Tech Policy Thoughts

Also: Cleveland, EDC, What I am Reading, and the Census

Lincoln Network Questions

The Lincoln Network — the center-right tech policy shop, not the closely-named boomer-friendly grifting media circus that covered up John Weaver’s creeping on young men — has dropped a job advertisement for a Head of Technology, Media, and Digital Free Expression. The gig looks really interesting and has a decent shot at defining how the non-“Burn it down” faction of the GOP talks about tech. Zach Graves posted about the screening questions on Twitter.

This interested me enough to click through to read them all despite the 1-2 punch of being drastically underqualified and leaving the country in less than a month. They are all interesting and thought-provoking questions. Since I am not going to apply, I think it would be fun to write up answers to each of them.


Can you tell us your 3 favorite U.S. presidents since 1900?

  • JFK: for triggering the Apollo missions and making sure that they were a priority up until his death. Lots of presidents have said that big things are possible. JFK was one of the few that also made them happen.

  • Carter: for having the most impact post-presidency of any president since Taft. He shows how the presidency can be more than an office but a lifetime vocation of service to the country and the world.

  • Ike: for founding the interstate highway system. The system has had some bad effects, but without it, we would be unable to cross the country in a reasonable amount of time on the ground. Ike also warned the country about the military-industrial complex, which feels truer by the year.


Which 3 factors do you believe were most important to Silicon Valley's success?

I am a strong believer in Paul Graham’s 2006 essay How To Be Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley happened because it had the unique mixture of wealthy people who didn’t know what to do with their money but wanted to spend it on something interesting and driven people who wanted to build something cool but needed cash. They found each other in New York City, the Bay Area, Seattle, and Boston.

What made Silicon Valley such a fruitful space was the agglomeration effects. By having several titans with a high churn in personnel, there were highly skilled workers who were willing to take risks at startups. This caused people to purposefully moved to the Bay Area to both looking for work in tech and look for tech workers. In a virtuous cycle, Silicon Valley made new millionaires who were interested in investing in other tech companies. Through all of this, it became the strongest place to work in tech, start a new business, and invest in the field.

The permissive regulations allow the wheel to spin in the first place, but the money + talent + agglomerations made it what it is today.


Tell us about a couple of your favorite books related to tech policy and how they shaped your worldview

The last policy books that I have enjoyed have been Ben Sasse’s The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance and Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal. Beyond those two, I find most policy books to be elongated from article-length to book-length with the sole purpose of charging people more for the same content. Take Matt Yglesias’s One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger. It is just a rehashing of his last several years of content. The new and interesting ideas are mostly on Substack and blog posts.


What are your 3 favorite publications (or individuals) for policy commentary and analysis?

Three is too few. Some of my favorites that should get more views are:

In general, if you are commentating on how moderation should happen on the internet, but you have never read any of the internal essays of the English Wikipedia, you are missing the largest and best trove of thinking on the subject.


What's your Tweet-length take on the House's investigation of "competition in digital markets" and approach to regulating big tech?

The House’s investigation is being pushed by tech companies who could not otherwise compete in the marketplace. Many of the “solutions” let the federal government pick and choose winners and losers based on the whims of whoever is in the White House. Markets need predictable policies to function well.


Which issues in platform governance policy are overrated, and which ones are underrated? This might include misinformation, Sec. 230, etc.

  • Misinformation is an overrated issue that nobody can define. It has turned into “things that I disagree with” instead of actual misinformation.

  • Deep fakes are underrated due to their ability to short circuit the “I saw it so it is true” part of the human brain.

  • Section 230 is rated perfectly in terms of how it allows the internet to do what it currently does. It is overrated in terms of what the populist-right thinks that reforming it will do. No 230 means no social media and more censorship, not less.

  • Intellectual property is the underrated issue that is stifling competition in silicon valley.

  • Broad non-compete and non-disclosure agreements are underrated in terms of how they stifle competition on the labor side.

  • The idea that platforms can go full First Amendment only is an overrated idea. Eliezer Yudkowsky hit the nail on the head in his 2009 article Well-Kept Gardens Die By Pacifism. People need to think an online space is fun and/or productive to spend time there. By taking a laissez-faire moderation policy, a platform pretty much limits itself to 15-25-year-old men. Even 4chan’s infamous /b/ board has more rules than “must not be illegal” to make the experience of using 4chan a positive one. The internet needs moderation.

  • Attacks on encryption to soothe the fears of the ex-prosecutors who are overrepresented in politics (by using the four horsemen) that is underrated in terms of the damage that it will cause.


You rub an old lamp in Rayburn, and a genie comes out. To thank you for its freedom, the genie will help you enact any tech policy bill you write. What will you do?

A complete overhaul of Intellectual Property law that is not a captured process by Disney, the RIAA, Google, etc.

For example, in our current system trademarks are used in place of design patents, like this, to create perpetual monopolies on a design of a useful object. Copyright should probably be shorter. Computer code should probably be subject to either patent or copyright protection, not both. The edges of Feist Publications, Inc., v. Rural Telephone Service Co. should be clarified by law instead of just by judicial decision. Anti-trust should be used to disallow companies from assembling pools of IP to keep competitors out of the industry. Patent trolls should be crushed.


Tell us about a policy issue that will be important for the creator economy (e.g. YouTube/Substack)?

Taxes. The creator economy sounds great until you realize that each creator is a small business. This means that each creator’s tax situation becomes much more complex the moment they start making income on it and then need an accountant to make sense of what is going on. Small businesses that gross under $100,000 in receipts should have a simplified tax regime that an individual owners can realistically navigate themselves.


Cleveland

I made this map for Twitter to explain how Turner did the best in gentrified neighborhoods of Cleveland, but it never made its way to substack. So, here it is.


EDC

I went over my everyday carry in April, but I have an updated picture and some new choices

Pictured are:

  • Google Pixel 4A

  • Leatherman Skeletool

  • Marathon GPM

  • Business card case with cards

  • Keys with Google Titan

  • Herschel slim wallet

  • Cloth mask

  • GearLight M3

  • Bose noise-canceling headphones


What I am reading

I have a bad habit of keeping far too many tabs open on my browser of things I find interesting. Here is a taste of what I am currently reading and watching:

  • Contrapoint’s feature-length video (1h 45m) on envy is required watching if you spend too much time on social media. Her explanation of how envy fuels everything from the takedown of celebrities to utopian political movements was enlightening.

  • The March 26, 1997, Red Wings-Avalanche brawl is one of my favorite events in hockey history. It has everything: enforcers, goalies fighting, Brendan Shanahan, and 22 penalty minutes for the whole event. SportsNet’s inanity ranking of everyone involved is a perfect article about a crazy event.

  • Social class is an icky subject in the United States. Alex Danco’s explanation of class using The Office is a nuanced description of the way American society is organized.

  • The right in the United States is currently in the middle of a love affair with Hungarian strong man Viktor Orbán. Matt Yglesias’s explanation of why Tucker Carlson and Rod Dreher are embracing Orbán and how it is a dead-end was a fun read.

  • I am wedding planning with my wife (oh, COIVD) and I have found Jesse Thorn’s articles What Should I Wear For My Wedding? and Q And Answer: What To Wear As A Wedding Guest and Derek Guy’s article Tips For Buying A Wedding Suit to be very helpful when thinking about what my groomsmen and I should wear.

  • We the Web Kids is still a tour de force when thinking about how millennials think about the internet.


Census

The first wave of census data came out a week ago. I wrote up a quick article about some of my first impressions from playing with the data on Tuesday for subscribers. Another article using the census data will come out this upcoming Tuesday for subscribers.

Maps for the Getaway
First Look at the 2020 Census Data
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