With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

The Last Days of the Tech Emperors?

Despite its techno-libertarian image, the tech industry has had close political ties for decades and remarkable success in getting what it wants.

In the late 1970s, venture capitalists and semiconductor chief executives got Capitol Hill and the Carter White House to agree to tax cuts and looser financial regulations. In the 1980s, a group of young legislators became such boosters of the industry that they were known as “Atari Democrats.” Ronald Reagan extolled Silicon Valley entrepreneurship and helped tech companies fend off Japanese competition.

The bipartisan love affair intensified in the 1990s as Bill Clinton and Al Gore invited tech executives to shape early internet-era policymaking. Newt Gingrich, then the Republican speaker of the House, talked up cyberspace and formed close alliances with libertarian-minded tech thinkers. His party’s leaders convened “high-tech summits” on Capitol Hill.

The lightly regulated online economy we have today is a product of that decade, when Silicon Valley leaders persuaded starry-eyed lawmakers that young, scrappy internet companies could regulate themselves.

Washington’s embrace of tech continued even as questions emerged about the industry’s wealth and power. A 2013 Senate hearing to interrogate Mr. Cook about Apple’s tax avoidance quickly was sidetracked by lawmakers gushing to the chief executive about his company’s innovative products. Mr. Pichai faced tough questions at a 2018 House Judiciary hearing, but also was showered with praise.

“Google is still the story of the American dream,” declared Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, the committee’s chairman at the time.

Those days seemed a dim memory Wednesday. Instead, the mood recalled the traffic safety debates of the mid-1960s that helped catalyze significantly more regulation for the auto industry. After a steady drumbeat of studies and some short-lived congressional inquiries, traffic safety exploded into the public consciousness starting with Senate hearings in the summer of 1965, where top auto executives faced sharp questions about their lax approach to safety.

Read entire article at New York Times