The tech moguls who want to remake American politics


The “Reset” conference, organized by the free-market and technology-focused think tank Lincoln Network, featured panels with names like “The Geopolitics of Industrial Policy: All Carrot, No Stick?” and “The Future of America: Florida vs. California”.

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Over the course of the day, a big picture with potentially important political implications emerged: a venture capital-driven fledgling ideology embracing the optimistic nationalism of the Reagan era while discarding its allergy to state power.

It wasn’t long ago that a tech conference like Reboot would have steered (mostly) away from politics. But Thursday’s talk list coincides with a wave of VC world players like Balaji Srinivasan and Marc Andreessen (not to mention a certain rocket tycoon) who are decidedly more interested in shaping civic life and even political campaigns than They touch on those issues like technology. -world alumni JD Vance and Blake Masters.

The move has attracted some former Trump world thinkers. like Julius Kerin, founder of the political magazine American Affairs, who resigned from Trump in 2017 and now advocates rebuilding America through a stronger, more nationalistic approach to technology and industry.

“Younger people working in tech or VC have increasingly focused on ‘getting out of software’… [there’s] a growing interest in hardware, robotics, hard tech, with a growing interest in ‘strategic sectors’ and rebuilding the United States, and defense-related technology in competition with China,” said Kerin, who formed part of the conference’s industrial geopolitics panel.

The turn he speaks of—from software to hardware and away from globalization—implies a dissatisfaction with today’s tech giants whose reign has brought decidedly virtual transnational products like Facebook or Tinder to the world.

If there is one pervasive myth that most animates this new politics, it might be that of the “builder,” constantly invoked in Web3, crypto, and VC circles: the iconoclastic technologist seeking to free himself from the stultifying big business and create a new world. -change of product. Bitcoin-loving Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who not-so-subtly hinted at his presidential ambitions at the conference, all but begged them to come to his city from the stage last week.

This new iteration of the “builder” policy it’s a twist on the lone heroes of Ayn Rand, the libertarian author many of these thinkers still revere. This generation intends to look beyond individual achievements and take responsibility for shaping American civic life amid the country’s deindustrialization and unresolved consequences, as well as its heated competition with China.

“The old way of thinking about open markets and free markets: Not to say those things don’t matter, but they’re taking a backseat to more national concerns,” tech researcher Will Rinehart told me. “There seems to be a renewed optimism, but there is also a more realistic understanding of the threats that exist.”

That mindset is perfectly encapsulated in a recent high-profile project by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, the project boldly titled “American Dynamism,” which aims to build “companies that transcend verticals and business models in their quest to solve important national issues” and than “viewing government as a key customer, competitor, or stakeholder.”

But for all the enthusiasm among these young and deeply ambitious “builders,” there are still some somewhat messy impediments to construction. For those in politics, there are simple political realities, such as what the Republican base really looks for in a candidate. That tension is evident in the Senate campaign of Masters, Peter Thiel’s protégé who would otherwise theoretically fit neatly into this paradigm but is instead running a caustic and pessimistic campaign aimed at currying favor with pessimistic voters in Trump.

And, of course, there is one of the oldest challenges in business, politics, or just about any other walk of life: The old guard that “built” the world as it is today is not planning to leave, and might be even less likely to leave. Let them wait for them to change their attitude before.

In this case, the “old guard” means people with money. – and most of the party that most of these thinkers see as their political home.

“Younger intellectual activists are working for positive new agendas wherever they can find them, but donors aren’t really that excited about it,” Kerin said. “There’s also all the confusion around the Trump phenomenon, and a lot of people think the biggest problem is fighting in the 2020 election.”

When it comes to the tech world itself, Kerin was equally cautious, positing that for the “builders” agenda to really take off, it might require something truly paradigm-breaking for the libertarian-leaning tech world: active help from the federal government. government.

“The problem that I don’t know if the VC world has really thought about is that with hard tech, in general, you’re never going to have the returns on paper that software has,” Kerin said, discussing his cautious optimism about the “American Dynamism Project.” “That’s where I think you’ll need more and more, and one can debate the details, but some kind of government policy support for these types of investments.”

Perhaps the most telling indicator of how uncomfortably the “builders'” agenda fits into the political status quo is the almost total lack of partisan rancor on display at the conference, even amid discussions of hot-button issues like China, politics of cryptocurrencies or state and local policies. governance. Despite the event’s right-leaning tenor, many panelists cautiously praised the Biden administration’s tough China policies, or the Democratic Congress’ heavy investment in research on its “Chips plus science” bill.

That could be both a blessing and a curse: the “builders” agenda may have broad support, but a limited audience among the power players who set the agendas of activists and parties, not to mention actual voters.

“[Reboot’s] the general approach is to identify things where partisanship is less of a problem, that are popular somewhere on the left but also some on the more populist right,” said Neil Chilton, former FTC chief technology officer and current researcher. major. Fellow of the Charles Koch Institute. “How well does that fit into a political environment where sometimes it’s better policy to cuss out your opponent than to work with them to get something done?”


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