Secret Twins?

Why the Obama Administration Resembles Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama have more in common than a Harvard background. Daniel Gross explains.

We’ve had some fun in recent weeks comparing the Romney campaign to corporate entities like Chick-fil-A and the New York Jets. But if the Obama administration/campaign were a company, what would it be?

Facebook, duh.

Let’s review the similarities.

Both were extremely hot and really popular among young people a few years ago but have reached something close to saturation in the U.S. market. The metrics suggest Facebook is running out of Americans to sign up to join its network. The polling data suggest President Obama is showing signs of running out of Americans to sign up to join his network. Meanwhile, fickle fans of both entities are constantly looking for other alternatives—i.e., Twitter, Romney.

Both were organized around a somewhat introverted, awkward young guy who spent a few formative years in Cambridge, Mass., and who cultivates an aloof public persona with his constituents—investors for Mark Zuckerberg, voters for Obama.

At both Facebook and the Obama administration, the most effective leader and future heir apparent may be an older woman who serves as the diplomat, who served in the Clinton administration, and who is an iconic figure for working moms—i.e., Sheryl Sandberg and Hillary Clinton.

Both were designed to level the playing field, promote an egalitarian, barrier-free society, and give voice to the voiceless. But both have wound up lining the pockets of insiders and making the rich richer as middle-class folks suffer. Since 2009, median income in the U.S. has declined, even as the stock market has risen sharply, the wealthy have enjoyed low tax rates, and income inequality has risen. Just so, in the Facebook initial public offering, the Wall Street underwriters made money, early venture-capital investors and insiders cashed out—and the ordinary investors who bought the stock when it opened for trading have lost about half their money.

Both have shown a willingness to violate privacy in pursuit of larger objectives: growth and advertising for Facebook, national security for Obama.

Both share dubious plans for financial success in upcoming years. Facebook’s sketchy path to prosperity rests on its ability to (1) figure out ways to monetize content on mobile devices—an environment that is unfriendly to large banner advertisements; (2) convince skeptical business partners on Madison Avenue it has the right ideas; and (3) turn all the free information it gathers about customers into revenue without alienating the user base. Obama’s sketchy path to prosperity rests on (1) figuring out ways to ramp up growth in a sputtering global economy, an environment unfriendly to growth; (2) convincing skeptical business partners in Washington that he has the right ideas; and (3) promoting a fiscal plan that cuts deficits and raises revenue without alienating the user base.

Finally, both are battling ugly charts in the investing markets. Check out Facebook’s stock on the NASDAQ and Obama’s stock on Intrade.