Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

Globalization, the tech revolution and the middle class

Chrystia Freeland
Sep 21, 2012 15:04 UTC

YALTA, Ukraine — One of the paradoxes of our age is that we are simultaneously living through a time of positive economic innovation and also a time of the painful erosion of the way of life of many middle-class families.

Listening to Yuri Milner, the Russian Internet investor, at a conference in Ukraine a few days ago brought home this contrast. Milner is a billionaire thanks to his Internet investments: He has done well both in his homeland, supporting some of Russia’s most successful start-ups, and, even more spectacularly by venturing abroad, taking pioneering stakes in Facebook, Zynga and Groupon.

When Milner talks about the technology revolution, he paints a dazzling picture of literally unprecedented innovation, bringing tremendous savings and benefits to consumers.

But when you talk to economists about the impact of those same forces on middle-class jobs, you come joltingly down to earth. The revolution Milner describes is part of a sea change in how the economies of Western industrialized nations work – and one that is hollowing out the middle class.

The technology revolution has become so familiar – grandmothers are on Facebook and toddlers navigate YouTube on their parents’ iPads - that it is easy to forget how revolutionary it still is. But Milner, speaking at an annual conference held by the Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk, argued that it had just begun to radically reshape our lives. (Disclosure: I moderated many of the sessions.)

Russian investor’s $3 million prize for physics

Chrystia Freeland
Aug 2, 2012 21:10 UTC

Do you think cutting-edge scientists should earn as much as star athletes, celebrity artists or Wall Street bankers? The Russian billionaire investor Yuri Milner does, and this week he put his money where his heart is.

Milner deposited $3 million in the bank accounts of each of the nine theoretical physicists he judged to be doing the most brilliant work in their field. They are the first recipients of the Fundamental Physics Prize, a new honor created by Milner. It is the most lucrative academic award in the world, and will henceforth be given to one winner each year.

Milner, who studied physics for a decade before making his fortune in prescient Internet investments, said he decided to create such a rich prize because he thinks the compensation of top scientists is out of whack in 21st-century society.

Rise of the machines

Chrystia Freeland
Feb 9, 2012 22:57 UTC

If you want to get a finger-tip feel for one of the most important transformations in our world today, read The Fear Index, Robert Harris’s new thriller.

Harris has been widely praised for his adept portrayal of the hedge fund universe in which his novel is set. “The greatest pleasure of this book is that it gets the finance right,” cooed Felix Salmon, the Reuters finance blogger whose keyboard often oozes acid.

He is right that Harris’s hedgies are a welcome and realistic departure from the Masters of the Universe of most popular fiction. For one thing, these are the alpha geeks, the nerdy doctorate-holders whose testosterone is channeled into equations instead of frat-house swagger.

Yuri Milner on the future of the internet

Peter Rudegeair
Sep 23, 2011 19:51 UTC

This is a transcript of Yuri Milner’s presentation to the Yalta Annual Meeting in September 2011. To read Chrystia’s column about the presentation, click here.

A few months ago not three but eight leaders in the world gathered at Deauville in France at their regular G-8 meeting. But for the first time ever they invited six businessmen to meet with them and talk about the future. It’s interesting that four out of six were related to internet, and then I was among those invited. Each of us was given three minutes to say something, and I will now present to you a slightly expanded version of that presentation that I gave back then.

If we can look at the slide number 1, that you hopefully can see on the left-hand side, it basically shows the unprecedented growth of internet users globally. And I just want to bring your attention to the fact that this is probably the fastest proliferation of any technology ever, and the most fundamental fact being that right now around 2 billion people are connected to the internet and in the next 10 years you will see another 3 billion added to that number to a total of 5 billion people connected around 2020.

The advent of the global brain

Chrystia Freeland
Sep 23, 2011 18:12 UTC

Get ready for the global brain. That was the grand finale of a presentation on the next generation of the Internet I heard last week from Yuri Milner. G-8 leaders had a preview of Milner’s predictions a few months earlier, when he was among the technology savants invited to brief the world’s most powerful politicians in Deauville, France.

Milner is the technology guru most of us have never heard of. He was an early outside investor in Facebook, sinking $200 million in the company in 2009 for a 1.96 percent stake, a decision that was widely derided as crazy at the time. He was also early to spot the potential of Zynga, the gaming company, and of Groupon, the daily deals site.

His investing savvy propelled Milner this year onto the Forbes Rich List, with an estimated net worth of $1 billion. One reason his is not yet a household name is that he does his tech spotting from Moscow, not a city most of us look to for innovative economic ideas.

The Russians are coming — to Silicon Valley

Chrystia Freeland
May 27, 2011 16:12 UTC

The Russians are coming. So far, the invaders are both welcome and unexpected — these aren’t the Cold War comrades who aspired to geopolitical domination or the first wave of oligarchs with their treasure chest of natural resources. These Russians propose to conquer the world’s new frontier — the Internet — and they are every bit as cocky as their forebears.

Russia’s arrival as a would-be technology superpower was announced this week when Yandex, a Russian Internet search company, made its debut on the Nasdaq stock exchange in the biggest U.S. Internet listing since Google went public in 2004.

With characteristic Russian bravado, Ilya Segalovich, the company’s chief technology officer, told my colleagues Alina Selyukh and Megan Davies that Yandex was superior to the behemoth Google: “Google is a great company, but we are better.” Yandex is “very focused on what we are doing, and the focus is technology and search.”

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