A Silicon Valley state of mind


The San Jose skyline is seen. If Silicon Valley became its own state entrepreneurs and startups could foster a better environment for innovation. (Jeff Chiu/AP)

If Washington can’t innovate its way out of the current status quo of partisan bickering and legislative dysfunction, then Silicon Valley will try to take matters into its own hands. The latest idea out of Silicon Valley is something called the “Six Californias” – a ballot initiative planned for next fall that would partition California into six separate states. In the process, Silicon Valley would not just be a state of mind – it would be its own separate state. The plan violates the Constitution, but we’ll consider it.

The idea behind the “Six Californias” is to give California a greater say in the affairs of Washington, while also ensuring that Silicon Valley can develop according to its own specific needs. California, assuming it votes as a bloc, would have 12 U.S. senators in Washington, all of them potentially pushing to make Silicon Valley’s concerns heard by national lawmakers. Silicon Valley’s state lawmakers would be able to foster a more supportive environment for local entrepreneurs and startups, modifying or adopting laws to ensure that Silicon Valley continues to be an engine of innovation, creativity and economic growth.

The “Six Californias” initiative, which was proposed by Silicon Valley investor Tim Draper, is actually part of a broader trend that has been taking hold in Silicon Valley of late. You can call it the “Silicon Valley should secede from the union” movement. The idea of a secessionist Silicon Valley briefly went viral this fall, when Balaji Srinivasan, a genetics entrepreneur and Stanford lecturer, laid out a vision for “Silicon Valley’s ultimate exit strategy” at a Y Combinator event. In this vision, Silicon Valley would become a separate “city-state” run by entrepreneurs, filled with goodies such as Uber cars and Airbnb rentals for everyone.

Even before the recent momentum around Silicon Valley secession, there have been creative ideas from some of the nation’s most innovative CEOs, entrepreneurs and investors on ways to promote Silicon Valley’s agenda by bypassing big government in Washington. Google CEO Larry Page has proposed that Silicon Valley’s most forward-thinking entrepreneurs should have their own private land, free of government control — something TechCrunch referred to as a “mad scientist land” and a “Burning Man-esque place.” Similarly, venture capitalist Peter Thiel has espoused the idea that there should be floating, autonomous islands for tech entrepreneurs off the coast of California.

Washington, it seems, is no longer able to understand some of the most pressing issues facing Silicon Valley. It took someone like Mark Zuckerberg, for example, to make the case for why America needs to be a nation that can attract highly talented immigrants. As Zuckerberg and other tech entrepreneurs have argued, there is a very real link between immigration reform and the knowledge economy. And that’s not all. As we saw with the SOPA legislation (and its offshoots), when it comes to topics that impact the future of the Internet and intellectual property, Washington really understands very little about how the digital world has changed our physical world.

So would “Six Californias” really work?

It would be easy to write off the “Six Californias” as just another whimsical effort to partition California in a way that would benefit a narrow group of interests. But, take the recent rise to prominence of another grassroots movement – the Tea Party – as an example of what can happen when a relatively small group of Congressional lawmakers band together over one issue to challenge the Washington status quo. If a big-name Silicon Valley secessionist like Tim Draper ever becomes the next Ted Cruz, just imagine the types of debates we might be having in the nation’s capital sometime soon.

Dominic Basulto is a futurist and blogger based in New York City.
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Dominic Basulto | December 24, 2013