Silicon Valley is known for both unicorns and blackswans. What political, social and economic ideas shape the culture of Silicon Valley today?


Unicorns are startups valued at over $1 billion. Black swan” refers to events that are small, unusual, unpredictable and can cause a chain of negative reactions or even complete collapse.

Despite the unexpected nature of the ‘black swan’, some ‘black swan’ is still considered to be actually explainable and predictable, and attempts are made to justify its occurrence in hindsight. Silicon Valley is known for both unicorns and blackswans. This means that there are opportunities for high rewards and rapid growth in Silicon Valley, as well as unpredictably high risks. The culture of Silicon Valley can perhaps be seen as both innovative and adventurous. Therefore, this paper aims to critically discuss what political, social and economic ideas have shaped this culture in Silicon Valley.


Main body

     1.Political ideas

The political ideas that have shaped the culture of Silicon Valley might be thought of as New Communitarianism. According to Lusoli & Turner (2021), New Communitarianism, which originated in the 1960s, saw technology and a shift in consciousness as a major source of social change, seeking to use computers as a weapon to defend individual liberation/freedom and to overcome the ills of the American Cold War system and bureaucracy with digital technology (Lusoli & Turner, 2021, p. 3). Turner, 2021, p. 236). As a response to government regulation and bureaucracy, New Communitarianism advocated the de-hierarchisation of business, local decentralisation and the flexibility of production and labour processes (Lusoli & Turner, 2021, p. 236). Although New Communitarianism ultimately failed, its anti-mainstream values of independence and authenticity have survived to form the part of today’s Silicon Valley political ideas about technological freedom. As Christopher points out in The Fog of Freedom, freedom is closely linked to computers and the Internet, far more than other ideals such as justice, happiness and health(Kelty, 2014, p. 196). It is clear that the part of Silicon Valley’s political ideas about technological freedom has naturally shaped Silicon Valley’s technological culture based on computers and the Internet.

      2.Economic ideas

From an economic point of view, the high-tech industries clustered in Silicon Valley require basic elements such as talent, capital and technology, as well as organisational elements such as subjects, vehicles and environment. The main body of the high-tech industry cluster is usually the enterprise, and the carrier is the industrialization base like Silicon Valley. There are two types of high-tech industry clusters in the world. The first type of cluster is a spontaneous market formation, where companies and institutions gather in a cluster, such as in Silicon Valley. The second type of industry cluster is the one planned by the government. The national or regional government, through the use of policies such as fiscal, financial and taxation measures, supports the establishment of industry clusters according to industry plans (Zheng & Kuroda, 2012, p. 773). For example, the Chinese government has approved the establishment of various high-tech industrial development zones in order to support the development of high-tech industries (Zheng & Kuroda, 2012, p. 771). In the second form of carrier, the government can guide the transfer of technology or the transformation of traditional industries with high technology. However, in the first carrier form, of which Silicon Valley is a part, technology parks rely on the results of autonomous innovation in high technology. These results are transformed by productivity and marketed into primary technology enterprises, which gradually give rise to high-technology subsidiaries and spontaneously form industrial clusters (Zheng & Kuroda, 2012, p. 773). It seems to be concluded that Silicon Valley’s Economic ideas emphasise the spontaneous role of the market and thus autonomous innovation. This has shaped the culture of innovation in Silicon Valley and has led to the emergence of a number of start-ups, some of which have become Unicorns.

       3.Social ideas

Castells (2001) states that society produces the technological system of Internet culture (Castells, 2001, p. 36). Therefore, Internet culture also presents a similar hierarchical structure to society. Internet culture is considered to have a four-tier structure: the techno-meritocratic culture, the hacker culture, the virtual communitarian culture, and the entrepreneurial culture.

Traces of hierarchical distribution can be seen in these four layers. The techno-meritocratic, the geek, the communitarian and the entrepreneur play distinct but closely related roles (Castells, 2001, p. 36). Their relationship with each other seems to be both collaborative and competitive. Thus, Social ideas in Silicon Valley can be considered as a sense of synergy that emphasises competition and cooperation, with a greater emphasis on collaboration. On the one hand, relationships within Silicon Valley firms, between firms and between firms and between firms and universities and industry associations are made to appear to be open to each other. On the other hand, mutual cooperation between competitors seems to be one of the distinguishing features of Silicon Valley culture. In Silicon Valley, hardly any company can produce a product completely independently. Companies in the same industry compete with each other and at the same time collaborate with each other, exchanging information on markets and technology. However, the class divide in Silicon Valley’s social ideas cannot be ignored. As Lusoli & Turner (2021) point out, the failure of New Communitarianism in the 1960s to reach out and unite with the working class has contributed to the class divisions in Silicon Valley today. This denies the working class experience that New Communalists had sought to focus on, as well as the New Communalists’ own experience. New Communitarianism’s dream of creating spaces that do not alienate labour seems to have failed and been replaced by a culture of work (Lusoli & Turner, 2021, p. 236). As the social media screenshot below illustrates, one of the characteristics of Silicon Valley’s work culture appears to be a ‘tolerance of job hopping’. This culture is thought to be one of the reasons why Silicon Valley eventually outperformed its East Coast rivals. But perhaps the frequent job-hopping of employees also reflects the deeper internal logic of labour in the age of digital platforms. Workers seem to be free, but this freedom maximises their potential and ultimately exhausts them. People’s labour remains alienated. Social ideas in Silicon Valley could be seen as somehow ignoring the working class as grassroots employees. It is not surprising, then, that some Black swan incidents occur that managers find unpredictable.

Figure 1. Twitter screenshot



In conclusion, the political ideas of New Communitarianism, which originated in Silicon Valley and emphasised de-hierarchisation, local decentralisation and flexibility, played an important role in the creation of Unicorns. By promoting technological freedom, it has naturally shaped Silicon Valley’s technological culture based on computers and the Internet. Economic ideas, with their emphasis on the spontaneous role of the market, have shaped Silicon Valley’s culture of innovation. Influenced by the complex hierarchical ecology of the Internet, Silicon Valley’s Social ideas emphasise competition and collaboration, with a greater emphasis on cooperation, shaping a culture of openness. The culture of innovation and openness is equally conducive to the emergence of start-ups and Unicorns. However, Silicon Valley’s social ideas are class-divided and to some extent ignore the working class as grassroots employees, which may be an inescapable cause of Black swan incidents.


Castells. (2001). The Internet galaxy : reflections on the Internet, business, and society. Oxford University Press.

Kelty. (2014). The Fog of Freedom. In Media Technologies. The MIT Press.

Lusoli, & Turner, F. (2021). “It’s an Ongoing Bromance”: Counterculture and Cyberculture in Silicon Valley—An Interview with Fred Turner. Journal of Management Inquiry30(2), 235–242.

Zheng, & Kuroda, T. (2012). The impact of economic policy on industrial specialization and regional concentration of China’s high-tech industries. The Annals of Regional Science50(3), 771–790.