Lincoln’s approach to policy
Make the future happen sooner.
The mission of Lincoln’s policy project is to bridge the gap between innovators, technologists, and policymakers, and leverage that position to advance policy discussions that will help create a better, freer, and more abundant future. In the face of increasing backlash against science and technology, we are optimistic about the dynamic future humanity will create, and determined to help make that future happen sooner.
The future is underrepresented in Washington.
From our headquarters in Silicon Valley, we’re working to cultivate a network of entrepreneurs, investors, technologists, founders and other technology professionals to be advocates for the future. While big companies can afford lobbyists and proxies to represent their interests in every policy arena, the next wave of innovators and disruptors have little to no presence at all. This can lead to the false perception in the Beltway that innovation policy is just the things that big tech companies care about. While these issues are sometimes important, they are often hard to influence and not necessarily the most pressing or significant problems for future innovators.
As the political right grows increasingly skeptical of Silicon Valley, it is more critical than ever to maintain an open dialogue between innovators and policymakers, and prevent ideological entrenchment that would undermine America’s position as the leading global innovator.
Our work in this area has two components:
- Cultivating and elevating innovators as innovation advocates.
- Creating a translation-layer between these communities through bicoastal convenings, network building, and the publication of targeted commentary and analysis.
American leadership in innovation requires institutions, not just policies.
Innovations in science and technology drive economic growth, open new dimensions of individual freedom, and bolster our national security. When governed well, a robust innovation ecosystem provides a freer, more secure, and more abundant future.
While innovation is essential for economic growth, it also brings creative destruction – threatening to displace powerful incumbent interest groups as well as ordinary citizens. This creates motivated opponents of dynamic progress. Some of them will stir up fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the negative effects of innovations, or find other ways to slow or block them. Just as buggy whip manufacturers likely opposed the automobile, today we see taxi companies attempting to thwart Uber, and labor groups rallying against autonomous vehicles. In government, calcified bureaucracies with misaligned incentives limit the potential to acquire and deploy innovative technologies necessary for our national defense, or update antiquated systems to make government leaner and more transparent.
Well-functioning institutions support the rule of law, property rights, civil liberties, and policy frameworks that support economic growth and prosperity. On the other hand, poorly-functioning institutions enable extractive cartels, heavy-handed policy frameworks, regulatory capture, and cronyism. An environment that maximizes permissionless innovation is not anarchic laissez faire, but requires competent governance institutions (both public and private). Even for Uber, an infamous disrupter, success required working with regulatory agencies like the California Public Utilities Commission (which allowed its initial expansion in California), passing bills through state legislatures, and defending itself in the courts.
To clear the way for innovation, the federal government will often need to harmonize state laws, clarify how old regulations interact with new technologies that raise unanticipated uses, establish clear rules of the road the provide certainty for emerging industries, put up guard rails against legitimate dangers (such as nuclear energy), or align government institutions to foster or leverage private sector innovators (such as the Defense Innovation Board or In-Q-Tel). These actions may entail legislation, judicial decisions, or informal soft law governance mechanisms at federal agencies or private sector organizations – all of which must have the expertise, norms, and incentives to produce good outcomes.
Despite their benefits, new technologies can also create negative externalities (such as displacing workers), new national security threats, or raise complex ethical questions. To mitigate these, it is essential that we have competent and responsive governance institutions to obtain stakeholder input, and narrowly tailor new standards or interventions to specific harms and demonstrable risks, rather than broadly to uncertain fears. Weak institutions, whether due to corruption or lack of competence, make it easier for innovation’s many opponents to prevail. In short, good policy is downstream from good institutions.
Part of our focus is on projects that strengthen these institutions, and shape their incentives for the better, recognizing that small institutional design changes can have outsized impacts. Another part of our work is identifying and engaging in under-covered issues related to the development of potentially significant and beneficial new technologies, or that improve the functioning of the innovation ecosystem. Finally, we also work to push back against reactionary or erroneous narratives against the advancement of science and technology.
Our work in this area has three components:
- Shaping innovation governance institutions.
- Fostering forward-looking innovation policy discussions.
- Pushing back against opponents of scientific and technological progress.
Ways to get involved + more information.
We frequently host meetups, public forums, and invitation-only salon dinners around Silicon Valley and in Washington, DC. We also do programming in New York City, Miami, Austin, and other tech hubs.
Want to know how we’re supporting this vision? You can learn about who funds us here.
Lincoln Network also does more than just policy-related programming, research, and commentary. We have a technical side too called Lincoln Studio. Learn more at www.joinlincoln.org.