Is Tech Going To Be An American Preserve?

Wednesday, 2006-December-27 at 08:29

Robert Scoble knows a lot more about tech industries than I do, with him being based in the Silicon Valley, and me being based in the Victor Valley.  At least we are in the same state! 🙂  I must say that I really disagree with him on the idea that Iran's censorship is driving all of their tech talent over here, and that our openness to those refugees means that the U.S. will continue to hold the tech lead.  See his story here.

First, let's take the longer-term view at the way that companies are run in our country.  I remember when some clothing was still made here.  As the domestically-produced share fell, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union launched a last-ditch "buy American" campaign with commercials singing, Look for the union label, when you are buying a coat, dress or blouse …. So look for the union label, it says we're able to make it in the U.S.A.  However, the industry was built already upon low-wage labor, so eventually, the industry moved to Asia.  Even VF, the company that makes Lee jeans, does not make their products here anymore.

In industry after industry, including automobiles, semiconductors, computer hardware, ship & submarine building, bicycles, tools, and garlic farming, the U.S. has had an overwhelming advantage and gave it away.  In most cases, the sign that the U.S. was about to suddenly lose a lot of share was some kind of big layoff or pay cut or effort to replace domestic labor with foreign labor.  We pay huge bonuses to management that hurts workers, because our financial system emphasizes short-term results.  As a result, over a period of several years, any industry of ours will slowly lose its place.

Note to Ford: It isn't the employees and their pensions that are losing you sales, it is decisions taken by your highly-paid (and insulated from the real world) management.  Eighteen million dollars up front?  For a company that is losing 5.8 billion dollars?  Give me a break.  I know you won't take my advice, but I'd tell you to fire the top 35% in total compensation, close all the executive dining rooms, and tell the remaining people "We are all in this together" and mean it.

The reality that tech thrives on ideas and openness and software—everything now has software built into it—makes you want to look at these things to see just how well our nation is doing.  Ideas: well, one look at all the patents for obvious things that have been used for many years is all it takes to let you know that good ideas are starting to dry up.  The emphasis on patents, "IP", and TUR1 once again tells you that there is a lack of openness.  So maybe it is software that will save us… Yahoo Groups… Oh, look, "Programmers Guild", let's see what that one is about.  Skilled, experienced American programmers, forced to train their foreign replacements or lose their pensions?  Maybe the U.S. is not going to thrive after all.

If American businesses are going to continue to thrive in tech fields, it will be because we woke up and made some changes.  One: the patent and IP games have to go away.  That means no more patenting XML and RSS and tabbed browsers and software that controls model railroads, all of which are real areas where patents have been granted, usually to companies that did not invent the technologies.  China's thriving tech industry is mostly because they ignore most of the "IP" claims by outside companies.

Look at the The SCO Group Inc. v. IBM Corp., The SCO Group Inc. v. Novell, Inc, and related cases.  Without ever presenting much evidence, SCO has kept IBM tied up in court over Linux for going on four years.  An open source developer of model railroad software is battling in court over software patents for things that his software had first.  If SCO had attacked small developers first, there is no way that they could have fought this long and hard.  This is a symptom of our out-of-control legal system and the lunacy of trying to cage up knowledge under "intellectual property", which will only serve to drive small companies and projects—where real invention comes from—out of the industry.

Having said all of this, I know that no one knows who Walt Hucks is, while everyone knows Robert Scoble.  And while no one in any position of authority will ever read this, those who do read this will be enlightened.  You will realize (1) that there are some serious issues facing our technology industries, just like our other industries, and (2) that the responses we have seen (punishing workers for the failure of management to think long-term and trying to limit the spread of knowledge) have not helped and are not helping our nation, and (3) that these failures are the same failures that hit other industries, and (4) that these same failures are happening in our government agencies as well.

1 TUR:

Technological Usage Restrictions, often euphemized as Digital Rights Management (DRM), the use of technological means to restrict what one can do with music, software, movies, or other "content" that one purchases.  TUR is often positioned as an anti-theft tool, but the reality is that sophisticated theft rings quickly break any TUR, so that only the casual consumer who buys a song and wants to play it on more than one MP3 player is really hindered by TUR.

Entry filed under: Computers, Entrepreneurship, Linux, Networks, ODF, Small Business, Software, Web, XML.

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