Google's Larry Page: "I Think the Government's Likely to Collapse Under Its Own Weight."

The co-founders on how regulation "increases without bounds" and why Google stays away from health care.


Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin |||

Over the weekend, Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page sat down for a rare joint public interview with venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, in which the three billionaires reminisced about how Brin and Page nearly sold their groundbreaking search technology to Excite for $1.6 million in 1999 (Google's market capitalization is now $392.7 billion), speculated on how self-driving cars could change the way we live (there are "policy risks," said Brin), and discussed how Google rewrote the rules on mission creep ("ideally, the company would scale the number of things it does with the number of people in a linear fashion," said Page).

But why isn't the company devoting more of its innovation firepower to the wildly inefficient U.S. health care industry, which hogs about 18% of GDP? Brin explained:

Generally, health is just so heavily regulated. It's just a painful business to be in. It's just not necessarily how I want to spend my time. Even though we do have some health projects, and we'll be doing that to a certain extent. But I think the regulatory burden in the U.S. is so high that think it would dissuade a lot of entrepreneurs.

Page echoed Brin, and then speculated that if researchers were allowed to anonymously mine medical records "I imagine that would save 10,000 lives in the first year." That can't happen, noted Page, because of rules imposed by the 1996 federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Later in the interview, an audience member asked the co-founders if government makes it more difficult for them to engage in long-term planning. Page responded by offering some perspective on how regulation that "increases without bounds" is likely to lead government "to collapse under its own weight:"

I was trying to reduce the complexity in Google. I was thinking, "We're getting to be a bigger company. Let's take our rules and regulations. Let's make sure they stay at 50 pages, so people can actually read it." But the problem that I discovered about that was that by reference, we include the entire law and regulation of the entire world, because we're a multinational company. We operate everywhere. Our employees, what they do affects everything. In some sense, we'd have to read the hundred million pages of law and regulation that are out there.

The entire interview is below. A transcript is here.

NEXT: Shikha Dalmia on the Left's Baffling Response to the Harris and Hobby Lobby rulings

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  1. On the plus side, it helps donating to those who impose the burdensome regulation which tends to dissuade smaller companies from nipping at the heels of larger entities with armies of attorneys on retainer.

  2. I’m saddened that these companies continue to pay lip service to government apparatchiks and allow their products to be used in ways that not only,limit, but seek to demolish personal liberty.

    These guys talk a big game because their liberty will never be in question. They have enough money to either buy it or rent it from any government in the world. But they are perfectly fine with governments utilizing their products to limit the liberties of the people that have less than enough to do the same.

    1. You can’t always count on government to be bought, if they think they can just steal the bribe too. Now, if you had an army of killer robots, then you would be in a much better bargaining position.

    2. These two are perfect examples of:

      Socialism is for the people, not the socialist.

      Why can’t there one….just one… ultra wealthy person that is a rabid freedom and liberty type?

      1. Bezos?

      2. Jim Rodgers fits that description. But he also knew that raging against the leviathan was a fruitless endeavor even for him so he skedaddled to Singapore.

        1. Exactly. If you are rich and you don’t advocate for a government that devours the GDP with taxation and drowns all markets in endless regulation, then the government and its mouthpiece, the media, paints you as a self-centered greedy child molester.

          I’m half convinced that most of these progressive Hollywood hypocrites I hate so much don’t actually believe all the bull they spew, but are instead just preserving their image, which is a big part of their profitability and hinges largely on political correctness.

          1. Exactly.

            All the hollywood times and rich celebrities have handlers and public relations experts, which tell them how to talk so that they can be liked.

            If we lived in Nazi Germany, they’d all be talking about how to be good Nazis.

    3. nicely said.

    4. Not sure if it’s still true, but not too long ago 90%+ of Google employees were registered Democrat. That’s even more unbalanced than Hollywood, and right up there with professional journalists.

      It does not surprise me that Google has been so cavalier with our privacies, when the overwhelming majority of its employees think power should have no limits so long as the right people hold the power.

      1. Brandybuck. If you can cite or even come close to anything that makes a credible case that Republicans (or conservatives) are any better than Democrats (or liberals) on privacy rights I’ll happily register with Team Red.
        And no, Rand Paul does not represent Republicans or conservatives.

    5. And YOUR solution to all of this is what? What is your plan?

      1. *Plan*!? Do I look like a guy with a plan? You know, I just do things. The government’s got plans.

        You know, they’re schemers. Schemers trying to control their little worlds. I’m not a schemer. You’re a schemer, you have plans, and uh, look where that got you.

        Libertarians just do what we do best. We take your little plan and turn it on itself.

      2. Don’t patronize them? Support alternative political movements? Be active politically about things you care about, like personal liberty and responsible, limited government?

        You can’t just look at a bad situation and say, “Well, I can’t solve this by Tuesday so I may as well just go with it.”

  3. While I agree with Page’s assessment that government will become to big for itself, I also disagree with him on the merits.of “big data” mining and the effects he.thinks it will have.

    Big Data suffers from the conceit that experiments don’t have to be designed, you just have to sift through enough random points to get a significant result. This is a serious fallacy that is not supported by rigorous statistical method. It really is a dangerous assumption that you can grab a bunch of data without any.idea what you.plan to do with it, and expect that it will teach you the right lessons. Experiments of any.kind need to start with a hypothesis that can be tested systematically. This.includes identifying the types of data required to answer the questions you want to answer.

    Vacuuming up random information, no matter how voluminous, cannot guarantee you have all the.right.information. to support a conclusion.

    1. Vacuuming up random information, no matter how voluminous, cannot guarantee you have all the.right.information. to support a conclusion.

      When your goal is to have dirt on everybody stored in case you need it to control them down the road, then vacuuming up metadata works exactly as designed.

      And if you think this is being done for any other reason, then you’re fucking nuts.

      1. ^^^THIS^^^

        The problem with centralized medical records is now that you can slander someone as engaging in “drug-seeking behavior” (i.e. you need to go to a different hospital ER for pain treatment) and they can screw with you forevermore.

    2. Or that you will know it is the right information. And also what Sloopy said.

    3. Big Data suffers from the conceit that experiments don’t have to be designed

      I don’t think that’s true. A well designed warehouse is meant only as a starting point. The whole point is to set people up such that they can design experiments and hit the data. But you need to have the data collected in the first place. I don’t think people in the industry are under the illusion that Collection = Analysis.

      And HIPAA is a HUGE barrier to that.

      1. I agree with this. There is good and bad “data mining”. Randomly going into a big set of data looking for correlations is dangerous. You can lead yourself to false conslusions.

        But if you have a logically thought out thesis and then go into the data to see if it supports the thesis, then you may have a legit insight. It’s not as good as a controlled experiment, but it can be a legit finding.

        1. Yes. It is a tradeoff. You can do your research with less funding, but you give up a lot of the controls that could be used to bring the error down. Frankly, I would trust Google a lot more than the Dept. of HHS to understand this and not abuse it.

        2. Back when data mining was a smaller field, the good data mining outweighed the bad data mining.

          But now that data mining is growing, most of the growth is in bad data mining.

          The best example of course is global warming. So much data mining in that area is designed as confirmation of existing bias. There isn’t any concern of the data being mined properly.

    4. Data mining “big data” will by chance alone result in spurious correlations.

      1. All research will by chance alone result in spurious correlations. Data mining and meta-studies just produce them more correlations and therefore more spurious correlations. If you do it carefully you can still get useful results. The problem is that most people in the media aren’t qualified to judge whether a researcher has been careful enough.

        1. The problem is far too much research is being directed by government.

          1. That too.

          2. Also, publish or perish which makes data mining a valuable tool.

    5. There is useful data to be mined, perhaps not as great as he thinks, but it’s there. The problem with HIPPA is that no one gets to see that completely anonymous data.

      Will ObamaCare help or harm the overall health of this country? We will NEVER know because no one will ever have the data to find out.

    6. You are missing the point of the use of the data. It isn’t to find the truth. The purpose is to create a narrative that will sound good enough to get the policies you want implemented.

      Look at social “science”. It is all worthless political drivel whose main purpose is to get public policies that benefit a few people. Any good con man knows that a story can be built around any set of facts. The more facts you have, the easier it is to create the story you want to tell. You now have the advantage of having “proven” your theory “scientifically”.

      1. Well said.

        The fact is that having a lot of data points from “Big Data” tells you nothing about the accuracy of the data, the precision, or the calibration of the data.

        It is complete nonsense for the most part and any correlation is coincidence, or at least the likelihood of coincidence is predominate.

  4. the Silicon Valley- Washington rivalry is fun to watch, and I hope it produces innovation. However, many Silicon Valley CEOs openly espouse a type of techno-fascism, thinking that THEY are the true philosopher-kings and rightful rulers of America today. Tread lightly with Google et al.

    1. “However, many Silicon Valley CEOs openly espouse a type of techno-fascism, thinking that THEY are the true philosopher-kings and rightful rulers of America today. Tread lightly with Google et al.”

      Yeah, but they don’t have the guns.
      I’m more worried that for all the noise Brin and Page make about freedom and over-regulation, I’m pretty sure their political contributions go to those who oppose their stated preferences

      1. They don’t have guns only because they don’t currently need them. Don’t imagine that they are above having and using them when they know they are “right”.

  5. so tell me, guys, who did you vote for? Here’s a nice big cup of shut the fuck up and go away.

    1. So what did McCain and Romney offer them in the way of small government?

      1. Palin’s Buttplug|7.8.14 @ 9:09AM|#
        “So what did McCain and Romney offer them in the way of small government?”

        ‘Way more than your fave asshole did.

        1. Fail Sevo. Obama’s been a big dissapointment, but he did “offer” better..especially in 2008.

          I would submit that McCain would be worse than Obama. McCain would quadruple down on Team America World Police, and Romney actually bragged that he would increase military spending. Further, I’d also posit that under both McCain or Romney, the govt’s Jackboots would be on the necks of both Colorado and Washington right for rec MJ.

          But don’t let me spoil your groupthink.

          1. I’d rather see a small increase in military spending (its hard to shoehorn a large increase in – while the military *loves* money, it can only ramp up the spending on bullshit weapons programs so fast) rather than the HUUUUUUGE increase in spending that is Obama-care.

            Unfortunately, by the time Romney was on scene that option wasn’t on the table anymore.

            1. So you approve of more weapons as opposed to better health, better outcomes and care for your fellow citizens?


              Of course, RomneyCare is my provider of choice.

              I guess you didn’t notice GDP stabilized and even went down because of…..REDUCED HEALTH CARE SPENDING. More people covered…..less cost…better outcomes.

              Sounds better than automatic increases for all the guys at Lockheed Martin with the yachts (I could tell you stories).

              1. “I guess you didn’t notice GDP stabilized and even went down because of…..REDUCED HEALTH CARE SPENDING.”

                This is a false statement. GDP WENT DOWN. Unless you consider a constant slow crash being stabilized.

                And Health Care spending was already slowing it’s rate of increase before Obama was implemented. It is now ramping up rapidly now that “YoMammaCare” is now being actually implemented.

          2. While I would shudder to consider a McCain presidency, I’d like to think Romney would’ve been that sort of milquetoast, vanilla, calm sort of presidency where nothing much really happened. Just like I like ’em. I have a hard time envisioning a worse president than Obama without looking into the histories of third world dictatorships. I mean, he could’ve been worse (and still could be), but only because I think his lack of ambition limits him to a sort of malevolent half-assery rather than the truly diabolical villainy to which the office now lends itself.

            1. So Romney would have been calm… Spell out how he would have been calm about Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, the worst recession in 80 years and all the other things the POTUS must deal with.

              Would he have just said “keep calm”?

              That’s a silly conjecture. Romney, if he isn’t lying now, says he would have stayed in Iraq. That’s just for starters.

              Being POTUS means making heavy duty decisions. You can’t be vanilla when you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t and complete screwed if you are like Romney (as you say, milquetoast).

              Presidents like that often get manipulated by the admin around them – you know, like GW Bush. Who could be more vanilla than him?

              When there is a power vacuum, others step in – in his case, Cheney and the full set of neo-cons and they almost sunk this country and much of the world along with it.

          3. I truly detest Obama, but I agree that while McCain would have been a bit different, he would not have been better.

      2. So what did McCain and Romney offer them in the way of small government?

        Were McCain and Romney the only other options?

        1. For a hack like Shrike “none of the above” is not an option.

      3. False dilemma is false.

  6. Wareagle,
    Page and Brin may have supported terrible candidates, but there’s no friggin’ way either man voted for ’em. Think of what an hour of their time is worth! Think of the ROI from spending 2 hours in line to vote?in California. Page and Brin may be smug a-holes, but they are certainly analytical a-holes.

    1. I’m sure their administrative assistants were able to get absentee ballots for them.

      1. You really don’t think th AI voted for em?

    2. California has permanent absentee status available. It’s how I always vote, and how I expect they did as well.

      1. i can almost guarantee you they did not waste time marking a ballot, absentee of otherwise.

    3. They have interns who can wait in line for them.

  7. “I Think the Government’s Likely to Collapse Under Its Own Weight.”

    Tell us something we didn’t know already.

  8. I hate the attitude of “oh well it will collapse on its own” as if that is a good thing. Historically the gov. that takes over, more times than not, is more oppressive and violent than the one it preceded when bankruptcy and revolution occur, why would you be okay with an environment forming that would be conducive to producing those circumstance?

    1. Historically the gov. that takes over, more times than not, is more oppressive and violent than the one it preceded when bankruptcy and revolution occur

      Governments have been getting less and less oppressive over time, so I don’t think that’s right. Unless you are begging the question with respect to “revolution”.

      1. how am I begging the question with regard to revolution? They are typically violent and in no way equate more freedom.

  9. “Because the Circumlocution Office went on mechanically, every day, keeping this wonderful, all-sufficient wheel of statesmanship, How not to do it, in motion. Because the Circumlocution Office was down upon any ill-advised public servant who was going to do it, or who appeared to be by any surprising accident in remote danger of doing it, with a minute, and a memorandum, and a letter of instructions that extinguished him. It was this spirit of national efficiency in the Circumlocution Office that had gradually led to its having something to do with everything. Mechanicians, natural philosophers, soldiers, sailors, petitioners, memorialists, people with grievances, people who wanted to prevent grievances, people who wanted to redress grievances, jobbing people, jobbed people, people who couldn’t get rewarded for merit, and people who couldn’t get punished for demerit, were all indiscriminately tucked up under the foolscap paper of the Circumlocution Office.” Dickens, “Little Dorrit”

  10. I don’t know, I’m inclined to say “facta non verba, Larry”. Google has been a pretty willing participant in the current administration’s expansion of the state, even going so as to make talent available for the President’s re-election effort. In fact, Google ranked second only to the UC system and Microsoft in donations to his re-election bid. And then, of course, there’s the chummy relationship between Google and the NSA, and one can’t help but wonder if this carries all the moral certainty of “Don’t be evil”.

  11. Since when is there too much regulation of anything that even a socialist billionaire is afraid to compete. Quick, somebody level that playing field for the google pricks.
    Google = evil. Can be used interchangeably.

  12. These guys have done extremely well data-mining. They believe in it. It worked for them! Why wouldn’t they believe in it?

    They also know they have to work with the government, because the government owns the internet, really.

    What are the chances they aren’t actively working with the government on data-mining for subversive activity? The government wants control, they want to understand the limits of data-mining.

    I’d say almost for certain it will come out they are writing algorithms for the government on how to use big data sets.

  13. Great fucking moments in fucking Western Civilization. Always a thrill when some rich hippies and a fucking venture capitalist get together and decide what our fucking electronic culture is going to be.

    1. Google is in a super-competitive space. The reason they’re “rich hippies” is because they provide things customers actually want (along with a bunch of things they don’t want). If Google actually was deciding what our electronic culture will be, we’d all be on Google+ by now, using Google Wallet instead of our credit cards and PayPal, and using Google Wave (remember that?) or the dozens of other “big” Google releases that went nowhere.

      You’re free to create your own electronic culture. There is no guarantee that anybody will actually use it along with you, however, which considering your charming personality you’re likely okay with.

    2. Well, since “hippies” created most of the electronic stuff you are using to write your rants, I think they are much more qualified than perhaps your heroes like Joe Dirt and Larry the Cable Guy and even the Koch Brothers. What open source stuff and great computers and other stuff has been brought to us by Koch Industries?

  14. Everyone can agree that a bloated and inefficient government is a bad thing. The gov’t collapsing under its own weight is a doomsday scenario and unrealistic IMO. The things that prop the US up are technology and innovation. If the gov’t becomes so bloated and inefficient that those areas lag behind the rest of the developed world, we might have an issue. Collapse, no, but we could fall behind and it would be very difficult to catch back up.

  15. If the government is about to implode under its own weight, then maybe we should all vote commie on purpose (to be clear, that means establishment Republican and any Democrat), to hasten the process.

  16. Did anyone on that ‘panel’ happen to underestimate the survival instincts of bureaucracy and government? Ya think?

    1. No, but you underestimate the desire of the soccer mom, seniors and vast percentages of the population to be protected by that big bad gubment….

  17. Sounds like a businessman who sees government like a buisness and thinks it can “collapse under its own weight” because it’s getting too complex. That would be true if governments weren’t monopolies with the power of force behind them, say like typical businesses.

    Unlike Eric Schmidt who knows how to get in bed with government for his personal benefit (at our cost of course), these guys sound naive. The complexity government creates, burdens citizens, not government employees. The government will renege on its promises to retirees regarding Medicare and Social Security, and it won’t collapse until the dollar does. And it might even survive that.

  18. First, we should agree that the law about health care data mining was created to protect privacy – you know, the things you guys are always screaming about!

    You can’t have it both ways. Either it’s private or it can mined.

    As to complexity, they know a lot about that and admit that even their own company, with only 30,000 or so employees, has gotten amazingly complex.

    Now, imagine if Google has 310 million employees….or even the 3-5 million the Federals, Military and other agencies together have.

    Certainly it’s complex. It’s terribly inefficient. I remember hearing a google scholar speak to the efficiencies of government around the world (they actually said ours doesn’t have much fat compared to others – that is, not as much corruption, etc. as a percentage).

    The only relevant question becomes – what is better?

    I know…..just close it down and let people be individuals…..sure….

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