The Coronavirus Could Rewrite the Rules for Silicon ValleyRoundup
tags: strikes, technology, Silicon Valley, labor history
Margaret O’Mara (@margaretomara) is a professor of history at the University of Washington and the author of “The Code: Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America.”
On Thursday, Amazon reported blockbuster first-quarter sales. This week Microsoft, Facebook and Google showed robust gains of their own. Supply chain disruptions and slowing ad revenue have put little dent in these cash-rich giants that, together with Apple, account for 20 percent of the S&P 500 index. Amid the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, Big Tech is roaring ahead.
While tech’s largest grow larger, it has been a brutal quarter for start-ups and smaller companies, which have laid off or furloughed thousands of people.
Where does Silicon Valley go from here? Even if the technology giants grow more powerful, change is coming for them, too. The regulatory and antitrust standards developed for the industrial age are not enough to protect competition and consumer rights in the digital age, and this crisis is forcing policymakers to confront that. The rules under which Big Tech has been playing may finally get an update.
History tells us this has happened before. Detroit’s automobile industry began the 20th century as a cluster of venture-backed start-ups — another group of young tinkerers in garages, securing financing from wealthy investors who were willing to take a risk on a new product that changed the way people lived and worked. By the 1930s, they were immensely innovative, lightly regulated companies, and they resisted unionization as ferociously as some tech giants do today.
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