The political invisibility of IT

Ed Felten has been musing about John McCain’s recent remark that the minor issues he might delegate to a vice-president include “information technology, which is the future of this nation’s economy.”

“If information technology really is so important”, asks Ed, “then why doesn’t it register as a larger blip on the national political radar?”

One reason, he thinks, is that

many of the most important tech policy questions turn on factual, rather than normative, grounds. There is surprisingly wide and surprisingly persistent reluctance to acknowledge, for example, how insecure voting machines actually are, but few would argue with the claim that extremely insecure voting machines ought not to be used in elections.

On net neutrality, to take another case, those who favor intervention tend to think that a bad outcome (with network balkanization and a drag on innovators) will occur under a laissez-faire regime. Those who oppose intervention see a different but similarly negative set of consequences occurring if regulators do intervene. The debate at its most basic level isn’t about the goodness or badness of various possible outcomes, but is instead about the relative probabilities that those outcomes will happen. And assessing those probabilities is, at least arguably, a task best entrusted to experts rather than to the citizenry at large.