De Blasio’s NYC Will Be A Grand Experiment In Tech For Equality, But Startups Lose

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New Yorkers have just voted to conduct a grand experiment in whether innovation can help the least among them. Jolly Green Giant look-alike and newly minted Mayor-Elect, Bill De Blasio, has indicated that he will leverage the Big Apple’s government to promote financial equality, diversity and inclusion, instead of cheerleading disruptive startups.

In a not-so-subtle reference to outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s pro-business agenda, De Blasio said, “If we were to continue this status quo, some would do very very well, and others would be priced out or left out.”

The tech sector is often criticized for favoring rich founders and apps to solve yuppie problems, rather than helping out the poor. I’ve written before that there is a fundamental philosophical difference between politicians who promote equality and those who want disruptive innovation.

De Blasio’s administration won’t be an exception to that rule, but his willingness to embrace technology may finally prove that innovation can be used to help out the 99%.

Participatory Budgeting and Transparency

De Blasio is a big fan of direct democracy over the budget. So-called “Participatory Budgeting” lets all new yorkers vote directly on spending priorities at the polls, just like they do with a referendum. Participatory budgeting has the wonderful side-effect of allocating funds to marginalized communities; in Brazil the process led to a decrease in infant mortality rates, because, it turned out, poor mothers have a better idea of what is killing children than the government [PDF].

San Francisco will be the first major city in the U.S. to test out fully online participatory budgeting, and we expect its east coast counterpart will follow suit.

In another example of using open government for equality, De Blasio has spearheaded a data transparency initiative to name and shame slumlords into abiding by their contracts.

Sharing Economy’s Enemy

De Blasio has not shown that he’ll be a fan of startups, such as Airbnb and Uber, which threaten unionized industries. When asked whether room-sharing startup Airbnb should be allowed to continue to operate in New York, De Blasio told an online forum on Reddit.com, “While I appreciate the potential of the sharing economy, and I do think there’s some historical precedent, the challenges posed by AirBnB today are real, in terms of safety, public tax revenue, etc.”

That’s politician speak for ‘They’re going to get regulated and I’m siding with unions’.

Uber too, may lose out. When asked about the taxi unions vs. ride-sharing apps, De Blasio told The New York Times, “I want to make sure it’s done in a way that doesn’t undermine the economics of the current industry.”

That’s in stark contrast his predecessor, who reportedly threatened to “fucking destroy” the taxi industry.

Q: Where Does The Money Go? A: Access

“I would like to see our subsidy dollars, used more often than our lines of credit and our equity funds created, that will actually help minority and women owned business in the tech sector that want to go out farther into the five boroughs,” he told a crowd during a “Tech Meetup”.

According to the new mayor, that means pushing Internet service providers to bring broadband all over the city.

Bloomberg lavished startups with tax breaks. De Blasio has called for an end to some corporate tax breaks. De Blasio has promised to extend $100 million in investment to startups, prioritizing those that meet a “double bottom line” of social impact and profit [PDF]. Oddly enough, the tech companies that De Blasio touts in his campaign literature–Buzzfeed, Google, and Huffington Post–would probably not meet that criterion.

De Blasio also wants to focus on the community college system, rather than the big universities (which arguably are better on breakthrough innovations and have historically been tied to the rise of major tech clusters).

I predict that De Blasio won’t be a friend to the tech industry (he might even be an enemy). But, he might just trailblaze a new mission for technology, and that’ll be very exciting to watch.

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