When one thinks of tech, and inevitably of Silicon Valley, the ideas we often associate with them are of social liberalism. They have appeared to be bastions of individual freedom, inclusivity, acceptance, identity and progressive thinking. They have often heralded such movements in recent history. But if you look closer, most of the people running the show are staunchly right-wing. For example, Scott McNealy, the founder of Sun Microsystems known best for Java, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, Michael Dell, Craig Barrett of Intel, PayPal’s Peter Thiel and (his then co-founder) Elon Musk are all well-established supporters of the right. HP’s Carly Fiona even contested for the US’s Republican Party. Even Silicon Valley’s popular publication The Stanford Review is a right-wing journal (it was founded by Peter Thiel).
Notable large-scale exclusions from this observation include Apple, Google and Microsoft. Between them, tech’s right-wing moguls cover some of the most recognisable companies in the industry, from Uber to Airbnb to Reddit to Palantir, the data analysis company whose clientele includes the US Departments of Defence and some Intelligence agencies. With such a conservative outlook, the real question is, how has tech managed to be the poster boy for the left-wing for so long?
When the tech boom occurred, governments were unprepared to legislate the industry effectively. First, the whole playing field was new on the software side of things, without roots in anything comparable in history and barely any regularly visible or tangible assets. Second, the required expertise to appreciate what was going on was absent—and still is. Some (potentially stifling) legislature for tech is coming in just now, mostly in Europe and still only for hardware. Other countries will no doubt follow suit. But this could just be the start, however, and therein lies the problem.
Tech loved being able to experiment. One might even argue that a lack of stringent legislature allowed tech to innovate, scale and evolve as rapidly as it did. Legislation can potentially stifle the industry. On the other hand, tech moguls have done much to invite legislation by misusing its absence: they tried at one point to push back against the movement to hire black and Hispanic employees. With effective legislation, fundamental human inclusiveness cannot be sidestepped.
The same problems will carry forward into the coming years as well: Apple had the far superior Lightning cable when everyone else had micro-USB. Had micro-USB been made a regulatory requirement, would we even have USB-C today? And now that the EU has mandated Apple to use USB-C on iPhone (thankfully long after Apple already implemented it in nearly all their other devices), will companies be discouraged from pursuing technological expansion after USB-C? This is quite possible unless legislators re-think how legislation itself works. They cannot put into practise a law and forget about it anymore. Legislations were never intended to be static and tech legislation even less so. They will find themselves forced to re-visit laws and amend them to keep pace with technological progress if they want to continue reaping the many benefits of technology.
Right-wing tech leaders are understandably averse to legislation of this and any other nature precisely because the more they allow, the more will follow. How long will it take for parliaments around the world to have an opinion on employee benefits and CEO pay cuts if they already have opinions on technology itself? After all, technology was alien to them. Employee benefits, pay regulation and hefty fines for harming the environment, for example, are not. They can no longer be hidden away behind the inconspicuous veil of niche expertise. When legislators realise they can legislate, they will—for good or bad—and the right-wing is averse to this by definition.
Tech moguls prefer the right wing for the same reasons any businessmen would: even if they do not prop them up, at least right-wing governments keep out of their way. What about the picture of progressiveness they painted then? Well, that is just good business. Progressiveness sells a business; conservatism builds cash flow.