Evgeny Morozov’s Takedowns, Andy Grove’s Ideas, and Olive Garden’s Mess

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Evgeny Morozov, Alec Ross, and the Tech-Business Takedown
Ever since there have been people who thought big ideas about tech, there have been those eager to cut down those ideas. The current master of the art is Evgeny Morozov. His recent Baffler takedown of Alec Ross goes after the former State Department official and current Silicon Valley-friendly techno-utopian for his glib pronouncements on How the Internet Is Changing Everything. Morozov’s longform dismissal of Ross bounces between ace policy dissections and ad hominem attacks. And at 5,000 words, it’s positively compact compared to his 16,000-word mugging of Tim O’Reilly a while back. Morozov’s distrust of Valley do-gooderism (“solutionism,” he calls it) is deeply felt, and it’s instructive to see how well he wields the Internet to point out weaknesses in his foes. But there’s a pattern here: The Ross takedown begins with Ross asking Morozov for advice; the O’Reilly takedown ends with O’Reilly offering to get together with Morozov to talk. In both cases, Morozov shows that he’s unwilling to listen. Just as with those he accuses, he’s got his mind made up already. Sure, some of his targets deserve the Morozov treatment. But years after he started pointing out the flaws in everyone else’s architecture of ideas, it’s still unclear what, if anything, he might want to build up.

Andy Grove’s Lasting Lessons
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the death of Silicon Valley giant Andy Grove is more than a one-day story. Ben Thompson’s most recent Exponent podcast dissects Grove’s influence as a leader (for good and bad) and Teresa Tretch’s Andy Grove’s Warning to Silicon Valley is a sharp Times op-ed that recalls an influential 2010 essay Grove published in Businessweek about creating jobs. Grove’s ideas about scaling and free markets are idiosyncratic and, at their peak, inspirational. Grove may have symbolized Silicon Valley for many, yet he often used his position not to celebrate but to question Valley orthodoxies springing up around him. In particular, he often pushed back against the assumption that the only point of profit was profit. Grove was a complicated figure; don’t let his position as a symbol of the Valley make you forget that he was able to stand apart from it, too.

Pricey Pasta, Cheap Benefits
Any company that really wants to create positive change has to connect deeply with its community — but many companies seem to forget that its community includes its employees. The latest such business that needs reminding is Darden Restaurant Group, the parent company of Olive Garden, which donates millions of meals to the needy but has plenty of employees on food stamps and other public assistance. A Quartz report focuses on a Greensburg, PA, server whose roughly-30-hour-a-week gig yielded $12,000 in take-home pay last year and who “got in trouble for eating some food that would just go to waste. I got a verbal warning and was told that was considered stealing from the company, so I could be written up and possibly terminated if I did it again.” At a time when Starbucks is both donating food and paying for its employees’ education, Darden has some good, high-profile models it would do well to follow.

A Light at the End of the Student Loan Tunnel
Speaking of enlightened benefits, Fidelity is among the latest companies to help its workers pay off their student debt. About 5,000 employees have signed up for its debt relief program since January, when the company announced it would pay up to $2,000 annually to lessen the load. PricewaterhouseCoopers and the federal government have also started to help repay their employees’ student loan debt. Relatively few employers offer this benefit today, but a survey of American companies forecasts that trend to accelerate. NewCo SoFi, among others, has created programs to help employers integrate this new benefit into the workplace. It’s getting attention elsewhere, too: Two bills introduced in Congress want to give tax breaks to employers helping their employees pay down student debt.

Weirdest San Francisco Vacation Stop Ever
There are infinite reasons to come to the Bay Area: the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Muir Woods, SFMOMA, maybe even the NewCo world headquarters in the Presidio. But it turns out people the world over are coming here because of … a recycling plant?

Photo: Chatham House

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