Trump, Silicon Valley's tech titans share more goals than you think
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When executives from Silicon Valley technology companies, representing more than $2.9 trillion in market value, visited Trump Tower on Wednesday, the room was filled with not a little tension.

Nearly all the executives had supported Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGillibrand urges opposition to Kavanaugh: Fight for abortion rights 'is now or never' Bannon announces pro-Trump movie, operation team ahead of midterms: report Fox News host hits Giuliani: Dossier isn't why Mueller probe was started MORE, and a few had condemned Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGillibrand urges opposition to Kavanaugh: Fight for abortion rights 'is now or never' Trump claims tariffs on foreign nations will rescue US steel industry: report Bannon announces pro-Trump movie, operation team ahead of midterms: report MORE. The president-elect, meanwhile, had singled out at least one of the firms for ridicule and questioned some of their most cherished beliefs — on immigration, trade, and multiculturalism, for example.

The meeting appeared to go just fine, however, and I suspect that in the end Trump and the Techies will learn a lot from each other, for the country’s great benefit.

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The Silicon Valley executives and Trump are all “builders,” as Peter Thiel, the meeting’s key liaison, noted at the Republican National Convention last summer. If each side looks toward building the future, instead of litigating the past, they can become better than either would be alone.

 

The tech firms may learn from Trump — or at least appreciate more fully — that there really are many industries and regions of the country that have been left behind as Silicon Valley and Wall Street surge ahead. And further, that millions of Americans who voted for political change are also open to the type of change in which Silicon Valley is the unrivaled expert.

Trump may learn that the technology firms, who at first glance have little to do with the industrial economy, will in fact play a central role in transforming and reviving the physical economy in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

For it is information technology that will power the Internet of Things, connected cars, smart infrastructure, additive 3D manufacturing, and revolutions in health care, energy, and education.

Silicon Valley might come to appreciate an administration that doesn’t strangle public financing markets with rules and costs that discourage initial public offerings (IPOs), or for that matter block other innovations in biotech, fintech, transportation, and health.

Trump, in turn, might learn about the complexity and necessity of integrated global supply-chains, the importance of cross-border data flows, the positive-sum virtues of free and open trade, and the heroic achievements of immigrant technologists and entrepreneurs, who create far more jobs than they could ever take.

(Technology, by the way, has been a job-creator, not a destroyer. Digital industries have added more jobs than physical industries. Even in manufacturing, automation often makes retaining jobs in the U.S. possible, while the failure to automate is the surest path to offshoring.)

Silicon Valley might learn that a unified government can get big things done. Trump and a Republican Congress, for example, may finally achieve a long-overdue reform of the corporate tax code.

Today’s tax code forces the firms in that Trump Tower room to keep hundreds of billions of dollars overseas, instead of investing those foreign earnings back in America. The firms have been urging Washington to do something for years, and it now looks like tax reform will top the 2017 agenda.

I believe Silicon Valley and Trump can also find common ground on infrastructure.

One of the biggest infrastructure projects of the next decade will be a sprawling new 5G wireless network that will serve not only the floods of 4K video and virtual reality, and not just as a competitive residential broadband offering, but also as a foundational platform for the entire economy, from autonomous vehicles to smart manufacturing and from biosensing to augmented reality education.

Silicon Valley has probably already learned that regulating the Internet, as they urged and President Obama and the Federal Communications Commission delivered in 2015, wasn’t such a hot idea.

And that a return to the previous policy of Internet openness and freedom, as Republicans have pledged, was in Silicon Valley’s best interests all along. This new policy will only encourage the tens of billions of dollars in new investments necessary to build a 5G infrastructure that can deliver Silicon Valley’s onrush of new content, apps, and cloud services.

If Trump is to get an economic revival, full of higher-paying jobs across the breadth of the nation, the technology industry will almost certainly be the most important factor in achieving it.

But Silicon Valley may be surprised to learn that Trump could be a champion in helping them achieve their goals, too.

Bret Swanson is president of the technology research firm Entropy Economics LLC and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute’s Center for Internet, Communications, and Technology Policy.


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