Technology

A Tech Agenda for the Trump Administration

How Donald Trump can make America innovate again

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Roland Weihrauch/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

A new president-elect is here again, and as usual, not everyone is happy about their fellow countrymen's choice. Among these mourners is most of Silicon Valley, which some estimates suggest sent Hillary Clinton 60 times the campaign donations given to her rival Donald Trump.

It's easy to see why most technologists—Peter Thiel (as usual) excluded—preemptively favored the prospect of a Clinton presidency, what with her decades of government experience, tailored technology platform, and close relationships with Silicon Valley executives. But technology policy does not have to be a partisan battlefield. If President-elect Trump is serious about "Making America Great Again," one of his first priorities should be to implement policies that will make America innovate again. Below are a few tech-policy ideas that people from all kinds of political backgrounds could benefit from and get behind.

Ditch precautionary regulation and embrace permissionless innovation

The Nobel prize-winning economist Robert Lucas famously said that "Once you start thinking about growth, it's hard to think about anything else." A one percent difference in annual GDP growth can mean the difference between widespread prosperity and continued stagnation over the course of a decade. And one of the best ways to encourage growth is to encourage innovation.

It's no secret that regulation kills innovation. But few people realize just how over-regulated Americans actually are. A recent study by my colleagues at the Mercatus Center estimates that our major mess of federal regulations has depressed annual economic growth by around 0.8 percent. Who knows what kind of quality-of-life improvements we could have been enjoying right now without such sabotage? Perhaps we could have been Tweeting from our flying cars. But alas, such lost wonders are unseen, and therefore go unmourned.

Modern regulations are so harmful for growth because of their prohibitory nature. Many policies are guided by an outdated risk-management concept called the "precautionary principle." This approach dictates that certain economic activities should be discouraged or even banned altogether if policymakers deem them to be too risky. But if you cut off all risks, you cut off many rewards. For example, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations rob severely ill people of the option to pursue experimental drug treatments. Federal Aviation Administration rules for commercial drone far overestimate the risk of collision, thereby pushing the most promising applications to other countries (Amazon is currently testing drone delivery in the UK because their rules are more accommodating than ours). And the list goes on and on.

To promote innovation and growth, the Trump administration should embrace what my colleague Adam Thierer calls "a culture of permissionless innovation." Entrepreneurs should not be required to ask for permission to innovate from skeptical bureaucrats. They should be free to experiment and even fail without preemptive interference. Where risks do prove to be uniquely damaging to the public, common law norms or smart regulations could be appropriate to address them—but this should be one of the last remedies, not a knee-jerk reaction.

Limiting our economic activities means limiting our human possibilities. As a businessman, Donald Trump was notorious for taking big risks and reaping big rewards. As a president, Donald Trump should allow and encourage the rest of America to do the same.

Get serious about "the cyber"

Trump was not exactly a brilliant paragon of cutting-edge cybersecurity policy on the campaign trail. The few times that he did bring it up, it was largely to attack Hillary Clinton for her own lax security with her personal email server, or to issue vague platitudes about how a Trump administration would be great at "the cyber." But if President Trump follows through on his promise to bring in the "best and brightest people" to advise his administration, his cybersecurity positions will hopefully change for the better.

One of the most important things Trump should do is focus on strengthening information security in the federal government. Federal cybersecurity is so weak, it's laughable; the total number of reported federal information security failures has increased by an astounding 1,169 percent since 2006, with many of these incidents involving the personal data of federal employees and citizens. But throwing money at the problem and creating new departments hasn't fixed anything. Reports from agency inspectors general routinely find that federal employees fail to follow security guidelines required by the Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA), yet enjoy increased security funding all the same.

This is not only a failure of good governance, it creates a horrible example for the rest of the country to follow. There is much innovation to be made in the area of information security, yet the U.S. government continues to lag rather than lead.

To actually improve federal cybersecurity, President Trump will need to hold agencies accountable for failing to implement basic security practices like good password management, device and communication encryption, and multifactor authentication. The era of getting more funding and creating new offices no matter how bad an agency failed at security must come to an end.

And Trump should be sure to invest in security personnel as well. Good security professionals are paid handsomely in the private sector, not so much on the federal level. To attract the best talent, government wages must be competitive. There's no need to go into debt for this, either: Funds that are saved from wasteful and unsuccessful FISMA spending can go to information security salaries instead.

There's much that the federal government can do to improve national cybersecurity more generally, as well, such as supporting and promoting strong encryption techniques, reforming laws that chill security research (such as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act), and supporting education and awareness campaigns for individuals and corporations. But first, the government must lead by example. The feds need to get their own house in order before they can hope to be successful in fixing America's cybersecurity as a whole.

Make America meritocratic again

A nation is not its government; a nation is its people. And a nation cannot be great if its government does not allow its people to experiment, fail, and eventually triumph over adversity. Nor can a nation be great if it prohibits its best and brightest from freely pursuing their own fortunes, or if it prevents the best and brightest in other countries from working with us to create something great.

As Robby Soave has argued, Trump won in no small part due to his unambiguous condemnation of toxic "political correctness." Americans are sick and tired of being harangued by an assortment of identity groups that demand submission according to certain unchosen characteristics rather than revealed outcomes. And this kind of anti-American bigotry extends far beyond American college campuses. In Silicon Valley, if a startup or project is deemed to be "too male," "too white," or even "too Asian," it can become the target of ongoing external critique and subversion. Entrepreneurs are cajoled to change their focus from making the best product possible to wasting money and time on "diversity initiatives" that fail at everything but, perhaps, ameliorating bruised egos. And the threat of discrimination lawsuits are a constant albatross around founders' and venture-capitalists' necks.

Reasonable people can debate whether or what kind of intervention may be appropriate to engineer a particular desired social outcome in the tech sector. But the troubling anti-innovation undercurrent in the technology scene extends far beyond clumsily trying and failing to give protected groups a hand up; the very idea of meritocracy has been under absurd attack. Ironically, this often ends up hurting the groups that activists purport to want to help. And in the meantime, this web of cultural and litigious threats serves to slow innovation and progress. To change the culture of technology for the better, President Trump should foster America's tradition of meritocracy and expand opportunity for all.

We must also make it easier to bring the best technology talent to America. This country boasts some of the most successful technology companies in the world in part because of our relatively hands-off policies. But there are plenty of places in the world where this is not the case, and where there is talent that is just itching to move to a more innovation-friendly country. Take Europe as an example: These countries are among the most developed in the world, with cutting-edge research universities and an impressively educated population, but how many successful European technology companies can you name off the top of your head? (Yes, Rovio technically counts.)

Trump talked a lot about his big, beautiful wall, but he also said something about a big, beautiful door. Fast-tracking high-skill immigration from countries like these is a no-brainer to boost innovation that everyone can get behind.

This is just the beginning

There is a lot of low-hanging fruit to be gleaned from smart technology policies. This is just a start. (For more pro-innovation policy ideas, see the tech policy agenda that my colleague Eli Dourado put together.)

In terms of a tech-policy vision going forward, President Trump should take a cue from one of his most famous and unexpected supporters (and a major innovator in his own right): Peter Thiel. As Thiel describes in his book Zero to One, he made his fortunes largely by eschewing chasing the trends of the crowd and instead finding ways to do something new better than anyone else.

Trump has already disrupted the way that we do politics. But to make lasting change for the better, he should disrupt the outdated ways that we have done technology policy as well.

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29 responses to “A Tech Agenda for the Trump Administration

  1. “And it’s easy to see why most major technologists?Peter Thiel excluded?preemptively favored the prospect of a Clinton presidency, writes Andrea O’Sullivan.”

    More opportunities for email server security contracts?

  2. Ron, Trump has been beating the ‘cut regulations’ drum for quite some time now. ‘By 70%’ is the number I remember but I could be wrong. That number seems a little unrealistic to me, but then his chances of winning seemed unrealistic too, so who knows? Maybe he could pull it off. Any success he has with regards to this would be a godsend.

    This mostly fell on deaf ears.

    “It’s easy to see why most technologists?Peter Thiel (as usual) excluded?preemptively favored the prospect of a Clinton presidency, what with her decades of government experience, tailored technology platform, and close relationships with Silicon Valley executives. ”

    I think it is primarily the close relationships part and the government subsidies that go along with that that is the key here. Call it what it is – corruption. She was in their pocket.

    1. 70% reduction is almost trivial to accomplish. Eliminate the Department of education, replace the income tax with a consumption tax, and finally get rid of all federal documents relating to “-american” things, and/or references to people groups like sex, race, religion. Govern based on the constitution, and treat all citizens alike, and you will be at or past a 70% reduction in no time.

      1. If you pared down to the condtitutional mandate of the government, you wouldn’t need to replace the income tax at all, it could be jettissoned.

      2. Agreed Longtobefree. I know what the things are that need to be done. Easy to say, maybe not so easy to do.

    2. According to his plan for his first 100 days in office he wants to implement a policy that for every new fedgov regulation that two existing regulations must be retired. That sounds easy, but will probably be difficult to implement. He will need people with granular familiarity with the regulations of the various departments and agencies – asking career bureaucrats to identify regulations to be retired is not a good idea as those people’s jobs depend on regulating stuff.

      Closing whole departments, like Education, would require the cooperation of congress.

    3. A Tech Agenda for the Trump Administration
      How Donald Trump can make America innovate again

      Andrea O’Sullivan | November 15, 2016

      Dave’s Ron’s not here, man.

      I know, I know… reading (especially the by line) is for FAGZ.

    4. “Close relationship” = protection racket.

  3. And it’s easy to see why most major technologists?Peter Thiel excluded?preemptively favored the prospect of a Clinton presidency, writes Andrea O’Sullivan. Clinton has decades of government experience, tailored technology platform, and close relationships with Silicon Valley executives.

    Decades of government experience so she knows which levers to pull to threaten them with, a technology ‘platform’ that is completely out of touch with reality – like former GM head Bob Lutz still thinking automated cars will require significant government infrastructure spending – to threaten them with, and a close relationship with SV execs who were buying her off so that she’d leave them alone to do what they do best.

    1. A ‘tailored technology platform’. Yeah, ‘the internet is a series of tubes’ guy had a tailored technology platform also. Doesn’t mean he knew jack shit about what he was legislating on.

  4. This is not only a failure of good governance….

    I guess that depends on how you define “good”. It’s a pretty sweet gig for the insiders, ain’t it?

    Reminds me of how Neal Boortz would regularly criticize the public school system, as if the US doesn’t have the finest public school system in the world. Tons of money and lots of good-paying jobs for bureaucrats and administrators and teachers and yet they turn out a shitty product – and the fact that they deliver a shitty product is successfully used as an argument for why they need even more money, more bureaucrats, more administrators, more teachers. What other business can you name where failure to deliver the goods leads to their customers demanding the business raise their prices? See, the scam works as long as you fall for the false premise that the purpose of the public education system is to educate children. It’s not – the purpose of any system is to perpetuate itself.

    Silicon Valley may foster innovation, but the minute an innovator becomes successful he stops becoming an innovator and becomes the staunchest defender of the status quo. He’s no longer developing a system, he has a system – and the purpose of any system is to perpetuate itself.

    1. What other business can you name where failure to deliver the goods leads to their customers demanding the business raise their prices?

      Brilliant. I’m stealing that.

    2. a great example of innovators becoming statist just look at apple all they do anymore is make existing programs harder to use by adding more buttons to click to get the same job done. so what does it do petition the government to get thier computers in schools. government contracts always solve business problems

      1. Apple has become more lumbering and definitely talks like a left wing ideologue, but they are perhaps the most ardently and consistently protective of users’ privacy of any company – technology or otherwise.

        What other company has (or would) sue the government to fight opening the cell phone of a terrorist to ensure integrity of the rest of their users in future?

    3. When my son was in high school he had to attend a formal government meeting for one of his classes so he chose the school board. At the meeting my son and I heard a report stating that there was no additional money available for reading programs because the district’s reading scores were “too high”. In all seriousness a school board member asked “Is there any money available for districts that don’t screw up?”

      It’s not an accident that my son has voted libertarian in the last few elections.

  5. But technology policy does not have to be a partisan battlefield. If President-elect Trump is serious about “Making America Great Again,” one of his first priorities should be to implement policies that will make America innovate again.

    1. That’s not a policy. That’s an absence of a policy. I agree with it, but its just not doing anything.

    2. No, don’t ‘get serious about the cyber’. Leave the cyber to the people who know what they’re doing. Die Hard 4 was not a documentary.

    3. Is, again, just leaving people alone.

    So basically, the ideal ‘tailored technology platform’ is the same as the ideal ‘trade agreement’ – get the hell out of the way and let people do their own thing.

  6. Speaking of Big Government:

    Trump has a website where they are asking people to submit applications to be part of his administration.
    I did it just for a laugh.

    They want a CV, basic cover letter, etc.

    There are lists so you can click what area you would like to be considered for.

    Looking at the list of agencies and commissions that fall under the President’s administration… Holy shit… 90% could be cut before you even start making cuts.

    1. I can hear the howling of my social circles now were I to merely claim to have applied for a posting with the Trump Administration…

      😀

      1. I clicked on “criminal justice”, “drug policy”, “mexican ass sex”. You know, the usual libertarian grab bag.

  7. …the total number of reported federal information security failures has increased by an astounding 1,169 percent since 2006, with many of these incidents involving the personal data of federal employees and citizens. But throwing money at the problem and creating new departments hasn’t fixed anything. Reports from agency inspectors general routinely find that federal employees fail to follow security guidelines required by the Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA), yet enjoy increased security funding all the same.

    So they’re lazy and incompetent, yet their laziness and incompetence get rewarded with an increased budget. Gee, what a shock.

  8. This article seems heavily biased towards the optimistic notion that (software) technology === innovation. IKEA and Lego are big European innovators but they don’t count because technology. Moreover, we count absolute flops (Groupon, Vine) and ‘also ran’s (Twitter) as successes in American innovation despite them being unused or unprofitable.

  9. RE: A Tech Agenda for the Trump Administration
    How Donald Trump can make America innovate again

    Make America innovate again?
    How about reducing (if not eliminating) the corporate tax down to one percent.
    How about eliminate the income tax and replace it with a fair tax?
    How about eliminating the job killing EPA?
    Oh, wait.
    Those are all good ideas.
    Trump will implement any of them.
    No republican is smart enough to do that.

  10. Consumption taxes can be as dangerous as income taxes when the fights over exemptions begins.

    First the farmers “Food is too important to tax. Do you want children to starve?”

    Then the energy companies “Fuel oil shouldn’t be taxed. Do you want children to freeze to death?”

    Then the taxes explode on everything not represented on “K” Street.

  11. As a businessman, Scrooge McDuck was notorious for taking big risks and reaping big rewards. As a president, Scrooge McDuck should allow and encourage the rest of America to do the same.

    Automatic word replacement is fantastic.

  12. until I looked at the paycheck saying $4730 , I did not believe that…my… brother woz like actualy bringing in money part time from there computar. . there friend brother started doing this for less than 7 months and resently paid for the morgage on there home and bought a new Cadillac …….

    >>>>>>>>>http://www.centerpay70.com

  13. He could stay out of the way. That would be good. I think he should do that. Can I be science and technology czar?

  14. until I looked at the paycheck saying $4730 , I did not believe that…my… brother woz like actualy bringing in money part time from there computar. . there friend brother started doing this for less than 7 months and resently paid for the morgage on there home and bought a new Cadillac …….

    >>>>>>>>>http://www.centerpay70.com

  15. until I looked at the paycheck saying $4730 , I did not believe that…my… brother woz like actualy bringing in money part time from there computar. . there friend brother started doing this for less than 7 months and resently paid for the morgage on there home and bought a new Cadillac …….

    >>>>>>>>> http://www.centerpay70.com

  16. until I looked at the paycheck saying $4730 , I did not believe that…my… brother woz like actualy bringing in money part time from there computar. . there friend brother started doing this for less than 7 months and resently paid for the morgage on there home and bought a new Cadillac …….

    >>>>>>>>>http://www.centerpay70.com

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