Marc Andreessen’s call to arms: build something meaningful

It’s scary, living with a killer virus that has completely upended our lives for who knows how long. It’s very easy to feel helpless in the face of it all, to throw up one’s hands.

Don’t do this, says Marc Andreessen in thoughtful new essay published today to the site of his venture firm, Andreessen Horowitz. In it, he advocates for building something — anything — that moves society forward from here. To “reboot the American dream.” he writes, we need to “demand more of our political leaders, of our CEOs, our entrepreneurs, our investors. We need to demand more of our culture, of our society. And we need to demand more from one another. We’re all necessary, and we can all contribute, to building.”

Andreessen notes that much of the technology has already been built. He highlights housing, education, manufacturing and transportation, observing that many of the tools needed to massively accelerate each into a bright new future already exist, but that it’s easier to stick with the systems that once served us well than muster the collective will to uproot and replace them. He attributes the problem to a lack of “desire. We need to want these things. The problem is inertia. We need to want these things more than we want to prevent these things. The problem is regulatory capture. We need to want new companies to build these things, even if incumbents don’t like it, even if only to force the incumbents to build these things. And the problem is will. We need to build these things.”

He’s right, of course, but we’d love something more prescriptive from Andreessen, who has largely retreated from public view in the last couple of years and whose 20,000-foot view is inspiring yet also, we hope, only a starting point.

What society would seem to need right now is not top-down advice but a bottoms-up approach. The way to solve problems is by breaking down big challenges into little bits. Someone like Andreessen could really lead here, by talking more explicitly about how current technologies can and should be used to achieve goals we need to meet right now, including to: get money into the hands of people who need it faster, use business intelligence to gather information from ER doctors in how they are managing Covid-19 patients, and help the country’s governors with supply chain management.

Andreessen argues that America, expressly, needs a strenuous push. That reality can’t be clearer than right now, he writes, noting that, “We don’t have enough coronavirus tests, or test materials — including, amazingly, cotton swabs and common reagents. We don’t have enough ventilators, negative pressure rooms, and ICU beds. And we don’t have enough surgical masks, eye shields, and medical gowns — as I write this, New York City has put out a desperate call for rain ponchos to be used as medical gowns. Rain ponchos! In 2020! In America!”

It’s an appalling state of affairs, one driven largely by our political system, Andreessen observes and — unsaid by Andreessen — the fact that the U.S. has the highest income inequality of all the G7 nations, with more wealth accruing to a relative minuscule number of people every year, an ever-shrinking middle class, and ballooning poverty.

But one thing at at time.

What we really need right now is the Covid-19 equivalent of the Manhattan Project, and we need Silicon Valley to lead it.

If Andreessen wants to help on this front, we’re all for it. We’re listening.