Washington used to worship Silicon Valley. Few things made politicians’ hearts beat faster than the bipartisan love for big tech. Silicon Valley was building the future. Government’s role was to offer compliments and get out of the way.
Recently, however, the mood has shifted. Both sides of the political divide seem to be awakening to the possibility that letting the tech industry do whatever it wants hasn’t produced the best of all possible worlds. “I have found a flaw,” Alan Greenspan famously said in 2008 of his free-market worldview, as the global financial system imploded. A similar discovery may be dawning on our political class when it comes to its hands-off approach to Silicon Valley.
But the new taste for techno-skepticism is unlikely to lead to meaningful reform, for several reasons. One is money. The five biggest tech firms spend twice as much as Wall Street on lobbying Washington. It seems reasonable to assume that this insulates them from anything too painful in a political system as corrupt as ours.
But beyond that obstacle lies another: Russia. Without Russia, Washington wouldn’t be talking tough on tech. But Russia is also the worst possible way to understand what’s wrong with the internet, and how we might begin to fix it.