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Silicon Valley Lobbying

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Dayen warns us about the influence of Silicon Valley over the Clinton campaign, a lobbying campaign with a real impact on the American people. I assume there’s nothing in here that could also not be applied to its lobbying effort with Republicans, although I suppose there is a comfort among some parts of Silicon Valley with a Hillary Clinton that there’s not for some Republicans.

Clinton lined up over 100 industry advisors to help design a tech and telecommunications policy “that echoes many of Silicon Valley’s top priorities.” This collaboration between government and business at the highest echelons, precisely what has so many Americans angered by corporate-written trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is nothing new; Obama’s administration is fully tied up with Google, for example. And some of the policy ideas, like ending the predominance of “patent trolls” that use the legal system to make money off other’s inventions, are first-rate. But others are clearly meant to benefit Silicon Valley at the expense of the nation.

For example, there’s the section on “setting rules of the road to promote innovation.” This prioritizes reducing regulatory barriers, whatever they may be, to bringing new products to market. To the extent this tears down incumbency protection and opens markets, that’s a good thing; to the extent it simply transfers old incumbent power to new incumbents who will throw up the drawbridge once they acquire power, it’s very dangerous.

Then there’s the fact that local regulations often are in place for a good reason. Allowing Airbnb to violate laws against effectively running hotels without paying the transient occupancy tax does no city any good. Allowing Uber and Lyft to acquire a monopoly in not just taxicabs, but the public provision of transit services only courts disaster once prices rise and costs shift to the individual or municipality. The libertarian streak of the tech sector is replicated in Clinton’s “disruptive economy working group,” coming up with policies benefiting companies like Uber that are battling local regulators.

Even policies like the Obama administration’s order ending the cable industry’s monopoly on set-top boxes, noble as it looks at first glance, creates a clear winner in Google. Clinton may sound welcoming in preserving high-skill immigration through the H1-B visa program, but that’s almost entirely a priority of Silicon Valley. And an agenda to crack down on banks through competition may bear fruit; the financial technology (or fintech) companies circling the sector certainly hope so.

The root of this tech policy advisory team is to carry out that now-mocked slogan of making the world a better place. As spokesman Tyrone Gayle told Politico, Clinton “will reach out to the tech community to partner with them, and bring the best of their ideas to Washington to help develop public policy that will lead to broad-based growth, reduce social and economic inequality, and secure American leadership on the global stage.”

The problem is that Clinton cannot just be a partner with an entire business sector. As head of the executive branch she also directs their regulators. She must protect consumers and small businesses and the broadly diverse economy. When you treat private enterprise like a working partner, and begin to rely on it, trouble can ensue. Almost imperceptibly, governments can get lenient on their partners when they engage in questionable practices.

It’s a concern, no doubt, as it has been with the Obama administration.

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