'Libertarian Hacking' is Not an Oxymoron

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 7/28/2014 01:30:00 AM
Every hacker has his price--and the Koch brothers are paying for talent.
Owing to the dominance of Northern California--Silicon Valley, to be exact--in the American technology sphere, it is unsurprising that we think of tech culture as predominantly liberal in orientation. It's Nancy Pelosi Land. However, if you examine the premises of what these technologies supposedly do--promote economic and political freedoms--it gets you thinking: Shouldn't conservative causes in general and libertarian ones in particular welcome advances in the global use of ICT worldwide? A recent Yahoo! News original feature--they apparently have journalists of their own now writing features instead of relying purely on news agencies--brings up this possibility:
The internal outcry at StumbleUpon last year underscores Silicon Valley’s image as a place that can feel hostile to the right. Democratic politicians dominate districts in Northern California, and a majority of donations that come from the wealthy region find their way into Democratic pockets.
George W. Bush famously changed his attitude from annoyance over leftists annoying hum at every turn while president to becoming an unlikely champion of the Internet later on. The George W. Bush Institute, for instance, has hosted gatherings of of international cyber-dissidents. So, if one of the most disliked conservatives in America has become an avid ICT-phile, what's stopping, say, the Tea Party architects the Koch brothers from backing Internet concerns? After all, many of the apps that are now emerging work to undermine licensing regimes, bust unions, fight special interests and overturn entrenched market participants (presumably for as long as they aren't the Koch brothers-linked interests):
That’s enough of an opening for enterprising Republican lawmakers, who are beginning to notice that there’s an opportunity to finally make inroads here. For example, they see how state and local union-backed taxi commissions try to choke ride-sharing apps such as Uber and how special interests that represent the hospitality industry work to undermine businesses like Airbnb, which connects private homeowners with potential renters. At the conference, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul delivered speeches and joined panel discussions, while Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker piped in their own comments through video presentations. The Republican National Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee flew in their top tech brass from Washington, D.C.
Unusually for the strident Tea Party set, they're actually using a soft sell approach to woo hacking talent to libertarian causes by not overtly politicizing their digital causes. Rather, the emphasis is on emphasizing similarities in causes--and how gobs of money can be used to forward them:
This is where Lincoln Labs — with an assist from the Koch network — comes in. Many of the hackers, programmers and designers who participated in the Lincoln Labs hackathon aren’t Republicans, or even conservatives. But by holding the events with the promise of cash prizes, Lincoln Labs has found a way to connect issues raised by D.C. political operatives who don’t know the first thing about coding with solutions from technologists eager to solve problems (and maybe earn a bit of cash on the side).

Finding a broad swath of conservatives and libertarians among the community of California technologists, though, is still a challenge, Lincoln Labs attendees and organizers said.
The larger point is not to turn hackers into Republican backers, Tea Partyers or Koch acolytes. They are not, well, on a proselytizing mission here. Rather, the real point of the exercise is to get these hackers to develop applications that help conservative causes:
To supplement the occasional brick-and-mortar hackathon gathering Generation Opportunity has built an online hub for libertarian technologists to connect year-round with politicos and entrepreneurs. The group has built a portal called Liberty.IO as an online space where activists can submit problems they would like to solve or ideas for better apps and connect with designers and developers who know how to build them.

The upside for the Koch-backed groups? By serving as the home for the libertarian tech community, they get first crack at top tech talent that’s potentially sympathetic to the “conservatarian” cause — and help with everything from smarter data collection to better campaign practices.

And of course, there’s the added benefit of funding projects that they see as helping put a million little tears into the fabric of the state. As many of the activists here see it, the tech revolution is one of their most effective ways to make the services provided by the government less relevant.
It's interesting stuff, and the only question from a value-neutral position is to ask why it took them so long.