Birth of “Silicon Square” is Bad News

by on September 28, 2004

Today’s National Journal Technology Daily (subscriber-only website) contains a very interesting People Section column by Sarah Lai Stirland entitled “Washington’s Silicon Square.” Stirland notes that, “California has its Silicon Valley, Boston has its Silicon Corridor and Scotland has its Silicon Glen. Now some lobbyists in Washington, D.C., are starting to refer to the downtown area around Franklin Square as Silicon Square.” Hewlett-Packard recently moved their government affairs office to that area and other tech giants like Dell, IBM and Microsoft also have offices in the area. Apparently, therefore, people have started to refer to the area as “Silicon Square.”

No offense to these fine companies, and the many talented people who work in these offices, but I regard this as an absolutely dreadful development. Is it really a sign of progress when the technology community now has such a substantial presence inside the Beltway that there is a small region named “Silicon Square”? After all, what exactly (besides a lot of legal paperwork) is being produced in and around “Silicon Square”?

Silicon Valley and Silicon Corridor have earned distinction as clusters of knowledge and entrepreneurial capitalism at its finest. Denizens of Silicon Square, by contrast, will earn their pay by seeing how many bills or regulations they can pass or defeat. Yes, it is true that many of the bills or regulations are truly nasty measures that deserve to defeated. But one is forced to wonder how long it will be before the technology community becomes more subservient to the interests of Washington, or worse yet, begin to use the Big Government tools at their disposal to clobber new competitors. I hope it doesn’t happen, but I’m not hopeful. Just look at what being in Washington too long has done to the National Association of Broadcasters.

All this brings me back to what T. J. Rodgers, president and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, predicted a few years ago. In his 2000 manifesto entitled, “Why Silicon Valley Should Not Normalize Relations With Washington, D.C.,”

Rodgers issued a stern warning to fellow technology leaders and entrepreneurs: Playing the Washington lobbying game could be hazardous to your health, and the health of the entire technology community. “I believe we could make no bigger mistake. Silicon Valley is what it is because of the values that drive our success.” By contrast, he argued the political game is “antithetical to–and highly destructive of–our core values.” Rodgers argued that lobbying organizations such as Technet, founded to help high-tech companies maneuver through Washington’s political jungle, could actually end up working to Silicon Valley’s detriment. “Government can do only two things: take our money, limiting our resources; or pass laws, limiting our other freedoms.”

We’ll have to wait and see if the gang down at Silicon Square is listening.

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