The Valley’s dilemma: voice vs exit
image by Darron Birgenheier on Flickr

Silicon Valley’s innate drive to disrupt cannot only be understood from a financial perspective. Sprung from counter-culture, their ambitions are also strongly motivated by the idea that the Valley can do a better job at engineering an ideal society with the help of technology. However, their ambitions have led them to a head-on collision with governments. As a consequence, Silicon Valley needs to see how they are going to proceed: build their ideal world from within the existing system or build it outside of these structures. 


  • The Tegenlicht documentary ‘Cybertopia’ shows that Silicon Valley is not only pursuing financial gains but is often driven by ideological motivations of how a society should be run.
  • Based on the email leak it turns out that Eric Schmidt is actively involved in the Hillary campaign by organizing and investing in the Groundwork, a start-up which supports the Hillary campaign with analytical means
  • Peter Thiel has publicly endorsed Donald Trump and donated $1.25 million to his campaign
  • In a TED talk Clay Shirky draws inspiration of the open source programming community and how it could be applied to what he calls Open Source democracy.


In 2013 Balaji Srinivasan, a successful entrepreneur and investor from the valley, gave a speech at the Startup School Event about ‘Silicon Valley’s ultimate Exit’. In his speech, based on Hirschman’s political economic theory ‘Voice, Exit and Loyalty, he outlines Silicon Valley’s two options to create their ideal society: either change the system from within (lobbying, voting, protesting) or exit the system by ”giving people the tools to reduce the influence of bad policies over their lives without getting involved in politics. The tools to peacefully opt-out, as our ancestors did. […] This ability to reduce the impact of decisions made by DC in particular – without lobbying or sloganeering is going to be very important for Silicon Valley over the next ten years”.

In terms of ‘voice’ and ‘loyalty’, Silicon Valley increasingly realizes that Washington cannot be ignored

In terms of ‘voice’ and ‘loyalty’, Silicon Valley increasingly realizes that Washington cannot be ignored. Consequently, they are becoming more and more political: increased spending on lobbying, powerful people from the valley supporting nominees and tech CEOs ending up on VP shortlists. If this trend continues, it would not be unthinkable that the Digerati could end up in powerful political positions, in the hope they can materialize their ideas from within the system.

When it comes to ‘exit’, we can find some rather radical initiatives: for instance, Larry Page believes that there should be some place set aside to test new ideas unhampered by regulation; Peter Thiel has invested in a sea steading company which aims to create new startup countries; Elon Musk wants to colonize mars and envisions an ultra-democratic society; lastly, Tim Draper made a proposal to divide Silicon Valley into its own state. These initiatives have in common that they circumvent the current system by using unclaimed territory for the sake of creating a technology-driven society, in which regulation is kept at a minimum. However, Srinivasan argued that an exit strategy does not necessarily entail a complete opt-out, but could also be geared towards certain aspects of society, in which he sees Uber, Bitcoin and Airbnb as examples of mild exit strategies.