Friday, October 28, 2011

If you read nothing else today...

... make sure you check out the WaPo interview of Eric Schmidt, Executive chairman of Google in the wake of his testimony before Congress.

On the nature of his testimony:

So we get hauled in front of the Congress for developing a product that’s free, that serves a billion people. Okay? I mean, I don’t know how to say it any clearer. I mean, it’s fine. It’s their job. But it’s not like we raised prices. We could lower prices from free to…lower than free? You see what I’m saying?

On regulation:

Washington—having spent a lot of time there, I grew up there and have spent a lot of time there recently—is largely defined by detailed analytical views and policy choices that are not very good. You know, each policy choice has a winner and a loser, right? Somebody’s ox is getting gored. They’re complex arguments: They’re economic and political and social, and everyone has an opinion on those. Here, the arguments are, how do we make something that affects a million people? How do we change the economics of an industry?

And one of the consequences of regulation is regulation prohibits real innovation, because the regulation essentially defines a path to follow—which by definition has a bias to the current outcome, because it’s a path for the current outcome.

And the answer to regulation with respect to Washington not screwing things up:

You’re asking it the way an engineer asks. It’s not an answer, it’s a journey. If it were an answer, then after we had done our thing and told everyone to leave us alone, they would have left us alone. That’s not how Washington works. That’s not how government works. It’s na├»ve, on our part. So the modern model is that we spend a lot of time trying to make sure the government understands how large the contribution is that technology has made to the GDP of the country. One of our quotes: Fifteen percent of the GDP growth has been due to the two-and-a-half percent of the economy that’s IT. In other words, don’t screw that up.

On rent seeking:

Let me give you a counter example. Now there are startups in Washington. And these startups have the interesting property that they’re founded by people who were policymakers, let’s say in telecommunications. They’re very clever people, and they’ve figured out a way in regulation to discriminate, to find a new satellite spectrum or a new frequency or whatever. They immediately hired a whole bunch of lobbyists. They raised some money to do that. And they’re trying to innovate through the regulation. So that’s what passes for innovation in Washington. And again, God bless them. But they have a political strategy to get their particular legislation and niche approved. That’s unheard of here.

And the counter concept to that:

The conclusion that we came to [as far back as when I was at Sun Microsystems] is that there are two kinds of lobbying. And this, I think, is grossly unfair but kind of true. There’s the kind of lobbying where you pay an ex-senator to get the current senator to write a sentence into a bill, and there’s no confusion as to what this is about. You are representing your corporate interest. It’s specific to your company. In Washington, for example, you can pay an ex-person $50,000 to arrange a meeting to get that process, to get those five sentences written in this bill, and so forth and so on.

The punch line is, we concluded that we didn’t want to do that as industry, and certainly not at Sun. We wanted to lobby based on ideas. And as far as I know, every company that I’ve worked with—and I was part of the Business Software Alliance and all these other groups—we all sort of agree with this. There’s a line that we’re not willing to cross. So what we do from a leadership perspective, at least in terms of political leadership, is we talk about ideas. And inevitably what happens is everyone says ‘yes,’ yet inevitably on the Hill you have an older gentleman or lady.

On immigration with respect to the tech sector:

A classic example is H-1B visas. Now, the following arguments are so obvious, it’s hard for me to believe that anyone would believe that they’re false. These industries are full of very smart people. There are very smart people who don’t live in America. They come to America, we educate them at the best universities, they are smarter than I am, and then we kick them out. If they stayed in the country, let’s just review: They would create jobs, pay taxes, have high incomes, pay more taxes than the average American, and generally increase the GDP of the country. I hope my argument is clear, and if it isn’t I’ll start screaming about it. It’s the stupidest policy the government has with respect to high tech. So you have this conversation and people say “yes,” and you say, ”This is the single thing that you can do that will lead to innovation occurring in our country, and the future economic wealth of our country.” And then they don’t act.

Check out the rest of the interview at the link above.

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