As a Midwest native, my passion to protect America’s technology edge is rooted in my front row seat to the lasting damage caused to our country’s manufacturing sector by short-sighted policy decisions.
In my hometown of Adrian, Michigan, in the 1980s, a graduating high school senior could find steady employment at one of many local manufacturing companies, allowing them to earn a solid middle class living and save enough to put their kids through college.
But damaging policies passed by politicians in Washington, D.C., devastated the U.S. manufacturing base. In fact, from 2001-2019, the United States lost 20% of its manufacturing jobs and my home county experienced a whopping 43% drop during that same period. These aren’t just numbers – these were my neighbors.
As manufacturing jobs and factories closed down, many communities spiraled into despair and young people fled their hometowns in search of greater opportunity. Additionally, these policies helped ship overseas much of our critical supply chain, leaving our nation incredibly vulnerable during times of crisis, as the pandemic exposed.
The twin lessons I took from this manufacturing policy fiasco are: 1) policymakers must vigorously protect what gives our country an edge; and 2) they need to fully understand the long-term consequences their actions may have.
Unfortunately, Washington is on the verge of making the same short-sighted policy mistakes again, only this time with America’s largest technology companies.
It is fashionable now to be against “Big Tech,” with some even calling to break it up. But lawmakers need to understand that technology and tech innovation is not just another sector of the economy. Rather, it is the entire backbone of our country’s national security, our economic competitiveness, and of the advancement of American values both at home and abroad.
For example, American technology innovation has created jobs, opportunities, and economic growth in our country. Millions of small businesses have been able to enter new markets and reach new customers around the world utilizing core technology tools and platforms. Misguided regulations and policies could put all of this at risk.
On national security, as the global leader in innovation, the U.S. utilizes technology to protect our citizens and defend our allies from aggression. However, as China and other foreign adversaries seek to rule the digital landscape, they are using every dirty trick available — cyberattacks, stealing U.S. technology, and more.
Our leaders must remain wary of anti-competitive legislation that will weaken U.S. companies and embolden China, paving the way for foreign adversaries to dominate the technology landscape.
Lastly, American technology companies play a crucial role in advancing our values across the globe. America created an open, free internet, reflecting our country’s fundamental belief in freedom of speech and expression.
However, foreign nations hold very different values, especially around expression, and are trying to spread their vision for a closed, censored internet across the globe. Any new regulations on technology must strengthen confidence in America’s tech industry and promote our values.
To be sure, technology can be disruptive, it can challenge the status quo, and many tech companies themselves are asking for smart reforms. But with so many hostile actors trying to usurp America’s global influence, U.S. policymakers must get it right – they need to protect what matters and deeply understand the long-term unintended consequences of any actions. Because there’s too much at stake to get it wrong…again.
Doug Kelly is chief executive officer of the American Edge Project.