The rapid dimming of the bright hopes of the 1990s that a tech boom would create a new era of broad-based income gains for all Americans is an issue that has been simmering in the background of economic policy debates for quite some time. As the New America Foundation’s Barry Lynn notes at the beginning of his wide-ranging piece on “techno-malaise” in the July/August issue of the Washington Monthly, discussions of this subject usually pit equally pessimistic neo-Luddites who think technological change dooms disadvantaged elements of the population and those who believe we additional big bursts of change to improve productivity in a wave that lifts all boats.
But Lynn argues there is a more positive solution based on reviving an old American tradition of progressive challenges to economic monopolies: aggressive antitrust actions in the technology area combined with patent reform and a new international regime for regulating global enterprises. Here’s how Lynn summaries the stakes involved:
Today, in almost every key technological sector in America—including electronics, software, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and the Internet—standardization is determined and enforced by private actors for private profit. The result is not merely to leave the decision about what technologies to deploy and under what terms in the hands of private corporate governments; it is also to force all of our scientists and engineers to goose-step down particular technological pathways.
Do nothing, and we will get the future they want, as fast as they want it, at the price they set.
Read the whole thing. Tomorrow we’ll have a response from the Progressive Policy Institute’s Michael Mandel to discuss.