soviet nuclear bomber. IBM produced a 12-minute advertising video on it, and it was a major PR victory for the company. The trouble is, it didn’t work – at all. A SAGE engineer compared it to Forrest Gump: “It was very fast, financially successful, and incredibly stupid.”

That description could likely describe a lot of US defense spending today. No need to worry, the bright minds had a plan, as Harris describes:

If the country couldn’t beat the world market in primary materials and heavy manufacturing, then it would play to its own advantage: making shit up.

They also began to outsource everything. In the early 1960s, US semiconductors start being produced abroad in Hong Kong in order to reduce the cost of labor per chip. So cheap labor and US military bases provided security to protect the capitalists’ interests, which at that time was a roughly 96 percent reduction in labor costs, but this only added to the proverbial chickens that are now coming home to roost.

Ruling by silicon and fire is a strategy that relies on weapons superiority, which is tenuous.It relies on keeping other nations down – again difficult to do perpetually.It relies on an overextended military to protect capital’s interests. It relies on killing ideas (communism, socialism, nationalism). While the above tactics make enemies abroad, the profit motive also hollows out the industrial base at home, which in turn strengthens others’ industry and makes it more difficult to sustain long wars of attrition. Other downsides at home include viewing crime as a problem of too many criminals rather than too few well-paying jobs, which has led to the police state we know today. There’s also extreme burnout among augmented kids in elite training grounds like Palo Alto, which is dealing with a youth suicide crisis. It’s also terrible for workers, the environment, and the quality of life of most humans on the planet.

What’s interesting is that many geopolitical observers say that the end of US hegemony is coming so much faster than they anticipated – largely brought on by US hubris. But of course it is. Silicon Valley is an extension of the capitalist state, and its emphasis is on speed, squaling up quickly, consequences be damned. What’s the motto? “Move fast and break things.” Well, they’ve broken a lot of things. How much of the world will they break in the process of trying to stay in control with silicon and fire?


The distance between the Federal Telegraph triode and Silicon Valley microchips wasn’t that far and was bridged rather quickly by technological, commercial and geopolitical developments. Harris goes into great detail on this, including placing some of the well-known figures (Jobs, Gates, etc.) into appropriate context, which includes establishing that there was nothing that made them geniuses, but they did share traits: privileged, commercially-minded, lucky, and jerks.

Their rise also followed in the footsteps of the Gold Rush and Leland Stanford’s kindergarten horses:

HP was an information technology company, and its devices generated actionable data by dragging inputs through carefully designed circuits. HP devices pumped test signals through user machines just as a hydolicker pumped water through a mountain. The gold was information, the same type of information Leland Stanford hired Edward Muybridge to generate from his horses. And like the zoopraxiscope, new technologies allowed for new modes of data capture. More, better, faster information was money saved, money saved was money earned, and everyone wanted a money machine.

It is striking the similarities between moments in the history of the Bay Area and its lead role today in the precarization of labor today. Stanford’s horse farm was the prototype for “what the scholar Philip Thurtle calls the laboratories of speed, with their limitless resources, firm-style employment bureaucracies, (pseudo)scientific breeding methods, and focus on a single product.”

The “13 million horses x $100” calculation is the kind of disruption math twenty-first-century start-ups use to persuade venture capitalists to sink millions into protean projects…

And the way many tech fortune seekers ride roughshod over the Bay Area today in their tinted-window, climate-controlled buses (and party trolleys on the weekend) is not dissimilar to gold rushers in the 19th century.

Gold rushers were not really settlers – at least most of them didn’t think of themselves that way. They were there to stack up gold and go back or onward, rich.

Tech workers today don’t understand the backlash directed at them today for obliviously destroying communities. They are, after all, just trying to get rich.

Many of them are also miserable. That’s the downside of being the product of a stock farm:

[Palo Alto’s] biggest export, more than code, circuit design, and marketing fluff, is human capital. Stanford switched from colts to young people, but it was still a breeding and training project. Labor intensification applied to students as to wage workers, and local leaders spent a century on educational augmentation schemes meant to provide the best genetic material with the top instructional apparatus. The strategy paid untold dividends, and Silicon Valley has shown remarkable economic resilience, always finding another bubble to inflate, a new technological frontier, a new boom, a new gold rush. It looks helter-skelter, but as I’ve said, Palo Altans managed to generate sinks to absorb and grow huge amounts of capital over and over, with remarkable consistency during the period in question. In a world starved for efficiency gains – novel ways to tighten costs – a bet on the Valley keeps getting better. Just ask some rich people.

The backlash against today’s Silicon Valley overlords and their minions is also nothing new for California capitalists. Take the big money agriculture land owners who pedaled the state’s labor like a bicycle: “when they pushed one group down, another rose to replace it, and the whole contraption moved a little further down the road.” Palo Alto goes into great depth on the labor actions in the 1920s and 30s in California, as well as Stanford man Herbert Hoover’s role in helping squash it and his enduring legacy as an anti-Communist hero for capitalists.[3]

And while they damage communities locally in the Bay Area, they visit the same upon the rest of the world. I don’t think it’s necessary to rehash all the damage from social media, surveillance, the “disruption” of nearly every industry, and the development of weapons of war, but this takes us back to Harris’ focus on systems, and the bad news that the incentives only provide for the situation to further deteriorate:

It’s worth retracing our steps to the Palo Alto system, in which potential counts for everything –– but only a specific kind of potential. A colt that won’t pull a cart is no good to the system, no matter how fast. And a colt that organizes all the horses to strike? That’s no potential at all.

The good news is to change the outcome you just need a new system. Despite the book coming in at a little over 600 pages, Harris doesn’t spend a ton of time on solutions. He advocates for a return of Palo Alto to indigenous populations that would be able to establish a system that is essentially the opposite of everything we know today. He acknowledges that it’s pie-in-the-sky thinking but also argues that it’s one way to do the necessary, which is “develop, practice, and deploy new modes of production, distribution, and reproduction – social metabolism” free from “capitalist gangsterism.”

It’s worth a shot.

The alternative is more of the same – except faster and worse.

It’s no surprise that Stanford is hosting neo-Nazis and employs individuals like Michael McFaul and Condoleezza Rice pushing hardline positions in the new not-so-Cold War. Attempting to secure capitalists’ interests abroad is the mission, and the resulting conflicts remain good business for Stanford and Silicon Valley. From TechCrunch:

 From January to October last year, VC-backed firms injected $7 billion into aerospace and defense companies, a massive growth that stands in sharp contrast to the relative sluggishness in other sectors.

There are many reasons for this uptick in interest in defense tech, but driving all of them is a new, realist vision that’s spread among some technologists and venture capitalists. It sees global antagonisms threatening the stability of Pax Americana; it sees the United States rotting from the inside out due to bloat and lethargy. As a result, the Silicon Valley mentality has returned to its defense roots, embracing the role that venture-funded startups can play in maintaining America’s military dominance and technological supremacy around the world.

“If you believe in democracy, democracy demands a sword,” a16z general partner David Ulevitch said in a recent interview with TechCrunch. And Silicon Valley will be where it is forged.

Or as Harris writes, “Forces, not men. That’s what the Palo Alto System is made of, and the train is barreling down the tracks.”


[1] The CIA spent hundreds of thousands of dollars supporting MK-Ultra subprojects at Stanford in the 1950s and 60s. LSD was administered to prisoners by the Stanford Research Institute and the International Foundation for Advanced Studies in an effort to break them down and recreate the effects of schizophrenia. Ken Kesey, a widely celebrated counterculture figure who helped steer rebels onto the individualistic path and away from collective action, wandered into these experiments and consented to being a lab rat. He was able to consent, however. Many of the catonic patients weren’t so lucky.

And although MK-Ultra gets a lot of attention, it wasn’t different from a lot of the federally funded research happening at Stanford. There was also the notorious Stanford Prison Experiment, which Harris describes succinctly like this:

A professor in a hastily constructed basement jail taking notes while he pays out of the defense budget for one group of college students to torture another was a natural result of the Terman postwar plan for Stanford.

[2] Silicon Valley barons of today make similar arguments, such as Uber co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick discussing why the company was raising so much money:

“If you didn’t do it, it would be a strategic disadvantage, especially when you’re operating globally…It’s not my preference for how to build a company, but it’s required when that money is available.”

[3] Updating Hoover’s legacy today could be a book all on its own. Despite getting overwhelmingly booted out of office in 1932, it would seem Hoover got the last laugh as his agenda finally came to pass in the US in the latter decades of the 20th century and remains with us today. A 1978 Palo Alto meeting yielded much of the Reagan administration leadership and the Hoover Institution played a major role in the plan for the 1980s. Bush the Younger had a similar meeting in 1998.

Bert’s opinions towards Russia and Germany echo into the present today. In Germany, Truman turned to Hoover to help sell congressional Republicans on a German aid package after WWII. General William H. Draper Jr., chief of the economic division of the Control Council for Germany, credited Hoover with securing the needed budget for the aid program:

Their first priority was getting the coal mines going, which powered the factories and the larger German economy. Draper and Hoover increased the coal workers’ daily ration of calories from to 4,000 and ordered them strip-searched at the mine gates to make sure they weren’t saving food for their hungry families.

Hoover had interests in mines in Russia until they were seized by the Bolsheviks. Hoover never forgot about it and remained terrified of Communists for the rest of his life and for good reason considering how much he stood to lose. He remained a major admirer of pre-Soviet Russia: “At the top was a Russian noble family and at the bottom 100,000 peasants and workers with nobody much in between but the priesthood and the overseers.”

That’s the Russia Hoover wanted to see again, and that’s the vision he had for the US and the rest of the world, and he played a central role in organizing capitalists to counter worker organization. Hoover understood one thing very well: “Capital by its nature dominates labor, and if it fails to accomplish that, it ceases to exist.”

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  1. Patrick Morrison

    Long-time Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist Steve Blank put together a presentation on ‘The Secret History of Silicon Valley’ a few years ago that digs into the military background behind what has become SV.

    1. Mikel

      Below, George Friedman telling people with smartphones in their pockets that “you live everyday with a product of war.” Whether or not one agrees with his geopolitical views, the first 15 min or so of this talk is a quick overview of some of the same points Blank made:

      I’m always entertained by him telling the SV newbies in the audience that they have invented nothing.

      That’s why I see the sweat behind the “AI” hype. The narrative has to be about “owning the future” because no big problems in the current are being solved. It’s always “the future” because ….hopefully people forget.

    2. Kontrary Kansan

      Thank you for the link. I listened Palo Alto last year. The presentation by Blank is a great footnote to it. The bibliography is astounding.

  2. The Rev Kev

    Said some time ago that Thomas Frank could have written a book about this place with the title “What’s the Matter with Stanford?” Everybody knows about Stanford as an institute but they really turned up on my radar back in 2020 with some pretty dodgy research to do with Covid. Rather than doing a deep dive into this era, I would suggest readers put the following search term into Google to see what I mean-

    stanford covid controversy

    But when they invited out and out Nazis onto campus and Francis Fukuyama was taking selfies with their wives, that was really on the nose that. These days anything coming out of Stanford I regard with suspicion.

  3. spud

    if they are so smart and clever, and superior, how did the so-called lowly russians and chinese beat them so badly.

    russian and chinese scientists come from low genetic material(not my beliefs, but the beliefs of the the giant american intellectual mental midgets), seems that this type of imbecile never understood why the central europeon facists were so soundly tromped on by the lower rungs of the evolutionary ladder:)

    this type of idiot, free traded themselves out of power in the world. so if we look at them in their eyes, they are lowly genetic material.

  4. Susan the other

    The natural forces for progress can be a gold mine for the future if we just change the mandate. Living symbiotically and sustainably with Nature. These last two years of pretend-peace while we fund our latest proxy war, killing millions, are instructive because we are getting too efficient at it. And in the process we are poisoning the planet. Clearly and beyond any doubt the old paradigm based literally on mutual murder is too immoral to continue. And pointless as well. But Ehrlich was right – we have only two choices. Either we limit human populations to fit a new paradigm of sustainability – as in peaceful sustainability – or Planet Earth will be “forced” to become Murder Incorporated, perhaps by wonder drugs. We humans have so far proved ourselves to be both too smart and too stupid to come up with a suitable solution.

    1. stickNmud

      Beg to differ about Paul Ehrlich, who was just as wrong as Thomas Malthus proved to be. IIRC, the Population Bomb was used as a justification for the development of miracle rice– to save the soon to be starving masses of the third world– but which resulted instead in millions of landless hungry peasants in the Philippines, and elsewhere in the developing world. Marcos got rich, in large part, from bribes from US agri-biz, who wanted a slice of USAID money funding the so-called ‘green revolution’– while the Philippines went from a second world country, with the highest literacy in East Asia outside of Japan, to a third world disaster with endless hungry children picking over mountains of garbage outside Manilla.

      IMNSHO, it’s not billions of poor folks who are destroying the planet, it’s (the owners of) industrial capitalism, with it’s myth of progress & prosperity. Highly recommend Graeber & Wengrow’s Dawn of Everything, which offers a truly enlightening long view on the subject of how we got into this mess. I would add that triumphant neoliberalism is predicated on creating (artificial) scarcity to maximise profits, and makes Robber Baron industrialists look like bleeding heart liberals.

      1. Susan the other

        I did read Dawn and I liked it and agree with it too. When I say we need to give civilization a new mandate I don’t mean GMOs for the world. I mean limit our populations humanely, provide for society with health care, housing, education and productive occupations focused on good ecology everywhere and live and work with a locally-centered focus of cooperation, recycling, clean manufacturing, gardening and agriculture suited to the environment and needing very little chemicals. And with 8 billion people more or less in agreement we could change everything. Set everything right. Clean up the oceans. Just for the record, I think the current “mandate” is mindless profiteering and that is what is killing the planet. And us all.

  5. JonnyJames

    Perfect example of what Ray McGovern calls Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank complex. Academia and so-called research institutes (“think tanks”) are integral parts of the complex.

    Hosting neo-Nazis is not an anomaly at all. We can use various labels, but the US foreign policy is directly responsible for ongoing genocide in Palestine, the destruction of half a dozen countries, the mass slaughter of millions of innocent people. The US gov may not be official “Nazis” but what difference does it make if your country is bombed to utter destruction, and people are slaughtered by the millions? The policies of the US gov are little different than the worst regimes in history.

  6. JonnyJames

    Language nitpick: Including here, I see the term “military Keynsianism” thrown around a lot lately, even by critics of US foreign policy. However, I believe this term is inaccurate and misrepresents John M. Keynes (like him or not)

    It’s been years since I read Keynes, but if I recall, he did not advocate govt. spending on war industries but rather infrastructure, health care, social programs etc. He developed the concept of multiplier effect on domestic spending. (not military spending)

    If we must use an economist’s name to describe such a policy I would think Paul Krugman would be much more accurate. Ol Kruggie has penned articles recently saying that the US should spend MORE on MICIMATT, not less. Military Krugmanism is more fitting.

    1. stickNmud

      Thank you for defending Keynes, and adding “Krugmanism” to the ‘dismal science’ (aka economics) lexicon! I believe that Keynes also called for government spending only when major economic downturn (like the Great Depression) created serious shortfall in aggregate private demand– so as to avoid massive unemployment and widespread suffering of the working class.

    2. Tedder

      I am pretty sure that when Keynes was asked about military spending, he replied that it would do as much good to load the cash into wheelbarrows, then wheel them to the Thames and dump it.
      Thorsten Veblen was more practical. He proposed hiring a million men to dig a ditch, then hire another million to fill it in.

  7. Mario Golden

    At age 18, back in the early 80s, I attended opulent Stanford as a poor, gay, recent immigrant from Mexico. I was offered a full scholarship and a work loan financial aid package. By the end of my sophomore year I was hospitalized after a suicide attempt. My recovery involved therapy and becoming an activist fighting against the university’s investments in South Africa, protesting at Lockheed and at the canneries in Santa Cruz, and promoting LGBT and women’s rights and AIDS awareness under a Marxist perspective. I might not have made it otherwise.

  8. Lee

    A good read, thank you, and thanks as well to Patrick Morrison for the link to Steve Blank’s lecture.

    Although I’ve lived in the SF bay area for most of my life, I know little about the evolution of Silicon Valley. Among some of the names mentioned that were new to me was John Tanton. A Google name search brought up the following description: “John Tanton was the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.” Google’s conflation of historical race based anti-immigration sentiment and current anti-immigration sentiment is in large part a damned lie.

  9. Tedder

    I was an overachieving son of a working class family that was admitted to Stanford on scholarship in 1963. I was told on my first day at Stanford that if I played well, I would become a master of industry or a master of finance, and probably an Indian chief as well. My associates (and some friends) were the sons and daughters of American oligarchs. My girlfriend’s family owned half of Ventura County, my drinking buddy is now one of America’s wealthiest.
    However, Stanford was much more than a bunch of rich kids.
    We had a required course called “The History of Western Civilization” where among others, I read Marx and Veblen. Then in the Fall of 1963, JFK was assassinated. That turned my head. In the Spring of 1965, there was a teach-in at Stanford about the true nature of the Vietnam War. I was attracted to Marxist professors and the general revolutionary nature of the 60s, drugs and spirituality. Stanford introduced me to Zen Buddhism, and when I was ordered to take a physical by my draft board, I refused.
    My Stanford class was the core of the Draft Resistance Movement and we worked tirelessly to educate the public, soldiers, and students about the war and the means to stop it. We were even sent a letter of appreciation from the North Vietnamese!
    So, many of us Stanford students turned out to be very bad horses!

  10. Oh

    Thanks Conor, for the excellent review of a well written book. The “woke” in Palo Alto changed the name of Jordon Hifh school a few years ago because he was involved in eugenics. How about changing the name of Stanford itself, considering the University’s involvement in torture, war and so many other anti-societal activities? The whole city is weird and plastic.

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