WHILE pursuing our theme of evolution vs creationism (and Intelligent Design), we wrote about Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand and Charles Darwin’s Natural Selection.
Our thinking has evolved a bit, and we shall now discuss President Obama’s “stimulus package” as a form of Intelligent Design, compared to Silicon Valley as a form of evolution. We know … you’re wondering if your Curmudgeon has lost it. But bear with us, because we think we have something worth saying, and it fits in with everything else we’ve been saying.
Silicon Valley has become a metaphor — actually a metonym — not only for the high-tech businesses in that area, but generally for the high-tech sector of the economy throughout the United States. Depending on definitions, it’s a mix of industries — hardware, software, the internet, etc., that probably accounts for at least 10% of the US gross domestic product and employment. This industry began, evolved, and flourished in a rich environment of pre-existing, readily available research, much of it from Defense Department and NASA contractors, resulting from the Cold War and the Space Race.
Aside from government sponsored research — much of which is being severely curtailed these days — what conditions enabled Silicon Valley to flourish in the 1980s and ’90s? What was the government’s “stimulus package” that made Silicon Valley possible?
We suggest that Silicon Valley emerged in the complete absence of any stimulus package. Indeed, it probably emerged because there was no such package. Silicon Valley’s nurturing environment was a mix of entrepreneurial activity, venture capital financing, and an unregulated market.
What we now know as Silicon Valley emerged without centralized planning — there was no “intelligent designer.” There were no government programs, no special incentives, no job retraining bureaucracies, and no hiring subsidies. Let’s not overlook the fact that taxes were low. There was nothing remotely resembling today’s government-directed initiatives intended to move us to “green” automobiles, clean energy, etc. Silicon Valley literally emerged while the government wasn’t paying any attention, and we think it’s largely because they weren’t paying attention.
At the start of the micro-computer industry, most young men didn’t type (except for military clerks). Typing was girls’ work! But young men somehow managed to ignore the stereotypes and they learned how to type — without the help of any government stimulus.
Was other training needed? Sure, lots of it. Computer stores offered classes to their customers; it was good for business. Computer user-groups blossomed all over the country. Magazines were launched, informing their readers of tips, techniques, industry developments, etc. And although some today might think it impossible, all of that “just happened” as a result of thousands of profit-seeking entrepreneurs and millions of consumers, doing what seemed best at the time. There was no far-seeing government bureaucracy supervising all this activity; nor was there a Computer Czar appointed by the White House.
Free enterprise has its dark side, but there were no bailouts for Visicalc and Word Star when they started to fade. Software got written, marketed, flourished for a while, and was superseded by other software. Customers moved on, and so did employees and entrepreneurs. Venture capital followed winners. The consumer lived in a perpetual paradise of seemingly never-ending innovations.
Okay. We think we’ve made our case for Silicon Valley as an economic analog for undirected biological evolution. Now let us turn to current events and ask what we think is a crucial question:
We leave the answer as an exercise for you, dear reader. And while we’re at it, we’ll leave you with one additional question:
We know that it’s possible — albeit sometimes challenging — to be both science-minded and religious. But is it also possible to embrace the theory of evolution and Obama’s economic policies at the same time? Think about it.
Copyright © 2009. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.