Republicans took advantage of Google CEO Sundar Pichai's appearance Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee to again kvetch about the company's alleged bias against conservatives. This was not unexpected. Such concerns are now a staple grievance on the right. Recall President Trump's tweets last summer accusing Google of suppressing right-wing news outlets in its search results. The White House even went so far as to discuss the need to regulate Google to prevent the alleged manipulation.
Now nobody in Silicon Valley denies techies lean overwhelmingly to the left. Trump received only a fifth of the 2016 presidential vote in that tech metropolis. And Trumpy entrepreneur Peter Thiel supposedly fled to Los Angeles to escape the oppressive progressive monoculture.
But evidence of any systemic bias in how Google or the other tech titans operate ranges from inconclusive to vaporous. And these businesses would be crazy to engage in such behavior. Google's entire ad-driven business model depends on attracting massive numbers of users by providing them the most useful and relevant search results. And as industry analyst Ben Thompson notes, "It follows, then, that the company is heavily incentivized to serve as many users as possible; being purposely biased against approximately 50 percent of them would be illogical."
So instead of quizzing Pichai and other tech execs about loopy bias accusations, perhaps Republicans should have asked this question: "Why do all those smart, optimistic, hard-working young people at your companies find so little that's appealing about today's Republican Party?" At the very least, Republicans should be asking themselves that question. Or are techies just another group the GOP is content to write off even as technology becomes an ever-more important part of the economy and our everyday lives?
Doing so would be a mistake. As the Silicon Valley-based writer Greg Ferenstein has argued, while the tech community supports Democrats for now, they aren't hardened partisans. Rather, they (and urbanized professionals more broadly) "represent an entirely new political category — not libertarian, not Democrat, and not Republican." It's not too late to appeal to them; the only question is how.
Silicon Valley is pro-capitalism, but it's not anti-government. According to Ferenstein, "their belief is that the government should be an investor in citizens to make them more educated, entrepreneurial, and civic." There is little interest in shrinking government, as anti-tax activist Grover Norquist likes to say, "to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." Even though few Republicans seriously want to shrink government overall, as evidenced by the rising spending and debt under GOP governance, many on the right continue to talk as if they do. And no wonder "socialism" seems appealing to young Americans everywhere if the GOP applies it to well-run Canada and Sweden — both of which rank higher than America in terms of economic freedom — as well as collapsing Venezuela.
Equally unappealing is the growth of the GOP's rejection of expertise. Think about what a Trumpublican in good standing is nudged to believe: climate change is hoax, tax cuts always pay for themselves, globalization has made America a worse place, Alex Jones is a more insightful person than Paul Krugman. And of course the party is led by a self-described "very stable genius" who takes obvious pride in dismissing the value of knowledge and experience in others.
And that's the thing: Many of the actions the GOP could do to make itself more appealing to youngish techies — and young people more generally — are intrinsically good ideas, whatever their political effects. Reviving the Office of Technology Assessment would be one way of showing the GOP is serious about pursuing pro-innovation policies and showing it thinks smart people are valuable. Another would be boosting public investment in basic research, Google chief economist Hal Varian's number one policy recommendation. Republicans should also focus more on where their free-market instincts can bring immediate, visible benefits — such as pushing for housing deregulation so housing supply can meet demand, especially in tech hubs like Seattle and San Francisco where rents are sky high. And perhaps Republican policymakers could quit talking about steel and coal as if they are the industries of the future, and people in cities like they are not "real" Americans.
Still, there was at least one bright spot at that hearing with Pichai. Representative Bob Goodlatte (Va.), the current Republican chair, concluded his opening statement with what should be a commonsense compliment: "Google is still the story of the American dream." Started by two individuals in a garage, it grew to become one of the most successful companies in the world. If the GOP wants to help their political prospects, not to mention America's economic prospects, they could begin by helping Silicon Valley create more success stories like Google.