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News - Politics

Silicon Valley bosses are globalists, not libertarians

They favour free trade, but also economic redistribution by governments

Daily chartSilicon Valley bosses are globalists, not libertarians

They favour free trade, but also economic redistribution by governments

DONALD TRUMP is no fan of the technology industry. He has proposed restrictions on H-1B visas, which are commonly used by Silicon Valley firms to recruit foreign talent, and labelled Amazon a “no-tax monopoly” that is doing “great damage” to traditional retailers. The president’s war on the e-commerce giant has at times turned personal: @realDonaldTrump has accused Jeff Bezos, its founder, of using his newspaper, the “Amazon Washington Post”, to launch partisan attacks. Along with Silicon Valley’s cozy relations with Barack Obama’s administration, this has reinforced a perception that the industry is in bed with the Democratic Party.

At first blush, polling data supports this belief. In a recently published survey of 600 entrepreneurs and executives in Silicon Valley, conducted by David Broockman and Neil Malhotra of Stanford University and Gregory Ferenstein, a journalist, three-quarters of respondents said they supported Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election. But although technology-firm leaders hold views that in general hew much closer to Democratic positions than Republican ones, they are far from reliable partisan ideologues.

As you might expect from captains of industry, Silicon Valley executives are much more likely to support free trade and to oppose government regulation of businesses than your average Democrat is. For example, just 30% of tech bosses believe that ride-hailing companies need to be regulated like the taxi industry, compared with 60% of Democrats.

Given their combination of socially liberal attitudes and a preference for free markets, you might call Silicon Valley executives libertarians. However, libertarians generally advocate shrinking the state as a share of the economy, which technology bosses resolutely do not. When asked if they "would like to live in a society where government does nothing except provide national defence and police protection, so that people could be left alone to earn whatever they could," just 24% agreed. In contrast, 68% of Republican donors concurred with that statement. Moreover, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are just as likely to favour redistributive economic policies, such as universal health care and higher taxes on the rich, as an average Democrat is. The outlook of our new robot-building overlords is far more communitarian than, say, the doctrines of Ayn Rand.

Last year Peter Thiel, a prominent venture capitalist, shocked his peers in the tech industry when he announced his support for Mr Trump’s presidential campaign. The poll makes clear why the statement made Mr Thiel such an outlier: not only do most leaders in the industry lean Democratic, but the main issue where their views are closer to those of Republicans—free trade—was the one where Mr Trump took the opposite stance.

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