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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Clive Thompson is out with a new book, "Coders," excerpted in Wired. In it, he talks about engineers' aesthetic of efficiency — how "coders’ eyes blaze when they talk about making something run faster," and how they dream of doing such things at previously unimaginable scale.

The other side: Silicon Valley coders might love to make processes leanly efficient, but the irony is that Silicon Valley's billions come from inefficiencies.

  • The efficient way to allow individuals and brands to market themselves on the internet is to create a site where they can do so for free — Craigslist, perhaps. Facebook built such a site — but then started ensuring that brands' posts would not be seen unless Facebook itself got paid.
  • Apple could efficiently funnel its news-service revenue to the publishers who actually produce the content; instead, it's reportedly taking 50% of the money for itself.
  • The efficient way to match drivers with passengers, or homeowners with short-term renters, is to create a real-time marketplace that people pay a small fee to access. The inefficient way is to go to great lengths to ensure that payment is routed through the platform, allowing companies like Uber or Airbnb to take an arbitrarily large slice of the transaction.

The bottom line: Software has value, but it also has zero marginal cost. In an efficient world, the cost of software would trend toward zero. Instead, companies spend billions of dollars attempting to buy a dominant market position that then allows them to extract monopoly rents. Coders might love efficiency, but capitalism rewards rent seeking.

Go deeper

Why made-for-TV moments matter during the pandemic

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Erin Schaff-Pool, Biden Inaugural Committee via Getty Images

In a world where most Americans are isolated and forced to laugh, cry and mourn without friends or family by their side, viral moments can offer critical opportunities to unite the country or divide it.

Driving the news: President Biden's inauguration was produced to create several made-for-social viral moments, a tactic similar to what the Democratic National Committee and the Biden campaign pulled off during the Democratic National Convention.

Updated 8 hours ago - World

Over 3,000 detained in protests across Russia demanding Navalny's release

Russian police officers beat protestesters at a rally against of jailing of oppositon leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow on Saturday. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Police in Russia on Saturday arrested more than 3,300 people as protesters nationwide demanded that opposition leader Alexey Navalny be released from jail.

Details: Demonstrations began in the eastern regions of Russia and spread west to more than 60 cities.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Arizona Republicans censure Cindy McCain and GOP governor

Combination images of Cindy McCain and Gov. Doug Ducey. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic for U.S.VETS/Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Arizona Republican Party members voted on Saturday to censure prominent GOP figures Cindy McCain, Gov. Doug Ducey and former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who've all faced clashes with former President Trump.

Why it matters: Although the resolution is symbolic, this move plus the re-election of the Trump-endorsed Kelli Ward as state GOP chair shows the strong hold the former president has on the party in Arizona, despite President Biden winning the state in the 2020 election.