The tech industry and the Republican party are at loggerheads on an array of issues, ranging from immigration to censoring of social media to trade policy. Tech industry professionals, influential in the policy positioning of many firms, typically have political preferences far to the left of the GOP. WIRED magazine has catalogued how political campaign donations in Silicon Valley flow overwhelmingly to Democrats. Meanwhile, some Republican lawmakers have been hostile toward tech firms. Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri, for example, recently suggested, “Maybe we’d be better off if Facebook disappeared.”
This divide is likely to widen unless both sides explore areas of mutual concern where their core beliefs and interests align. One area the tech industry and Republicans agree is that a low corporate tax rate is key for promoting the global competitiveness of U.S. business.
We propose that climate policy is another area where tech and Republican principles could align. Most Republicans no longer deny the threat of climate change and acknowledge we need to do something. And our reaction to many liberal climate proposals echoes Silicon Valley executives’ resistance to mandated quotas and timelines, targeted technologies, and costly climate strategies financed by higher corporate tax rates.
While its workforce may lean heavily to the left, the tech industry in the United States has flourished since the 1970s because of Washington’s non-involvement and tech firms’ laissez-faire approach. Companies like Apple, IBM, and Microsoft thrived because they focused on their technologies and customers and not on Washington. As The Washington Post reported earlier this year, “Ten years ago, Google executives rarely spoke to Congress. Amazon employed just two of its own registered lobbyists in Washington. And Facebook had only recently graduated to a real office after running its D.C. operation out of an employee’s living room.” This has shifted dramatically. In the last decade, Amazon spent $80 million on lobbying while Google spent $150 million.
Another shift is that many tech firms, at the behest of their employees or in service to the social objectives of their board and leadership, have expressed a strong commitment to addressing climate change. It is a position that is increasingly popular in many corporate board rooms, but tech firms are leaders in calls for action on climate change.
These firms should want policy solutions to our climate challenges that do not impede their ability to innovate and grow. In particular, they should recognize aspects of the Democrats’ climate agenda as a desire to micromanage an extremely innovative sector of our economy: clean tech. Such interference may one day hamper valuable innovation.
In short, the tech community and Republicans could both embrace a market-oriented approach to addressing climate change, especially policies that encourage innovation without dictating technology outcomes. A carbon tax, which is a policy we support, can achieve that, effectively pushing the market toward reducing carbon emissions.
While a new tax such as a price on carbon is far from being a basic tenant of GOP orthodoxy, its appeal is growing. From a fiscal perspective, a carbon tax offers many advantages over a higher tax rate on business profits. As a tool for innovation, it has several advantages, including not favoring one technology over another, raising the return on any successful investment in carbon-free or low-carbon technologies, and encouraging technologies that reduce demand (like smart thermostats that help lower electricity bills).
As both a political and economic matter, a carbon tax offers the best alternative to the Green New Deal and its various derivatives. In fact, the heavy-handed, costly nature of the left’s climate change strategy brings into sharp relief the appeal of a market-oriented approach.
American politics is dynamic. While some promote further division and entrenchment, we urge industry leaders and politicians to seek opportunities to collaborate to address the challenges facing our country and communities and change political alignments. And a collaboration between the tech industry and Republicans on climate could lead this effort.