Home Written work Silicon Holler: Ro Khanna Says Big Tech Can Help Heal America’s Heart | Books

Silicon Holler: Ro Khanna Says Big Tech Can Help Heal America’s Heart | Books


Shortly after Silicon Valley sent him to Washington, Ro Khanna visited “Silicon Holler,” a name coined by a colleague, Hal Rogers, for the nascent tech industry in Eastern Kentucky.

The districts of the two congressmen had little in common. Khanna was among the wealthiest, most diverse and most democratic. Rogers was among the poorest, whitest, and most Republican.

But when he visited the Rogers District, in a once prosperous coal country, the California Democrat encountered no resentment. The desire to participate in the digital revolution was there. Only the opportunity was missing.

“In my district, young people are waking up optimistic about the future – there is $11 billion worth of market value in and around the district,” Khanna said.

“But for many working-class Americans across the country, globalization hasn’t worked. This meant that jobs were going overseas. It meant shutting down communities and it meant their children had to leave their hometowns.

“We need to figure out how to bring economic opportunities for the modern economy to these communities that have been left behind.”

In her new book, Dignity in a Digital Age, Khanna lays out her vision for democratizing the digital economy. He wants the tech industry to expand to places like Paintsville, Kentucky, and Jefferson, Iowa, where the Guardian saw him make his case.

Khanna is an intellectual property lawyer who taught economics at Stanford before serving as a congresswoman from California’s 17th district, home to companies like Apple and Intel. The main contributors to his latest campaign were employees of Alphabet, Google’s parent company.

And yet, Khanna is a member of the Congressional Antitrust Caucus and served as co-chair of Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. He says tech companies must be held accountable for damages and has backed regulatory and privacy reforms.

Two senators, Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, and Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, introduced legislation to prevent tech platforms from disadvantaging their smaller rivals. Khanna calls it a “promising” start. Despite fierce opposition from big tech companies, the US Online Innovation and Choice Act was defeated by the committee this month in a bipartisan vote, 16–6.

A House committee passed a version of the bill last year. Khanna, however, criticized the effort, warning that the language was imprecise and could have unintended consequences. His nuanced views on technology and its impact on the economy and democracy have helped make him a rare figure in Washington and Silicon Valley, taken seriously by politicians and contractors.

“You can’t just have the tools of antitrust and think, ‘OK, now we’re going to have jobs in Youngstown or jobs in New Albany,'” Khanna said. “You want to have antitrust laws so new competitors can emerge, but you also need a strategy to create jobs in those communities.”

Khanna says Silicon Valley has a responsibility to address the inequalities it has helped create. Tech companies would benefit, he said, from a diversity of talent and a lower cost of living. Such a shift, he says, would help revitalize communities devastated by declining manufacturing and construction, as well as automation and outsourcing, allowing young people to find good jobs without leaving their hometowns. .

For years, Khanna said, the notion was met with resistance. But millions of people have shifted to remote work during the coronavirus pandemic, pushing tech companies to adopt changing practices. He says he went from ‘swimming against the tide’ to ‘skiing down the mountain’, so much so that a friend in the industry said he had put into practice many of the ideas outlined by Khanna in his book.

“It’s amazing how people go from ‘It’s impossible’ to ‘It’s already done’ like there are no steps in between,” Khanna said. “The truth is that it’s not impossible, but it hasn’t been done yet. My book is in a way an accelerator of what is currently happening.

At the start of the pandemic, tech workers fled San Francisco for smaller towns in neighboring states. While the transplants have brought new business and wealth, in some places they have widened wage gaps and driven up house prices. Growth has to be planned, says Khanna.

“It’s important to learn some of the lessons and mistakes of the valley. There needs to be more housing supply, there needs to be adequate conditions for workers and fair wages so that you don’t have the gross inequality that you see in Silicon Valley, where you have, in some communities, 50% of people’s income goes to renting because rents are so high.

Khanna thinks bridging the digital divide could also begin to lessen the polarization exploited by Donald Trump.

“Just having good economic empowerment and good prosperity for rural Americans, for black Americans, for Latin Americans is not a silver bullet to becoming a multiracial, multiethnic democracy,” he said. he declares. “But it could be a starting point.”

He called for billions in federal investments in research, manufacturing and workforce development; building technology centers that focus on regional expertise, such as a center in eastern Washington to focus on lumber technology; provide tax incentives to federal contractors who employ workers in rural areas; underwriting training programs at historically black colleges; and the expansion of Stem (science, technology, engineering, and math) into public schools.

Such ideas have caught the attention of Joe Biden’s White House as it seeks to expand opportunities at home and counter China abroad.

This week, House Democrats turned their attention to a bill that aims to make the United States more competitive with China by bolstering technology, manufacturing and research, including incentives for computer chip production. , which are rare.

A man walks past an abandoned business in Youngstown, Ohio. Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters/Reuters

The plan incorporates key elements of Khanna’s Endless Frontier Act, including the creation of a science and engineering solutions directorate. A similar measure passed the Senate with unusual bipartisan support last year, but House Republicans seem less receptive.

“We have to produce things in this country, including the technology, and have the supply chains here,” Khanna said. “Everyone now recognizes that it’s a huge challenge for America to have semiconductors produced in Taiwan and South Korea. With shipping costs and the disruption of Covid, this has created huge challenges in America, from manufacturing cars to manufacturing electronics.

“Can we get more Republicans?”

With much of the Democrats’ agenda stalled, Khanna believes the new bill can provide a second major bipartisan achievement for the party to boast about in a difficult midterm campaign.

“Can we get more Republicans than votes for the infrastructure bill?” Khanna said, recalling 13 who crossed the aisle. “It’s the barometer.”

Khanna, who is also deputy whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Democrats must be prepared to accept a less ambitious version of Biden’s Build Back Better domestic spending plan. It’s in limbo after Joe Manchin — a senator from West Virginia, the kind of state Khanna wants to bring tech jobs to — announced his opposition.

“A great pillar of [the spending plan] should be the climate,” Khanna said, “and then let’s get a few other things that can get Senator Manchin’s support, like establishing a universal pre-K and expanding Medicaid.

When it comes to tackling climate change and alleviating the costs of children and health care, he said, “something is definitely better than nothing.”