What would a Biden-Harris win mean for American tech and innovation?

Suppose it’s 2024, and Vice President Kamala Harris is
running to succeed President Joe Biden. What would tech and US tech policy look
like after four years of Biden-Harris?

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) appear together at their first joint campaign event, via Reuters

The internet would be slower and less innovative

As Yogi Berra might say, it would be déjà vu all over again on
net neutrality. Despite the past three years of internet freedom providing
vibrant broadband performance and growth, net neutrality is likely to return
under Biden-Harris. Why? Harris supported
it in the past. And a Biden campaign
is none other than Timothy Wu, the author of net neutrality. Biden has
largely stayed out of the net neutrality fight.

How do we know that the US internet would decline under net
neutrality? During the pandemic, networks in countries without net neutrality performed better
than networks in other countries. And economic research has shown that net
neutrality regulations are more
to hinder internet development and innovation than help it.

Fewer tech startups would create new products

Big Tech would significantly slow its purchasing of new innovations from startups. Why? Even though Harris is reputed to be close to Silicon Valley, Biden has spoken out against the size of Big Tech firms. Some of Biden’s tech advisors have been quite outspoken about their desire to not just stop mergers but also unwind past mergers, turning Big Tech into Little Tech.

How do we know that innovation would slow if the government cut off the possibility of startup tech firms selling to larger firms? As I said in an earlier blog post:

In the tech space, more and more innovations are coming from decentralized, small-scale innovators. This pattern was discovered in academic research about 20 years ago and still holds.

What is happening is that innovators develop ideas for products and demonstrate their potential value. In a few instances, such as in the case of Facebook, the innovator forms a business and succeeds. But more often than not, the innovators sell their company or at least their product to an enterprise that has a proven business model. This was probably the situation with Instagram, which had a great idea and a weak business model at best before selling to Facebook, which then turned the idea into a profitable business.

Social media would become less open

Social media companies would come under greater political scrutiny, perhaps even losing Section 230 protections. Why? Biden has said that Section 230 “immediately should be revoked.” Harris appears supportive of weakening Section 230 protections, but not of complete cancellation. She has supported the politicization of social media controls, asking Twitter to suspend President Donald Trump’s account.

How do we know this would make social media less open than
it would be under a second Trump administration? The Trump administration is
seeking to reinterpret Section 230 through administrative agency action, not through
changing the statute itself. As my AEI colleague Daniel Lyons points
Trump’s approach is unlikely to result in any changes. Biden-Harris appear more
eager to change the statute itself, and Democrats take a more activist
approach in attempting to control social media than Republicans do.

More money would be
wasted on government broadband initiatives

Biden and Harris propose to spend $20 billion on rural broadband. But the Federal Communications Commission has already committed extensive funding for rural broadband. What’s the difference? Biden-Harris would emphasize funding to local governments for broadband development, while the Trump administration emphasizes private-sector investment.

This difference matters because government-provided
broadband generally wastes taxpayer dollars. As I explained
in another post:

The Obama administration had great failures with its broadband grant programs. Projects funded with US Department of Agriculture grants had high failure rates and provided only about 10 percent of the broadband promised. The US Department of Commerce grants were equally ineffective and laden with political cronyism.

And government enterprises struggle to be viable: A recent study found that only one in twenty municipal broadband programs had payback periods of less than 30 years even with government subsidies.

Tech companies could hire more highly skilled, non-US citizens

Immigration is one area where the tech sector would likely benefit from a Biden-Harris victory. Trump’s continued pause in issuing visas for highly skilled workers hurts Silicon Valley. Biden promises to work with Congress to expand such visas. And given Harris’ relationship with Silicon Valley, it seems likely that administrative action would also be taken to loosen visa restrictions. This should help tech companies be more successful, although it is unlikely to make up for the regulatory restrictions that a Biden administration would likely impose.

What’s the bottom

It seems that US tech and innovation would be less successful under Biden-Harris. So if in 2024 Vice President Harris were running for president, she might be talking about how America needs to catch up with other counties when it comes to building great tech companies.

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