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Lessons on Industrial Policy from Silicon Valley and Ronald Reagan

A new approach to tech policy is taking root in the GOP, and it’s not what you might expect from the party of Alan Greenspan and Friedrich Hayek.

Led by a handful of ambitious, policy-minded senators, a group of conservatives is embracing the idea of subsidizing the tech industry and advanced manufacturing — with an eye toward building a competitive edge over China, and revitalizing the hollowed-out industrial centers that have given the party its Trump-era populist verve.

Their tolerance, if not thirst, for government intervention might have been anathema in years past (and to some of their current peers). But as the overall regulatory apparatus increasingly finds itself racing to keep up with industry, so too has the GOP. That’s allowed technocratic conservatives like Indiana’s Sen. Todd Young, a chief driver of what would become this year’s CHIPS and Science Act, or Sen.-elect J.D. Vance, who ran his whole campaign as a sort of pilot project for tech-minded, statist Republican politics, to stake out new territory at the cutting edge of conservative think-tank world.

Wells King is the research director at American Compass, one of said think tanks, and a former policy advisor to Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). He wrote this week in a paper and adapted essay about what he calls “Silicon Valley’s Public Garages,” or the early computer-era tech innovators whose subsidized roots are now largely forgotten. I spoke with him this morning about why these conversations are happening now, what the future might hold beyond chip manufacturing, and where Republicans might find political support for a more hands-on industrial policy. A version of the conversation — condensed and edited for clarity — follows…

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