The real world is undermining Silicon Valley’s apolitical fantasyland

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[Commentary] Like Hollywood, Silicon Valley has an idea of how politics works. And that idea is generally wrong. But some tech startups are finding that they can't get ahead without grappling with bureaucrats and lobbyists -- a dirty, petty business that reminds us more of the fading 20th century than the sleek, futuristic promise of the 21st.

Most of the time, tech companies would simply rather disengage from the squabbling that's characteristic of Congress and city hall. George Mason University researcher Adam Thierer calls this the principle of "permissionless innovation": When businesses don't have to justify their experiments to anyone, they can simply focus on building the next great tool or platform. This is the bedrock of startup culture, in which low barriers to entry allow the best ideas to bubble to the top whether you're a college dropout or have a Ph.D hanging on your wall.

A belief in permissionless innovation is what gives the tech industry its libertarian streak. Silicon Valley is in the throes of another tech bubble. Only this time, instead of ballooning stock prices, the bubble is one of political culture. Insulated from the challenges facing more established companies, the Bay Area's youngest have been socialized to believe that most problems can be fixed with enough money and engineering. As some companies are discovering, the reality is less straightforward.


The real world is undermining Silicon Valley’s apolitical fantasyland