Sunday, January 25, 2009

Should American High Technology Be Less Successful?

Because soon it may be. The LA TImes talks of how Google, having bet big through campaign donations to Barack Obama, is now set to reap its rewards. (Special interests carving up the citizenry - the "change we seek.")

In 2006 I wrote the following about Google's decision to open up a lobbying office in DC:

But that they see the benefits of lobbying as justifying the costs is disturbing, another sign that information technology is every day becoming more like cars, oil, and every other industry where the returns to pressuring the government are large. And that can have no good effects on the progress of the information revolution.

Well, the entanglement of the state with the car industry (and of course the financial industry) has become far more profound than even I imagined when I wrote this. Not good news for those - say, car customers, shareholders and employees of companies, people in the future with no say in the matter but now stuck with much higher tax bills and higher costs for goods and services because of the permanently increased reach of the state - without so much heft in DC. Thinking of how such industries as passenger rail and automobiles have performed as innovators during their era of extensive entanglement with Washington, it is a little disturbing to read the following from the Times account:

Google says the main reason it has improved its standing in Washington is that Obama's tech priorities mirror its own. He has endorsed network neutrality. His technology agenda also calls for expanding broadband Internet access to rural areas and appointing the first government-wide chief technology officer ([Google CEO Eric] Schmidt has been mentioned for the position but reiterated this week he was not interested).

"This administration is more focused on science and technology," Schmidt said in an interview. "That's positive for all of technology, and particularly Google."

Does anyone feel that the American technology sector, during the era that Washington, the Microsoft antitrust case aside, has more or less left it alone has performed poorly? Has it failed to innovate, failed to make people's lives better? Is more government focus on high technology likely to make high technology more or less effective for the American people relative to how effective it was before? This is the question to ask right now, because if we wait until the government gets really "focused on science and technology" it will be too late.

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