For some liberals, last week's Senate panel on corporate taxes might have caused a double take. As Apple CEO Timothy Cook testified about its global tax avoidance practices, Republican Senator Rand Paul stood up to defend the company. Huh? Isn't it liberal Democrats who are supposed to support Silicon Valley tech companies? Google chairman Eric Schmidt has deep ties to the current administration. Hillary Clinton's State Department asked favors of Twitter, and it complied. Obama is the first president ever to appoint a chief technology officer.
Just a week earlier, George Packer kicked off an interesting conversation about Silicon Valley's politics in The New Yorker. Based on observations about tech oligarchs bypassing traditional politics, Packer suggests that there's a deeply libertarian streak running through the Valley. Writer Steven Johnson disagrees, noting that Bay Area residents vote overwhelmingly Democrat, and suggesting an alternate narrative of "peer progressivism," in which fiscally liberal citizens solve societal problems in a decentralized, (digitally) networked way.
Packer and Johnson both throw insightful darts, but neither has quite hit the mark. That's because the central political value that animates Silicon Valley is neither libertarianism nor progressivism. It's meritocracy. Meritocracy can appear to be socially liberal, because it doesn't discriminate on the basis of race, religion, politics, socio-economic background, sexual orientation, or nation of origin. And, meritocracy can look libertarian because it abhors anything -- be it government, social convention, or four years of college -- obstructing talent's rise to the top. And where do these forces intersect? In immigration reform, where the meritocratic impulse is to crush both nationalist and unionist opposition to importing high-end skill.