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The Political Undercurrents of Investing

What do you call Government Activism? Easy... it's called Propaganda.

When examining the historical backdrop and intricacies of investing, two distinctive decision-making paradigms have emerged concerning capital allocation: the activist perspective and the protestant perspective, which I categorize as activist investing and protestant investing, respectively.

Activist Approach (Philanthropic Investing)

  • Definition: The activist approach to investing takes the form of capital allocation which involves advocating for the proliferation of specific technologies or brands that align with the investor's values, in addition to seeking financial returns. This strategy is often associated with philanthropy. However, the typical investor typically applies this approach to the brands and products they regularly engage with, like investing in shares of their preferred fast-food chain, for instance.

    Key Characteristics

  • Focus on Impact: Furthermore, activist investors may prioritize investments that address urgent social or environmental concerns, including but not limited to climate change, poverty alleviation, education, or healthcare.

  • Alignment with Values: Investors who wholeheartedly adopt the activist approach tend to align their investments closely with their personal values, motivated by a profound desire to effect positive change in areas that hold significant meaning to them. Their objective is to direct their financial resources towards companies and initiatives that not only offer promising financial returns but also actively contribute to the enhancement of society or the environment. Nevertheless, it's important to acknowledge that this alignment between values and investments is not always the rule, as I will elaborate on shortly.

  • In accordance with their deeply-rooted convictions and passions, these investors are dedicated to both achieving financial success and driving meaningful societal or environmental improvements. This dual commitment forms the bedrock of activist investing, where the pursuit of profit goes hand in hand with a genuine dedication to catalyzing positive change.

  • Recent Significance: The GameStop frenzy that unfolded in early 2021 stands out as a remarkable case in point. It showcased a unique convergence of individual, small-scale investors who banded together with the intent of deliberately driving up the stock price of the GameStop corporation, effectively challenging the long-established practices of Wall Street.

  • In this extraordinary episode, a loosely organized collective of retail investors harnessed the power of online forums and social media platforms to propel GameStop's stock value to unforeseen heights. Their motivation was multifaceted, spanning from a desire to disrupt what they perceived as manipulative practices by institutional investors and hedge funds to a shared affinity for the video game retailer.

  • This unprecedented event underscored how a digital-age activism could lead to significant market volatility and serve as a powerful counterforce to traditional investment dynamics. It was a testament to the evolving landscape of financial activism and its capacity to capture the collective imagination of investors who are motivated by a blend of financial interests and social objectives.

    Protestant Approach (Protest Investing)

    • Definition: The Protestant approach to investing, often referred to as "capital displacement," entails actively opposing technologies or brands that investors seek to devalue or eradicate within society. This opposition is frequently manifested through actions such as divestment from the market or, in certain instances, adopting short positions with the aim of realizing financial gains from the decline of these technologies or brands. Both individuals and organizations may adopt this strategy when targeting specific companies, industries, or financial instruments, employing it as a means of expressing protest or engaging in social activism.

    • This form of protest often arises from concerns rooted in morality, ethics, the environment, society, or politics, and it reflects reservations about the activities, practices, or values associated with the technology or brand under scrutiny. However, it's worth noting that not all instances of this approach are solely ideological; some investors may employ it due to their dissatisfaction with the financial performance of particular brands, harboring bitterness over perceived underachievement.

      Key characteristics:

  • Not Always Profit Driven : Not Always Profit Driven: While these investors may indeed stand to profit from a successful divestment campaign, their primary motivation often lies in achieving symbolic victories over businesses or industries they deem exploitative or unethical.

  • Targeted Industries or Companies: Divestment efforts often focus on specific industries or companies that are perceived to engage in practices that the divestors find objectionable. Common targets include fossil fuels, weapons manufacturers, tobacco companies, and businesses associated with oppressive regimes.

  • Competitors: Investors may also choose to financially back the competitors of the companies they are protesting, thereby indirectly attempting to undermine their success and influence in the market.

  • Abstinence: In the realm of protest investing, abstaining from consuming certain products also plays a crucial role as investors not only divest from companies they disapprove of but also consciously avoid their products to minimize financial support for these entities. as well as pirating media in specific circumstances

  • Peer Pressure Campaign: Investors are also known to organize campaigns, leveraging social and professional networks to persuade other investors to join their cause, enhancing the overall impact of their protest divestment strategy.

  • Recent Significance: More recently, the trend of protest divestment has been observable in movements such as the boycott and sell-off of Bud Light stocks due to dissatisfaction with the brand's policies or actions.

    Market Equilibrium

  • Within the realm of investment, these two contrasting approaches coexist, seemingly at odds with each other, yet collaboratively shaping and preserving market equilibrium.

  • Activist investors are guided by their personal values and convictions. They seek out companies that align with their principles, focusing on those committed to positive societal or environmental impacts. By doing so, they encourage businesses to adopt ethical and sustainable practices. This not only leads to market growth but also promotes innovation, as activist investors often support companies working on cutting-edge solutions to global challenges like climate change and poverty. Their presence in the market serves as a balance, urging companies to consider not only financial gains but also their social and environmental responsibilities. Additionally, by investing in companies that prioritize positive societal impact, activist investors contribute to market stability, as these businesses tend to weather economic downturns more effectively.

  • Protest investors, on the other hand, act as vigilant monitors of corporate behavior. They oppose and divest from companies they perceive as unethical or harmful. This pressure forces these companies to reconsider their practices and actions. Protest investors also play a crucial role in raising awareness of the risks associated with unethical behavior in both the business world and the market. When protest investors target specific industries or companies, they can trigger market corrections, ensuring that overvalued or unsustainable assets return to their true value. This approach fosters competition and innovation by redirecting capital towards competitors or alternative solutions, pushing companies to improve practices and adapt to changing consumer preferences. Furthermore, protest investors hold companies accountable for their actions, compelling them to consider the broader societal and environmental consequences of their operations.

  • In essence, both activist and protest investors, while seemingly at odds, work together to create a dynamic equilibrium in the market. Activists promote ethical and sustainable practices, while protesters challenge unethical behavior. This balance encourages businesses to pursue sustainable growth while addressing societal and ethical concerns, ultimately benefiting both investors and society at large. It ensures that profitability aligns with social and environmental responsibility, maintaining the market's integrity.

    Government Funded Incubation

  • Tor: Government involvement in investment is not always negative. For example, government funding for technological incubators has led to the development of innovative tools and services that drive social change. Among these is the Tor network, an open-source software designed to protect user privacy and freedom online by preventing network surveillance or traffic analysis.

  • Internet: The government funded the development of the internet Internet: The U.S. government's funding of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) in the late 1960s ultimately led to the creation of the modern internet, a profound example of successful government intervention in technology development. This public investment catalyzed a technological revolution, opening up vast avenues for progress and connectivity across all facets of society. It has enabled unparalleled access to information, fostered global communication, propelled economic growth, and provided a platform for numerous innovative businesses. Moreover, it is instrumental in facilitating social changes and global awareness on various issues.

  • The Automated Clearing House (ACH) Network: This electronic funds-transfer system, established in the United States during the 1970s, was primarily bootstrapped by government entities to facilitate the transfer of money from one bank to another. Over time, this initiative has immensely benefited consumers, businesses, and financial institutions alike by providing an efficient, safe, and cost-effective method for moving funds. It has revolutionized payment systems, promoting financial inclusion and making transactions seamless. This illustrates how strategic government involvement can contribute positively to financial markets and broader economic ecosystems.

  • Oracle - Oracle, a prominent technology company known for its database management systems and cloud services, owes part of its inception to government funding and collaboration. Established in the late 1970s, Oracle's foundation can be traced back to the government's recognition of the need for a commercial database product. This recognition led to the founding of the company that eventually became Oracle. Oracle's early growth was closely tied to government contracts, notably with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which was one of its first customers. The government's demand for a reliable and secure database system played a pivotal role in Oracle's development. This illustrates how government involvement and support, even indirectly through contracts, can influence the trajectory of tech companies, fostering their growth and success.

  • Google- Google's origins, reveal an intriguing connection to government funding and surveillance research. While not widely known, Google's inception was partly funded by research grants from the CIA and NSA, specifically for projects related to mass surveillance. These grants played a significant role in the early stages of Google's development, highlighting the intertwined history between tech giants and government agencies.

    Military Industrial Complex

  • The military-industrial complex co-opted and perverted technologies like Tor, the internet, and the Automated Clearing House (ACH) network in ways that led to the emergence of surveillance capitalism. Here's how:

  1. Tor and Surveillance Capitalism:

    • Tor was originally developed with government funding to protect user privacy and freedom online by preventing network surveillance. Its original intention was to create a secure and private network for individuals to communicate and browse the internet anonymously.

    • However, the military-industrial complex realized the potential of Tor's technology for its own purposes, such as covert communication and intelligence gathering. As a result, they began to co-opt Tor for their surveillance and espionage efforts.

    • This co-optation led to the development of advanced surveillance tools and techniques that compromised the privacy and security of Tor users. The military-industrial complex used Tor's anonymity features to hide their own activities while monitoring and tracking others.

    • Additionally, private companies and government agencies began to use Tor's technology to collect vast amounts of user data for commercial purposes, giving rise to surveillance capitalism. They exploited Tor's anonymity to track users and target them with personalized advertisements and content.

  2. The Internet and Surveillance Capitalism:

    • The U.S. government's funding of ARPANET in the late 1960s led to the creation of the modern internet, initially intended for research and military communication. However, the internet's decentralized nature and vast connectivity offered tremendous opportunities for commercial exploitation.

    • As the internet grew, companies started collecting and monetizing user data, giving rise to surveillance capitalism. Tech giants like Google and Facebook leveraged the internet's infrastructure to track users, gather information, and target them with advertisements.

    • The military-industrial complex also capitalized on the internet's capabilities for surveillance and cyber warfare, leading to the development of sophisticated surveillance tools and techniques.

  3. ACH Network and Surveillance Capitalism:

    • The ACH network, initially established by the government to facilitate electronic funds transfers, brought efficiency and convenience to financial transactions.

    • However, as financial transactions moved online, private companies began to use the ACH network to collect and analyze vast amounts of financial data for profit. This data became a valuable resource for surveillance capitalism.

    • Financial institutions and tech companies used the ACH network to track individuals' spending habits, investment choices, and financial behaviors, enabling them to offer targeted financial products and services.

In summary, government-funded initiatives like Tor, the internet, and the ACH network were initially created for positive purposes but were co-opted by the military-industrial complex and private corporations to further their surveillance and profit-driven goals. This co-optation has led to the development of surveillance capitalism,


The influence of the military-industrial complex on emerging technologies, particularly recently in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), follows a similar pattern as outlined. Here's how these dynamics pertain to AI:

  1. Influence Over AI Regulation:

    • Companies within the military-industrial complex, which often have strong ties to government agencies and policymakers, can exert significant influence over AI regulation.

    • They may advocate for regulations that align with their interests, such as promoting AI technologies that have military or surveillance applications while imposing restrictions on certain AI developments or exports to potential adversaries.

  2. Co-Opting Emerging AI Technologies:

    • As AI technologies advance, the military-industrial complex may seek to co-opt them by advocating for regulations that mandate compliance with specific standards or security protocols.

    • For instance, emerging AI companies looking to collaborate with the government in defense or intelligence sectors may be required to adhere to stringent security and data protection standards, potentially limiting their agility and innovative capabilities.

  3. First-Mover Advantages in AI:

    • Companies that establish themselves as pioneers in AI applications for defense and national security gain a competitive edge. They become preferred contractors for government AI projects, benefiting from substantial funding and long-term stability.

    • Access to government contracts allows these companies to invest heavily in AI research and development, strengthening their technological leadership.

  4. Market Dominance and Barriers to Entry in AI:

    • AI firms deeply intertwined with the military-industrial complex can establish market dominance. They provide critical AI solutions for national security, making it challenging for newcomers to compete.

    • Their access to classified data and close relationships with government agencies create significant barriers to entry for potential competitors.

  5. AI Anti-Competitive Practices:

    • Companies with strong government ties may engage in anti-competitive practices, such as lobbying for regulations that favor their AI technologies over others or discouraging AI innovation that could threaten their market position.

    • Their political connections can be used to resist regulatory changes that might level the playing field or open doors for new AI entrants.

  6. Potential Technological Stagnation in AI:

  • The alignment of AI development with military and defense priorities can lead to technological stagnation in the broader AI field. Companies may prioritize maintaining their position within established markets over fostering AI innovation.

  • This focus on specific, government-driven AI applications can limit the overall progress and societal benefits that could come from a more diverse and competitive AI landscape.

    Foreign Policy

  • Even regulation outside of financial markets can have a profound effect on technological innovation and investing opportunities as such is the case with foreign policy one such example of this is visa complications which have become a significant barrier for entrepreneurs from around the world, hindering their ability to engage fully in YC's renowned startup incubation programs. Despite YC's global reputation as a startup accelerator, the complexities involved in navigating international regulations, shed light on the persistent hurdles faced by innovative minds seeking to participate.

    What happens when the government becomes a participant in these markets?

  • When governments decide to become activists themselves within the investment landscape, they can negatively disrupt this delicate equilibrium. Government intervention can manifest in various forms, such as imposing regulations, taxes, or subsidies that favor specific industries or companies. While these actions may appear to be well-intentioned, they can distort the market's natural balance.

  • For instance, if a government provides substantial subsidies to a particular industry, it can artificially inflate the growth of companies within that sector. This can lead to overinvestment and the misallocation of resources, as investors are incentivized by government incentives rather than market demand or ethical considerations. Similarly, excessive regulation can stifle innovation and deter investors from engaging in socially responsible practices if compliance becomes burdensome or costly.

  • Moreover, when governments intervene in investment decisions, it may create an environment where political considerations outweigh economic and ethical ones. This can lead to a lack of transparency and accountability, as investments may be driven by political motivations rather than sound financial or ethical principles.

  • In summary, while activist and protest investors play a vital role in shaping and maintaining market equilibrium by aligning investments with values and holding companies accountable, government intervention can disrupt this balance by introducing artificial incentives and regulations that may not align with market dynamics or ethical considerations. It's essential for governments to strike a careful balance when intervening in investment matters to avoid unintended negative consequences on market equilibrium.

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