Share conference outlines the possibilities and pitfalls for a new economy at the crossroads
Conway speaks the language of the technology sector that he's been sponsoring with angel investments since the early days of the last technology boom, making seemingly common sense appeals that hide his conservative ideology, just as he switched his political party registration from Republican to decline-to-state when he became active in San Francisco politics (see "The Plutocrat," 11/27/12).
But for the careful listener familiar with San Francisco political history, there were some intriguing revelations in his address that were probably lost on the average techie in attendance that morning.
For example, Conway talked about his role following up his advocacy for the Twitter tax break with behind-the-scenes work helping to craft the business tax reform measure in 2012 — which the Controller's Office analysis found just happened to give the technology companies that Conway was invested in a substantial tax cut.
"Now all the companies enjoy this," Conway said in reference to Twitter's tax break, "because Prop. B was passed a year and half ago."
He also then admitted that Airbnb owes its phenomenal growth to the widespread economic desperation triggered by the financial collapse of 2008 and an economic recovery that still hasn't reached the average citizen struggling to cover their housing costs.
"Airbnb, for example, would not be here today if there wasn't an economic crisis and a recession in 2008 in New York, where people had to decide to rent out a room in their house or I get foreclosed on my mortgage. It was that basic. Airbnb wouldn't be here today if people all over New York didn't save their mortgages and start using this product. And then by word of mouth it spread around the world because it is so convenient and so practical," Conway said.
Conway is conservative on financial issues, but more moderate on social issues, and he talked about his advocacy work on gun control and immigration reform. Yet even on those issues, where it is almost exclusively Republicans who are blocking the changes Conway says he wants, he turns the gridlock into an anti-government argument.
"We need term limits in Congress," the former Republican said, citing a standard conservative trope that got a big applause from the Share conference crowd.
Finally, he elevated the current struggles in San Francisco over the sharing economy into key battles that will shape the future of the new economy.
"This [Airbnb] legislation that David Chiu has proposed, which in the next few months will go to the Board of Supervisors is crucial legislation the whole country will watch," Conway said, calling for everyone in the crowd to get involved and lobby their supervisors. "David Chiu needs help. This would not pass if it went to a vote today, it wouldn't come close to passing. So we have to change this. We want to do on the local level what we have to do on the national level: Organize and conquer!"
ACCESS AND EQUITY
After Conway came an intriguing panel discussion about equity and environmental issues with Nikki Silvestri of Green for All, Vien Truong with the Greenlining Institute, and Adam Werbach, the former Sierra Club executive director who started the stuff-sharing company Yertle.
It was moderated by GreenBiz.com editor Joel Makower, who cited information from the previous day's sessions about how it's mostly middle class white people who use the sharing economy. "The reality is it's not that inclusive," he said, and all his guests agreed and talked about the need to broaden its benefits.
"How do you marry the economy with people?" Truong said as she discussed that challenge. And it's an urgent need, as Werbach said while answering a question about how the sharing economy could help bring about a new kind of environmentalism aimed at producing and consuming less stuff.