Libertarians have a tech problem.
Although many stalwarts of the “digerati,” such as Peter Thiel and Marc Andreessen, have publicly declared their sympathies for libertarian ideas, libertarians have largely failed to capture the attention of Silicon Valley. And Silicon Valley has in turn failed to capture the attention of libertarians. The reason for this east-west coast divide is multi-pronged.
On the one hand, west coast libertarians are doers. These are the tinkerers, hobbyists, entrepreneurs, and generally non- or less-political libertarian types. The gamut of education ranges from self-taught high school dropouts to Ivy League valedictorians; they can be both graduates (like the aforementioned Thiel) and dropouts (such as Elizabeth Holmes, another billionaire tech entrepreneur) of Stanford University. Their creations and products help drive the modern digital economy, and their beacons are disruptive and innovative change.
Alternatively, east coast libertarians tend to fall more into the thinkers category. This is to say that they are, by and large, more academic, focused on research and writing, and much more engaged in the political process. Their brand of libertarianism is focused far more skewed in engaging with governing networks, power structures, or the media as a means of fostering changes in the public consciousness.
How then do east coast and west coast libertarians bridge these gaps? The truth is that east coast libertarians have largely failed to effectively and properly engage their west coast brethren.
First of all, libertarian messaging to the techno-centric community has largely been non-existent. And it’s not just libertarians. Conservatives have failed to craft a winning message on technology and innovation, largely by ignoring the issues entirely—of course that hasn’t stopped them from trying to court the Valley’s donors.
Which leads us to the second problem: a failure to both recognize, and compromise upon, the marginal differences in policy priorities. Tech entrepreneurs, engineers, and technologists tend to be young millennials in the upper income brackets; their concerns are largely centered on issues relating to civil liberties and regulations.
Libertarians have largely neglected a platform that actually takes their concerns into account, preferring instead to continue the old strategy of moving people on issues related to “economic freedom.” Time, energy, and resources need to be refocused on investments in the future, not on the same old battles fated to meet defeat.
Instead of messaging that disparages government agencies, libertarians should adopt pragmatic and positive reforms; rather than “End the Fed,” libertarians should embrace “permissionless innovation.” This is the type of message refinement and policy reorientation that libertarians need to accept if they want to more appropriately brand themselves as pro-Silicon Valley.
But libertarians also need a compelling narrative that focuses on technological progress as a prime mover in the advancement of human progress. I attempted to do this in an article for CapX earlier this year when pointing out that:
Those societies defined by tolerance, openness to new and eccentric ideas, and a willingness to embrace uncertainty with optimism, flourish. Free societies, scientific and technological knowledge, and economic growth are reflections of one another and their interplay produces an anfractuous feedback loop of human progress.
In short: libertarians need to embrace change.
If libertarians wish to more constructively engage with the technology sector in general, and Silicon Valley in particular, they need to embrace more practical compromise on policy priorities. An appealing platform would mix the best of a fiscally conservative agenda and socially liberal agenda, but would place greater focus on the latter.