Friday, September 6, 2013

Elections Have Consequences and Why they Matter to Startups

By : Paul Chen

Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.
Franklin D. Roosevelt 

I would like you to imagine this scenario: it is Election Night 2012 and as voting outlets all over the United States begin to close and start to tally their voting results.  It appears that Nate Silver's predictions is way off but the Gallup Poll is spot on and Mitt Romney goes on to defeat Barack Obama 323 electoral votes to 215.  Can you imagine how different the United States would seem today?  What if the American public had handed the GOP a blank check to do whatever they wanted to do on that November day in 2012?  Below is just a partial list of what might be happening now:
  • Obamacare would have been repealed on January 21, 2013 ending medical benefit options to over 30 million Americans.
  • Higher taxes for the middle class who are being squeezed more and more by those above and under them.
  • Because of spending cuts, less money for disaster relief, education, infrastructure upgrades.  
  • Many American citizens would have a harder time voting due to newer and more restrictive voting regulations.
  • The upper-class "job creators" would be able to get a wonderful tax cut. 
  • The war in Iraq and Afghanistan would have been extended indefinitely, and the US would have jumped into the current conflict with Syria creating problems with Russia, China, and Iran.  
  • Although I don't agree with everything my President does, but I do believe that the American public made the better choice.  

In this election Obama won by winning votes from the young 60%, the underprivileged60%, the people of colour 70%, the moderates 56%, and the urban voters 60%.  The result reflects the change in the very dynamic demographics of the United States.  It also shows the concern these voters have about the state of our Union.   That is why they would stand in line for hours to cast a vote for their future.  

...they must live within a lie. They need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it. For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system.
Vaclav Havel

In Poland, at the moment, there is a serious lack of political engagement among the youth as well as the young working class.  The civic engagement of the country is among the lowest in the world. The reason being that there is a great deal of distrust between the people and the government.   It is a remnant of a post-communist mindset as well as the belief that the vote of an individual does not matter.

 The people who generally go out to vote are the senior citizens.   In 2012, people between the ages of 20-39 represent about 43% of the voting population, 40-54 year olds 25%, and 54+ 36%.  Unfortunately, the data from a survey done in 2010 shows a great deal of apathy among the voting youth.  Only 10% of the people between the age of 18-35 showed any interest in voting where as those 45+ had about 40%.  It seems that the people most engaged in the democratic process are the seniors, those people who are about to retire and the middle ager's.   What these people love is the status quo.  

It is understood that the national past time of Poland is to complain about the state of the country and its infrastructure and government.  On the other hand, things are getting better.  There are more new trams on the streets, and new shiny commercial and residential buildings are popping up everywhere.  Startup ecosystems are blooming in different cities.  That said, with the amount of resources and talent available, Poland is still underperforming. The rail system needs more work, and more superhighways need to bepaved.  Part of the reason is that because the older set are more politically engaged, most of the legislation are geared towards their preferences which means not much at all. As a result, you get a government who tries not to rock the boat and does nothing.  And another reason is that compared to the way things were before in the oppressive communist regime and the uncertain 90's, Poland is going through a relatively nice period of prosperity and Poland managed to avoid the recent recession.  As a result, the motivation to change is quite limited.  

However, with the EU fund well running dry and cheaper skilled labor starting to appear in places like Romania, the Ukraine, and Bulgaria, international BPO firms might be looking to relocate.  That is why it is imperative that the domestic startups be allowed to succeed.   Only with a good domestically created economy, can this level of prosperity be sustainable.

At the moment, the government and its bureaucracy makes it difficult to invest and start a business as mentioned in an article in the Economist.   However, with the right government in place, startups can really have endless possibilities.  For example, by making much of the governmental data public, entrepreneurs can look at the data and create services, software, applications, and physical products that will help the community cut costs at the same time creating companies and jobs.  Also with the democratization of data, it will save the entrepreneurs a lot on the cost of research.  

As an advocate of the Krakow Startup Community, I would like to see this community thrive.  But as a foreigner, I cannot take part in the Polish democratic process.  To my native Polish colleagues who are able to participate, all I have to say is,"Get politically active. If you don't like your government is it your civil duty to change it and create an atmosphere where everyone will benefit.  Get out there and vote place a vote for your destiny and prosperity.”


  1. I do agree that being politacally active is important. I like that: "Get politically active. If you don't like your government is it your civil duty to change it and create an atmosphere where everyone will benefit. Get out there and vote place a vote for your destiny and prosperity.”

    Though so obvious, it is important. Moreover there is no other way!

  2. As a recent transplant from San Francisco/Silicon Valley to Poland, I agree with many of your observations about Poland's challenges and opportunities. I would go further in not just encouraging individuals to get out and vote but for communities e.g. the Krakow Startup community to organize, build critical mass, relationships,influence and lobby their representatives to legislate effectively.