Gangster Capitalism, more Palantir discussion, and reading recs

Gangster Capitalism, more Palantir discussion, and reading recs

Another week of craziness

Hi, it’s Danny Crichton again and it’s time for some writing updates. As always, hopefully you all remember signing up for my update list (it’s double opt-in to avoid spam), but if not, feel free to unsubscribe in the email footer below (I won’t be offended). As always, feel free to email me at danny@dannycrichton.com.

I’m currently reading “The Death of the Artist: How Creators Are Struggling to Survive in the Age of Billionaires and Big Tech” by William Deresiewicz and enjoying it pretty well.

Gangster capitalism and the American theft of Chinese innovation

Wow, this analysis really hit a nerve. I’ve been covering the TikTok/Oracle deal the last couple of weeks, and it looked like there was a deal, but no one can actually agree on what the deal is or was.

My analysis Zoom-ed in on the rise of Chinese innovation, and how American policymakers are increasingly using the toolbox used by Chinese officials to block market access. TikTok was forcibly sold with very little due process, over the implication that it might hold national security concerns. Those concerns have never been proven, but even if you give the government the benefit of the doubt, the ribald shutting down of a Chinese upstart against American incumbents like Facebook and Twitter shows just how far America has fallen from its ideals.

Clearly, the article hit a nerve. Seven figures of readers, hundreds of DMs, emails, and messages, and a good pile of vitriol to boot as well.

It’s not always easy for us to confront our own weaknesses and faults. Certainly, China has been brazen in using everything from industrial espionage to market barriers to shape its economy and grow against its global competitors. Yet,

➜ Continue reading...

"A New World Begins" and the meaning of the French Revolution

"A New World Begins" and the meaning of the French Revolution

The French Revolution is simultaneously one of the most defining moments of the modern era as well as one of the most elusive. Its architecture and patterns set the stage for much of modern politics and economics, from the very concepts of “left wing” and “right wing” to standard weights and measures to the foundations of human rights that are still at the heart of Western liberalism.

Yet, the French Revolution is … involved. Convoluted. Inchoate. It both shocked the monarchy and destroyed that vestige of the past, but led to a sequence of emperors and rulers and republics on and off that continues to this day. A singular event, but just one in what in retrospect was a rapid gush of history.

There’s been a lot of new historical work on the subject, so I was excited to read Jeremy D. Popkin’s A New World Begins: The History of the French Revolution. French history is something that I have studied a bit for years, and the book has been billed as sort of a “most up-to-date” look at this pivotal event.

The book is adequate for its task. It covers the lead up and the context for the French economy and its foreign relations, walks through the major events, and heads to the other side. Of special note is the book’s deeper connections to the events in the French Caribbean colonies such as Saint-Domingue, where Toussaint Louverture led a slave revolt that eventually ousted the French and created the modern state of Haiti. Placing the Revolution in broader context makes for a more balanced story.

Yet, one can’t help but be overwhelmed in a book written like this at the sheer weight of the history that is going on here, or just how scrambled the politics

➜ Continue reading...

Post-Labor Day writing updates and article recommendations

Post-Labor Day writing updates and article recommendations

Some new work from me

Some interesting articles I liked

➜ Continue reading...

“The Index of Self-Destructive Acts” is about the tension between humanity and raw data

“The Index of Self-Destructive Acts” is about the tension between humanity and raw data

Back at Stanford, we had this split in the student body between “fuzzies” who studied the liberal arts, and the “techies” who studied, well, tech. Back when I attended a decade ago, there was a bit more balance between those two groups, although recent enrollment data shows that Stanford students are aggressively moving to the more technical disciplines (as an interesting aside, international relations has taken the biggest relative loss by far over recent years).

That tension between Stanford students is really a core fight in our modern, computational big data world. Humans and their societies are complex, diverse, particular, challenging, and dynamic. Approach that tapestry from a statistical lens though, and you reduce down all of those complications to a handful of comparable metrics. That’s the quandary explored in social science works like James Scott’s Seeing Like A State and Alain Desrosières’ The Politics of Large Numbers. Do you see humans? Or do you see numbers? How do we reconcile these two approaches with each other, particularly as the scale of our civilization continues to grow ever larger?

Christopher Beha, who is the editor of Harper’s Magazine, explores this conflict in a character-driven drama entitled The Index of Self-Destructive Acts. The title refers to a statistic developed by the sabermetrics founder Bill James (the academic theorist behind what became "moneyball"), which tries to encapsulate all the mistakes and idiocies a baseball player can make while playing. Beha asks a simple question: given all the data we have in the world and all the knowledge we have learned, why do humans keep making the same mistakes over and over again?

The key foil (and there are many foils in this novel) is between Frank Doyle, a former long-time baseball and politics newspaper columnist who was forcibly retired

➜ Continue reading...

Palantir, China, plus the future of startups and neighborhoods

Palantir, China, plus the future of startups and neighborhoods

Wow, what a Q2 (and, well, a bit of Q3)!

Hi, it’s Danny Crichton again. My weekly but really quarterly but really like every other quarter digest of all of my writing is coming your way again.

Palantir S-1

My biggest scoop ever at TechCrunch happened last week when I got a pre-release leak of the entirety of Palantir’s S-1 filings with the SEC (Palantir formally published them a few days later). I wrote a spate of articles on Palantir’s finances, its direct listing strategy, its governance, and its customers:

One of the frustrations I have with the business press is how much ink gets spilled on certain companies with barely any fundamentals, while extraordinarily strong and fast-growing companies seem to languish in journalistic oblivion. Palantir may be a mysterious company, an image that it has purposely cultivated along with the press itself. But it is a weak business, losing hundreds of millions of dollars, and that’s after 17 years of existence.

Ultimately, it’s a software-augmented services business. It does important work for certain government agencies and clients, and it has a commercial line that seems to be okay if not great. I can understand the political and ethics controversies and why reporters delve into them regularly, but for the business and financial press, there is frankly little to see here that’s interesting.

Palantir seems to have done a lot to clean up its financials and growth in the last year as it prepared

➜ Continue reading...

Reflections on the PhD I didn’t do

Reflections on the PhD I didn’t do

I think for a lot of people, being holed up inside during a catastrophic global pandemic is a great opportunity for reflection on life choices. But the timing is truly particular for me, since this year — in just a few weeks actually — I would have been most likely graduating Harvard with a PhD in Public Policy (virtually graduating, at least).

I did one year of my PhD before dropping out before the start of my second-year classes. It was a harsh year back in 2014-2015, with the polar vortex over New England leading to record avalanches of snow in Cambridge. Walking along Brattle Street and Harvard Square, it wasn’t uncommon to walk through snow tunnels cut through the massive white piles. The winds were extremely piercing and cold, and the skies never turned away from dark grey for days (I recall weeks at a time, but maybe I’m being darker than it really was).

I was always sort of ambivalent about a PhD, and remained so the past few years after dropping out. That ambivalence has always been about the dichotomy between the vivid intellectual life in Cambridge, where you can be passionate about any topic imaginable and find others to share that passion with, and the cold economic reality of a capitalist system that does little to patron intellectual life today.

There were memorable vignettes from that era that I cherish. A bricolage of a reading group that was interested in sociology of quantification, one of those academic fields that you realize no one is ever going to read, but which is endlessly fascinating for me and like six others globally. A six hour national security seminar with the entire Bush foreign policy team that no one showed up for because it started at 8am and they

➜ Continue reading...

Wow, what a Q1

Wow, what a Q1

Hello it’s Danny Crichton again. I last sent out an email to my personal newsletter list on December 30th — a lot has changed hasn’t it? This is your weekly-but-really-comes-quarterly email from me about what I have been thinking and writing about.

Hopefully you all remember signing up (it’s double opt-in to avoid spam), but if not, feel free to unsubscribe in the email footer below (I won’t be offended). As always, feel free to email me at danny.crichton@gmail.com.

So how are we doing?

Hopefully, all of you are fine. I am doing well, and very thankful to be at a workplace like TechCrunch that has been working-from-home for the better part of a decade. We are hunkered down here in Brooklyn, eating some great food thanks to Chaeha, and otherwise weathering the storm so far in good shape. Hopefully all of you are finding ways to cope, and feel free to reach out if I can ever be helpful in these troubling and dynamic times.

The Plague

So like everyone, I have mandatorily become an expert on the novel coronavirus, which really just means I relay bad thoughts from people who probably shouldn’t be speaking out loud.

TechCrunch has written more than 250 articles on coronavirus since the pandemic started, and I have personally written seven of those. Three of those were more feature pieces, including a recap of what the last 90 days have looked like in the financial markets, and two in-depth perspectives (linked below) on what it is like to fundraise now in the Valley given the situation.

Everything is changing all the time, and it’s amazing to see how fast stories just completely expire. But not all advice does, and I’d like to pull a quote

➜ Continue reading...

Best Articles I Wrote (2019 Edition)

Best Articles I Wrote (2019 Edition)

Okay, so I have written up the best articles I read and the best books I have read. Now time for even more narcissism, with a list of the best articles I wrote this year. In all, I wrote 191 articles this year across TechCrunch, this blog, and elsewhere. Unfortunately, I don’t remember writing like 170 of them, but such is my memory.

First Place: How to delay your Form Ds (or not file them at all)

Every writer has that story that they want everyone to know about, but everyone ignores them, and so they just scream to the sky and complain about how terrible the world is in not seeing what’s right in front of them.

For me, that is Form D filings with the SEC.

For the five people still reading this blog post now, Form Ds are filed when a venture capitalist invests in a startup and doesn’t want to literally make the company IPO (i.e., all VC rounds). Due to a change in legal culture, more and more startups are just not filing these forms at all, and that has implications for all the data sources we rely on to know what kind of startup activity is taking place.

This specific piece is a guide for startup founders to think about what’s going on here and how it affects the strategy of announcing their startup’s funding round, and connects to all the antecedent pieces that came before.

Second Place: W(hy)TF are Japan and South Korea in a trade war?

This was a piece of explanatory journalism, but I felt one of the better ones on this topic (but I’m paid to say that). While the trade war between China and the U.S. gets all the

➜ Continue reading...