a16z Podcast: The Politics of Technology

If the current pace of tech change is the 21st-century equivalent of the 19th-century Industrial Revolution — with its tremendous economic growth and lifestyle change — it means that even though it’s fundamentally empowering and enabling, there’s also lots of fears and misconceptions as well. That’s why, argues former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair (who now has an eponymous Institute for Global Change), we need to make sure that the changemakers — i.e., technologists, entrepreneurs, and quite frankly, any company that wields power — are in a structured dialogue with politicians. After all, the politician’s task, observes Blair, is “to be able to articulate to the people those changes and fit them into a policy framework that makes sense”.

The concern is that if politicians don’t understand new technologies, then “they’ll fear it; and if they fear it, they’ll try and stop it” — and that’s how we end up with pessimism and bad policy. Yet bad regulations often come from even the very best of intentions: Take for example the case of Dodd-Frank in the U.S., or more recently, GDPR in Europe — which, ironically (but not surprisingly) served to entrench incumbent and large company interests over those of small-and-medium-sized businesses and startups. And would we have ever had the world wide web today if we hadn’t had an environment of so-called “permissionless innovation”, where government didn’t decide up front how to regulate the internet? Could companies instead be more inclusive of stakeholders, not just shareholders, with better ESG (environment, social, governance)? Finally, how do we ensure a spirit of optimism and focusing on leading vs. lagging indicators about the future, while still being sensitive to short-term displacements, as with farmers during the Industrial Revolution?

This hallway-style style episode of the a16z Podcast features Blair in conversation with Sonal Chokshi and a16z managing partner Scott Kupor — who has a new book, just out, on Secrets of Sand Hill Road: Venture Capital and How to Get It, and also often engages with government legislators on behalf of startups. They delve into mindsets for engaging policymakers; touch briefly on topics such as autonomous cars, crypto, and education; and consider the question of how government itself and politicians too will need to change. One thing’s for sure: The discussion today is global, beyond both sides of the Atlantic, given the flow of capital, people, and ideas across borders. So how do we make sure globalization works for the many… and not just for the few. 

image credit: Benedict Macon-Cooney

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