Does the US Need to Set a Digital Agenda?

During a speech by former Cisco CEO John Chambers at BoxWorks 2015, he lamented the fact that the US government does not have a proper technological agenda in place. According to his reasoning this is a necessary step to ensure future prosperity and growth. This is despite evidence to the contrary that markets do, in fact, adapt and make good use of rapidly changing technology on their own.

There are steps the government can take to enable technological progress, but such potential steps are always to roll back layers of government intervention that are already in place. Suggesting that the US government needs to lead or take a top-down approach, while understandably tempting for a CEO, ignores the differences in incentive structures between the government and private business. This assumption that the government should or can be run like a business belies the fact that in practice it doesn’t operate in a similar environment. Failing government programs are often rewarded with more tax funds, and there is no market failure mechanism. Government doesn’t go out of business if it loses money or spends money on unwise investment projects. No business could ever sustain itself on the massive levels of debt that governments often take on.

The idea of setting a digital agenda is the last thing needed in order for technology to continue to advance. Such ideas may be well intentioned, but they are dangerous and threaten growth when put into practice.

This report from the MacIver Institute in Wisconsin shows the failure of government planned incentives to lead the economy: Winners and Losers: The Impact of Government Incentives

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