In a remarkable turn of societal imagination, many conservatives have begun picturing the computer age as the rejuvenation of small-scale entrepreneurial capitalism against the institutions of the nation state. Alvin Toffler has talked about “demassification”; George Gilder has cited the “quantum revolution”; Newt Gingrich has promoted decentralization of government to local regions. A steady stream of conservative analysis has argued that new technology has made government’s role, especially the federal government’s role, irrelevant and even dangerous to the healthy functioning of the economy. Even The Economist, a magazine with an early enthusiasm for the Internet and usually a somewhat more balanced eye, has described the success of the Internet as the “triumph of the free market over central planning. Democracy over dictatorship.” The new conservative view: the private sector is the font of technological and economic innovation; moreover, the federal government should get out of the way and leave economic development to the private sector working occasionally with local governments promoting innovation and job creation locally.
Repressed in this bit of economic myth making is the key role the federal government played in each step of the growth of the computer industry and in the birth and formation of the Internet. Further, this myth making ignores the fact that left to private industry, much of the computer technology would never have come to market and, in the case of the Internet, the result would have been less innovative and less of an economic engine for growth. In fact, it’s unclear that the integrated communication and information exchange that is the hallmark of the federally created Internet would have even occurred out of the private visions and competition of industry.