When I learned that Oculus founder Palmer Luckey had financially supported an organization dedicated to “shitposting” pro-Trump memes, I felt like a friend had just revealed that his favorite band was Insane Clown Posse. I wasn’t outraged, I was just sort of perplexed and wondered if this was a joke.
I try to avoid, as much as possible, the snarling and teeth gnashing that happens on social media when revelations of this sort come to light. If you want ridicule and invective at Palmer Luckey, there are plenty of places online that will sate your appetite. I happen to believe that the First Amendment of the Constitution applies even to ill-informed douchebags.
I got to thinking though, about Facebook’s bottom line. How would Facebook fare under a Trump presidency versus a Clinton presidency? Under which administration would a nimble rich guy like Palmer Luckey stand to make more money?
I decided to compare the technology policies of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to determine who would provide a more favorable regulatory climate for companies like Oculus/Facebook. I reviewed these policies as best I could while trying to adopt the mindset of somebody who’s only thinking about developing next-generation VR tech and maximizing units sold.
I started by reading all 7,218 words of Hillary Clinton’s Initiative on Technology and Innovation, which is available on her official campaign website.
The document lays out a technology policy that addresses computer science education, net neutrality, immigration for foreign technology workers, patent law, and Internet governance, among other subjects. It articulates a position in support of privacy and innovation, and criticizes the federal government’s out-of-date tech, specifically its websites. It advocates an open Internet and encourages wider adoption of broadband.
What if I were an innovator like Luckey? What would I find in this document that would speak to me?
Well, there’s this:
We must position American innovators to lead the world in the next generation of technology revolutions –from autonomous vehicles to machine learning to public service blockchain applications –and we must defend universal access to the global, digital marketplace of ideas.
After I looked up what “public service blockchain applications” meant, I continued reading and found Hillary’s pro-innovation assertion backed up with concrete policy ideas, such as reducing excessive patent litigation by targeting “frivolous suits by patent trolls.” I’d imagine that the inventor of the Oculus Rift would approve of such a policy.
In his response to recent week’s news, Luckey stated that he is a libertarian who intends to vote for Gary Johnson. What is the get-your-government-hands-off-my-business libertarian position on technology policy? Something like this, perhaps:
…internet governance – the coordination of the technical systems that allow the internet to function seamlessly across the globe – should be left to the global community of engineers, companies, civil society groups, and internet users, and not to governments.
It is no coincidence that the unprecedented innovation and entrepreneurship the Internet has allowed and the resulting improvements to our daily lives have happened largely without interference from the government.
The first example above is from Hillary Clinton’s technology policy. The second example is from Gary Johnson’s website. On the issue that one would expect to have the most direct effect on the daily life of libertarian Palmer Luckey, Hillary Clinton’s and Gary Johnson’s positions are nearly identical.
Hillary’s policy goes further, demonstrating a grasp of the issues that the libertarian candidate can’t or won’t match:
That is why as Secretary of State she championed the “multistakeholder approach” to internet governance and vigorously fought back against efforts by national governments to control the internet through government-led multilateral organizations, such as the International Telecommunications Union. She supports the Department of Commerce’s plans to formally transition its oversight role in the management of the Domain Name System to the global community of stakeholders, viewing the transition as a critical step towards safeguarding the internet’s openness for future generations. She will continue to fight to defend the internet from government takeover and to empower those internet governance organizations that advance internet openness, freedom, and technical innovation.
So what about Trump’s technology policies?
I honestly imagined, when sitting down to write this post, that I would have two tabs open, one for Hillary’s tech policy document, and one for Trump’s. Silly me, I assumed that Donald Trump even had a technology policy document.
The first two pages of Google results for the search “Trump technology policy” yielded stories with headlines like “Why Silicon Valley is Scared of Donald Trump,” “Peter Thiel’s Embrace of Trump Has Silicon Valley Squirming,” and “Donald Trump Worries Google, Apple, and the Whole Tech Industry.” I dug deeper, ending up at Trump’s official campaign page, where I didn’t find technology mentioned anywhere in the items listed under the drop-down menu “positions.” At the moment I was about to give up, I spotted “issues” in the higher-up nav bar. Clicking “issues” led me to a page of eighteen embedded videos, all of which feature variations of Trump, frozen mid-word, his lips puckered, his hands splayed out in one of his signature gestures.
I watched the videos. The one, I suppose, that was closest to technology, subject matter-wise, was titled “Jobs.” This one was subtitled “I will be the greatest job-producing president in American history” (Take that, FDR!)
In the clip, Trump says, “One of the things I’m most proud about is that I create jobs. Over the years, tens of thousands of jobs for our country. And I’ll do that for you. I will tell you this, and I can say it with certainty, I will be the greatest jobs-producing president God ever created.”
Then Trump cleared his throat, assumed a more serious expression, and promised to “leverage technology to create good-paying jobs on Main Street—through new commitments in computer science and STEM education, support for entrepreneurial ecosystems, and other policies to build the human capital pipeline.”
Just kidding. That was Hillary.
Is Hillary Clinton’s record on technology perfect? Hardly. There is, of course, the matter of her emails. And recently I talked to a AAA game designer who still bristled over Hillary’s sponsorship, with Joe Leiberman, of 2005’s ill-conceived Family Entertainment Protection Act. This was the same kind of moralistic, do-gooder legislation targeting an entertainment industry that Tipper Gore advocated after she freaked out over Purple Rain and founded the Parent’s Music Resource Center in the eighties. I remember Bill “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Clinton making similar disappointing gestures toward conservative moralism in order to align himself more with the political center.
But all things considered, there really is no question of who has the better technology policy. The differences between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on technology are akin to the differences between streaming media and a misspelled ransom note scrawled on a discarded pizza box.
Look, I’ve never been a billionaire, but I was twenty-four once, too. And maybe I didn’t fund a conservative smear group that erects billboards fat-shaming a former Secretary of State, but I did buy a Limp Bizkit album one time. I’ll own that. We’re all idiots at one point or another. Palmer’s miscalculation wasn’t to throw money at a racist blowhard–as an American it’s his right to shitpost. His miscalculation was that, in the end, his political leanings run counter to his own self interest. The candidate he opposes would provide him with an economic environment in which he could make some serious bank, while the candidate whose shitposts he bankrolled would endanger the economy that made him a nimble, if not particularly thoughtful, rich man.
I imagine that a Trump presidency would be one during which fewer consumers could afford shelling out hundreds of dollars for the latest Oculus device, tech talent from overseas would be held back at the border, and opportunities for gifted amateurs tinkering in garages would evaporate.
Hillary wants to do away with regulations that stifle innovation, protect inventors’ ideas, put Internet governance in the hands of those who understand it best, and make it easier for entrepreneurs to profit from their work.
Let’s just put it this way. It’s Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, who has a plan for inventors like Palmer Luckey to succeed.